Like many young footballers, Hakan Calhanoglu looks up to his father as his main source of inspiration. “I fell in love with the game thanks to my father," said the 19-year-old attacking midfielder, who equalised in spectacular fashion for Turkey against Australia. "He used to play and in my eyes was the greatest footballer alive. I have him to thank for getting this far."
Calhanoglu comes from a tight-knit family. The rising star calls his mother before every game as he believes it brings him good luck. “Before every match, I listen to my music and talk to my mum on the phone. Hearing her voice motivates me.” he explained. The young prospect is pleased with the progress Turkey have made in the tournament. “We are growing as a team and everybody is doing their part to make us stronger as a collective,” he said.
Despite enjoying an impressive tournament so far, Calhanoglu has also been quite unlucky. Singled out for doping control tests in all three games Turkey have played so far, he had his post-match celebrations cut short following the win against Australia. Calhanoglu ended up being the last player to leave the stadium, which resulted in him missing the team coach and having to find his own way back to the hotel.
The Turkey No10 has been making a name for himself as a free-kick specialist. He spends at least half-an-hour after every training session perfecting his set-pieces, and that’s not where it ends. He then moves on to watching video highlights of some of the greatest free-kick takers of all time. “I watch set-piece highlights online, I study how Cristiano Ronaldo takes his free-kicks but my biggest idol is Juninho. He was a pioneer of the style of free-kick I am trying to achieve,” he said.
I watch set-piece highlights online, I study how Cristiano Ronaldo takes his free-kicks but my biggest idol is Juninho.
Calhanoglu has been effective from set-pieces in the tournament so far. He had a ferocious free-kick 30 metres narrowly miss against Colombia and his long-range goal versus Australia showed exactly what he is capable of. What is most impressive about the offensive midfield man however, is his commitment to the team. When asked whether he preferred - scoring goals or providing assists - he told us that he cares more about the team performing well.
Off the field, a little-known fact about Calhanoglu is his passion for dance and music. His eyes lit up when asked about music. Calhanoglu said, “I love music, at home I have a DJ set and mix tracks in my spare time, it helps me relax. I also love to dance and practice goal celebrations, although my equaliser against Australia came at such an important time that there was no time for that.” He may not have been able to pull off the Calhanoglu dance in his last game but it will be all the more memorable if he is able to show off a few moves against France in the last 16.
Calhanoglu may have been born in Mannheim, Germany but he has always remained close to his parents' hometown of Bayburt. In summer, whilst most of his team-mates head down to the swanky Mediterranean seaside resorts, Calhanoglu likes to visit his family's village instead. “Some people like cities but nothing is better than the nature in the village," he said. That is why in my spare time I would rather go there. Everything is natural, it's beautiful and it leaves you enchanted."
Calhanoglu was bestowed with the prestigious Gallipoli Friendship Medal by Australian Counsellor Matt McKeon, Turkish Football Association representative Tugay Kerimoglu and the latter's former Glasgow Rangers teammate, Craig Moore, after the game for his Man of the Match performance.
The evening turned out to be an unforgettable one for Calhanoglu but he will be fully aware that the team will need to keep performing at this level if they are to stand any chance of lifting the FIFA U-20 World Cup.