Best Turkish Football Players: Idols of a Football-Crazed Nation

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 8.4.2024.

Pound for pound, Turkey just might be the most football-loving nation in the world. England is the birthplace, and Brazil is synonymous with the sport, yet Turks perhaps deserve the credit even more because they don't have the success of these countries or Spain, Italy, and Argentina. Yet they obsess over football. So the best Turkish football players have to deal with the pressure of a nation's expectations more than anyone else. Here are the 10 that are doing the bulk of that.

Turkey is in a peculiar place, as the country had its golden generation that won third place at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Yet that was the third and last time the country qualified for the biggest international tournament. But performed only in two - 1954 and 2002, as in 1950 they withdrew from the competition.

Matters aren't any more uplifting at the Euros roundup, as 2024 will be only the sixth time Turkey qualified. However, their golden generation did win third place at the 2008 Euros in Austria and Switzerland too. Still, for a nation of 85,000,000 people, one the cares about the sport so much, the last years have been disappointing.

A generation that followed the two-times third-placed disappointed and Turkey is now building a national team with mostly players in their mid-twenties. Some like Burak Yilmaz, Arda Turan, and Mehmet Topal retired recently.

Enter the 10 best Turkish football players in 2024.

#10 Arda Guler (Real Madrid) - AM, 19

Arda Guler

Although not the most established player, Arda Guler is certainly the most closely watched Turk now, following his €20,000,000 transfer to Real Madrid in 2023. Where he already won a Spanish Supercup. The attacking midfielder is prophetized as a future star in the likes of Mesut Ozil - although Guler has chosen to and has already represented Turkey. The youngster already made a lot of splash in his home country, with 51 games for Fenerbahce, scoring nine times and assisting 12. Winning the Turkish cap. In seven Real Madrid matches - spread across only 98 minutes - Guler has scored one goal. As much as he has for his country.

#9 Irfan Can Kahveci (Fenerbahce) - RW, 28

Rus-Turkey (5).jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Ba?lant?

While the Turkish national team struggled, their first league has always been an interesting destination for foreign talent. While Irfan Can Kahveci never left his home country and played all of his 389 club games for Turkish sides - Basaksehir, Fenerbahce, Genclerbirligi Ankara, and Hacettepe Spor. Scoring 61 goals and making 57 assists. Winning the league with Basaksehir and the cup with Fenerbahce. For Turkey, the winger played in 31 games, scoring two goals and recording the same number of assists.

#8 Enus Ulan (Bournemouth on loan from Getafe) - CF, 26

There are players who excell for their countries, performing better than at the clubs. Yet Enes Unal might belong in the opposite camp, recording only three goals and three assists in his 33 games for Turkey. Yet his club exploits have him ranked as one of the top five most valuable Turkish players, with a €20,000,000 estimation. His 46 goal involvements (36G/10A) in 109 games for Getafe as the biggest reason why.

Overall, the striker has a solid return also representing Real Valladolid, Bursaspor, Twente, Villareal, NAC Breda, Genk, and Levante for a total of 341 games. Scoring 94 times and making 29 assists.

#7 Caglar Soyuncu (Fenerbahce on loan from Atletico Madrid) - CB, 27

Caglar Soyuncu

Not that long ago, it seemed as if Turkey would have three elite centre-backs close in age. But in 2024 it's only Caglar Soyuncu that still deserves a spot amongst the country's best, as Volkan Demirel and Ozan Kabak stagnated more. Not that the combative Soyuncu didn't, he flopped at Atletico Madrid, playing only nine games. Yet his time at Leicester, following a €21,000,000 move in 2018, made Soyuncu a household name across Europe.

Soyuncu won the FA Cup and the Community Shield with the Foxes and has played in over 150 matches in the top five leagues, representing LCFC, Atleti, and Freiburg. Overall, the 27-year-old has 243 club games, with 10 goal involvements (7G/3A) and 55 matches for Turkey.

#6 Cenk Tosun (Besiktas) - CF, 32

Cenk Tosun

The fifth-best goalscorer in the history of the Turkish national team with 20 goals in 50 matches. In addition to his seven national team assists, Cosun is the tissue that is bridging the squad, integrating the past with the present and the future. However, it's his club exploits that are more impressive - Tosun has scored 103 goals in the Turkish Superlig, in 267 matches for Besiktas and Gaziantepspor.

Overall in his 409 club career games for the Turkish sides and Everton, Crystal Palace, and Eintracht Frankfurt where he came up but played only a single game, Tosun has 407 appearances. Scoring 151 goals and making 58 assists. Winning three Turkish titles with Besiktas, and one Cup.

