by Dündar Kesapli

ISTANBUL – On February 25, 2005 in Altindag, district of the capital Ankara, a star was born. The new star of Turkish football, the Messi of Anatolia as the media have already defined him after initially comparing him to the former madridista and 2014 world champion Mesut Özil. Arda Güler makes an entire country dream: 85 million fans. Trequartista, fantasista, sometimes left-handed offensive winger of immense talent who wears the magical number 10 shirt. At the moment in Fenerbahçe, his club, one of the three greats of Turkish football (together with Galatasaray and Besiktas) but soon also in the senior national team of the Crescent where he has already debuted with the number 21 under the guidance of the German coach Stefan Kunz last November 19 in Gazientep (2-1 in a friendly game against the Czech Republic) at the age of 17,  8 months and 25 days. Not far from the absolute record held by Nuri Şahin, now coach of Antalyaspor, who made his debut at 17 years, 1 month and 3 days but – being born in Germany – at the time he was registered for Borussia Dortmund coached by a certain Jürgen Klopp. It is curious to note that Şahin’s debut in Turkey took place in 2005, the same year of Arda’s birth…

No less than the powerful Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is betting (and supporting) Güler and expressly wanted him at his side as a “testimonial” to launch a campaign against tobacco. Arda has a contract that will expire on June 30, 2025 and Fenerbahçe is studying the best solution to lock him given that a market auction is being unleashed on his “jewel” that sees in the front row clubs of the caliber of Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and even PSG. There are also rumors of an alleged clause of 30 million euros, definitely within the reach of a large foreign club. The second son of his family, the Altindag prodigy was initiated into football from an early age by his father Umit. “There was no left-hander in the house – he said – and so I bought him balls, soccer balls and balloons encouraging him to kick left. A workout that undoubtedly benefited him… ».

It was his Second Grade Physical Education teacher who first discovered the makings of a champion after seeing him play in the schoolyard. He immediately got in touch with his father and decided to report him to a club in the area: Etimesgut Belediyespor in Ankara. In 2014, at the age of 9, he moved to the youth sector of Gençlerbirligi, an association of the highest division (always in the capital) famous for the care of the nursery. A bit like Atalanta. His natural gifts have been noticed by the talent-scouts of Fenerbahçe, the yellow-blue company based in Kadiköy, east of the Bosphorus, that is, in the Asian part of Istanbul. “In December 2018 I went to Ankara to watch a derby between the Under-14 teams of Osmanlispor and Gençlerbirligi,” said Serhat Pekmezci, former head of Fenerbahçe’s youth sector. I was there to follow another guy, but Arda immediately caught my attention. I was bewitched by his skills and grit. A quarter of an hour from the end he suffered a bad ankle injury, but he decided to grit his teeth and stay on the field despite the very strong pain and tears in his eyes. The Istanbul club, of which Güler has always been a fan, made him an offer and convinced him to move about 450 kilometers from home. It was exactly February 13, 2019 when he began playing with his peers in the Under 14 formation, of which he soon became captain, and in the continuation of the season he was promoted to the Under 16 not suffering at all the double jump in category. On 13 January 2021 he moved to the Under 19 with whom he played in Zagreb the 18th Memorial Mladen Ramljak, organized by Dinamo, where he received the award as best player of the tournament. Only 16 years old. That same summer he was promoted to the first team of the “Kanaryalar” (“Canaries”) by Portuguese coach Vítor Pereira. His absolute debut with the “great” comes on August 19, 2021 on the occasion of the first leg of the Europa League play-offs won 1-0 at the Şükrü Saracoglu stadium against HJK Helsinki. He came on in the 22nd minute of the second half as a substitute for Czech Novák. Three days later he also made his debut in the Süper Lig, the Turkish Serie A, in the 2-0 success in the Cesarini area over Antalyaspor: Vítor Pereira inserted him 3 minutes from the end in place of the South Korean defender Kim (now at Napoli) and Güler repaid him by providing after just 120 seconds the decisive assist for the goal of the Slovenian Zajc (in the recovery the doubling of the Ecuadorian Valencia on Özil’s service).

