Back in the autumn of 2005, a more or less unknown 17-year-old Wunderkind by the name of Eren Derdiyok was gaining a first taste of training with the senior side at his home town club Old Boys Basel. Derdiyok’s big break arrived when the amateur side were drawn to face Koelliken in the first round of the Swiss cup. The first-choice striker was sidelined with injury, so the coach came looking for a youthful stand-in.
"I remember it very well. He told me I’d have to play," Derdiyok recalled before continuing his tale with a broad grin. "We ended up winning 4-3, and I scored a hat-trick." The Old Boys came up against mighty neighbours FC Basel in the next round, and the young striker was handed another chance to impress. Derdiyok and his side lost 6-1, but the goal-getting prodigy duly netted his team’s consolation goal. "And that’s how it all started," he told FIFA.com.
From Europe to South Africa
Unsurprisingly, Derdiyok switched to the aforementioned Basel the following summer. The player wearing the squad number 31 for the 12-time Swiss champions has since cemented his reputation as one of the game's emerging, netting the goal that earned his side a creditable draw against Barcelona in a UEFA Champions League group fixture at the end of last year. He has also scored at Wembley against England while earning one of his seven Switzerland caps to date.
Derdiyok appears to have a happy knack of finding the net at famous grounds, and his stellar ascent does have the feel of a modern-day fairy tale. The logical next step is a move to a bigger stage abroad. "Bayer Leverkusen have signalled their interest. My goal is to move to a major European club," the Swiss hitman told FIFA.com. However, that is not the limit of Derdiyok’s ambition, as his horizons stretch way beyond the borders of Europe to a faraway continent and country, namely South Africa.
"We’ve already dropped a few vital points on the road to South Africa,” Derdiyok concedes, thinking chiefly of a shock 2-1 defeat to minnows Luxembourg in Zurich. However, the striker is confident he and his team-mates can seal one of the top two places in European qualifying Group 2 for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. With four games played, the Swiss lie third on seven points, two off leaders Greece and one adrift of second-placed Israel.
Derdiyok was especially encouraged by a 2-1 win away to the Greeks. "We reacted well to the severe setback against Luxembourg, and that was important." The Swiss now face Moldova in Chisinau on 28 March, with the reverse fixture taking place four days later in Geneva. The team coached by Ottmar Hitzfeld will be looking for maximum points to secure a good position as the qualifying contest turns onto the home straight.
Unencumbered and optimistic
The Swiss play host to both Greece and Israel this autumn, when Derdiyok hopes he and his men can surge towards top spot in the section, thus earning a direct qualifying spot for South Africa. He said: "Despite our patchy start, I remain utterly convinced all our options remain open. Our chance of making South Africa is 70 per cent – or at least, that’s what I hope!"
Naturally, Derdiyok’s quality has not gone unnoticed outside Switzerland. "But I don’t feel the weight of expectation hanging over me," he insists. Coach Hitzfeld has had a lot to do with that. "He invests plenty of time talking to the younger players. He’s a fantastic coach," the 20-year-old reports.
Looking ahead to the double-header against the Moldovans, Derdiyok’s carefree exuberance could yet prove a decisive factor, as the likes of Koelliken, Barcelona and England can freely testify. Basel have unquestionably unearthed a glittering jewel, perfectly capable of making a real difference in Switzerland’s quest for a berth in South Africa.