#5 Zeki Celik (Roma) - RB, 27

Zeki çelik 2020.jpg
By -, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

One of two players on this list of best Turkish football players who can brag about achieving a Herculean effort. Or is it better to call what Lille did in the 2020/2021 campaign a replica of the David and Goliath myth? That is beating the money and Neymar-Mbappe fuelled Paris Saint-Germain to a Ligue 1 title. Oh, and it wasn't the only piece of silverware that year, with a triumph in the French Supercup.

Celik went on to play in 143 games for Lille and now has 56 for Roma since his move in 2022. In total, with the representation of Karacebey Belediye Spor and Istanbulspor, Celik has 303 club career appearances and 29 goal involvements (11G/18A). For Turkey, he is one of the most-capped current players, getting 44 appearances, two goals and two assists.

#4 Cengiz Under (Fenerbahce) - RW, 26

Cengiz Under

One of the most hyped Turkish players in recent history, falling into the group of those who - regardless of how well they did, have to fight an uphill battle because they didn't reach that superstar status. Still, Cengiz Under has a stat line to defend his honour even if others wouldn't. In 330 club career games, representing six clubs, three domestic and three in three different top-five leagues, Under recorded 112 goal involvements (66G/46A).

The former Roma and Marseille player returned to Turkey with a single piece of silverware, the FA Cup he won with Leicester in 2021. The right wing player represented Turkey 51 times, scoring 16 times and making another 10 assists.

#3 Yusuf Yaz?c? (Lille) - AM, 27

Rus-Turkey (6).jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Ba?lant?

The other of the two active and three total Turkish players who won the Ligue 1 title with Lille. Yusuf Yazici also left the French side following the title run, going on two loans to CSKA Moscow and back to his club of origin Trazbonspor. A domestic club which earned €18,500,000 from his sale in 2019.

Yazici has 261 club career games, only 12 for the Russian side, 129 for Lille and 120 for Trabzon. Scoring 27 goals for both the Turkish and the French side, but returning a lot in Moscow as well - 10 goal involvements (8G/2A) in those dozen matches. The 27-year-old in total has 100 goal involvements total (62G/38A), and 10 goal involvements (3G/7A) in his 42 matches for his country.

#2 Orkun Kokcu (Benfica) - CM, 23

Perhaps not the most familiar name to those who only follow the top five European leagues, yet there is no doubt that Orkun Kokcu is the second-best and most important Turkish player. At the age of 23. Kokcu passed through the Dutch school of football, with Groningen and then with Feyenoord, before graduating to play senior football for the Rotterdam squad. And play he did, recording 175 appearances, scoring 32 goals and making 27 assists! Winning the Eredivisie title in 2023 and a Supercup four years prior.

A €25,000,000 move to Benfica transpired in the summer of 2023 and the Turkish midfielder got his hands on the Portuguese Supercup. Recording 13 goal involvements (3G/10A) in his first 35 games with the Eagles. For Turkey, Kokcu recorded 26 matches after his debut in 2020, scoring twice and making five assists. He and the #1 player are the tandem to stop at the Euros.

#1 Hakan Calhanoglu (Inter) - CM, 30

Hakan Calhanoglu

With a big margin between him and the second-placed best Turkish player - with all due respect to Kokcu - yet Hakan Calhanoglu has the most trophies, the best stats, has performed at the highest stages, with style points, and is still only 30. With his playing style, he could stretch his career for a while. Especially as seemingly Hakan has waited enough to have worthwhile teammates on the international stage.

Perhaps it's unfair that we didn't include Hakan Calhanoglu on our list of most versatile players as he played as a central midfielder, attacking midfielder, left winger, on both sides of the midfield, and as a deep lying-playmaker in the DM position.

The dead-ball specialist played in 508 club games for AC Milan, Inter Milan, Bayer Leverkusen, Karlsruher, and HSV, scoring 111 goals and making 123 assists! With 84 matches for Turkey, Hakan is also the eighth most-capped Turkish player ever and is 40 games from equalling the legendary keeper Rustu Recber. His long-range shooting ability helped him count to 18 goals in the red shirt of Turkey, with another 15 assists.

Calhanoglu is still waiting - not for long though - on his first league title, but with Inter he has two Italian Cups and three Supercups.

As was the case for Croatia during their runs in the World Cups, the current best Turkish football players form a strong midfield core. So once again, the boys from beyond Bosphorus will be regarded as the dark horses of the Euro 2024.


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