“If you want to give young people the chance to improve, you have to give them minutes and confidence,” Pereira observed after the debut of the prodigious talent, born in 2005. If you give all this, you allow them to shine. I have worked several times in the youth sector of Porto, dealing expressly with the Under 15, and I can say that I have not seen many guys with the qualities and character of Arda». His technical qualities, his inspiration, dribbling, creative and enlightening throws as well as strong character qualities such as confidence in his abilities, courage, personality, determination, attitude to leadership and the passion he knows how to transmit are impressive. Even more so when compared to age. It is constantly monitored, its margins for improvement are still enormous. The importance he attaches to his nutrition, sleep, physical data, individual and team analysis has attracted the attention of all the technical staff of the Gialloblù association since the early days of his transfer from Ankara to Istanbul.

On 3 November, he became the second youngest goalscorer in Europa League history by scoring against Dynamo Kiev in Krakow at the age of 17 years, 8 months and 9 days. In front of him there is only the French-Ivorian Désiré Doué, Rennes playmaker, who the previous month (October 2022) had scored also at Dynamo Kiev, in France, at 17 years, 4 months and 3 days. After the goal of the 1-0 to the Ukrainians – the race will end 2-0 with an assist dispensed by Güler for the doubling of the Brazilian Willian Arão – , the brilliant Turkish fantasist lifted the yellow-blue shirt showing under a shirt with the inscription “Mom, I love you so much”. Dedication that moved an entire nation.

The idol of Arda has always been a former number 10 of Fenerbahçe, the Brazilian playmaker Alexsandro de Souza known as Alex, 8 years (from 2004 to 2012) with the “Kanaryalar” where he scored 136 goals in 245 league games. Today 45 years old, coach of Avaí in the Brazilian Serie B. “I had his poster in my room, a myth for me – revealed Güler, expressing great admiration for the former Paranaense ace -. Every game he played was incredible. Whether it was league or Eurocups, they were all very special. Alex was a different player. I will never forget the header he scored against Marseille: it is imprinted in my mind, I remember it perfectly well. I remember another one, left-handed, against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, but I was too young then. I mean, I saw that goal a few years later. A score, I would say, simply incredible. When I was still wearing the number 25 shirt, Alex sent me a message on my mobile phone: “You are number 10″. I was over the moon, overjoyed, excited to have received a message from someone I always considered my idol. He gave me other compliments and now we always communicate via WhatsApp. I would like to thank him very much, wholeheartedly, publicly. Those words were important to me.”


On February 20 last year he was deployed by the “interim” coach Ismail Kartal in the league match won 2-0 at Şükrü Saracoglu over Hatayspor: he displayed “magical” plays so as to deserve the “Man of the Match” award. After the game he presented himself to the TV channel of the Gialloblù club telling his emotion: “Just three years ago I crossed the Fenerbahçe door for the first time. It was a great honor for me to take the field as a starter for the first time with the number 25 shirt. I will continue to work hard and fight to achieve my dreams.” Less than a month later, on 13 March 2022, he came on as a substitute for Özil with 16 minutes to go in the Süper Lig match at Alanyaspor. The phenomenon of Altindag needed only 2 minutes to sign his first official goal as a professional, breaking the draw and bringing the score to 3-2 for Fenerbahçe, then victorious 5-2. A goal that, at the same time, made Güler the youngest scorer in the history of the “Canaries”.

On March 17, 2022, a collective event was held in Istanbul in which Arda Güler, together with 6 other young people, extended her contract with Fenerbahçe for a further 3 years. And during the summer preparation period for the 2022-’23 season, on the occasion of another official ceremony, he received the prestigious number 10 shirt from the Yellow-blue president Ali Koç and the new Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus. Today he is the idol of the fans, especially the younger ones who praise him from the stands, as well as the model to follow and inspire thousands of Turkish children who dream of emulating his deeds. If it continues like this and if maybe it is sold to a “big” of European football, it will have its “chips” to play on the green rectangle to try at the end of the year the assault on the Golden Boy 2023.