by Massimo Franchi

After winning 14 Champions League and European Cup titles (an absolute record) and 12 Ballon d’Ors (shared record with Barcelona), Real Madrid is preparing to win its first Golden Boy award in history. The trophy that Tuttosport has awarded since 2003 to the best Under-21 player of the year is the only one missing from the Blancos’ trophy cabinet. Last year, French-Congolese Eduardo Camavinga finished in 3rd place, marking the first time a Real Madrid player made it to the podium. This year, there are high chances that the favorite, Anglo-Nigerian Jude Bellingham, who finished 2nd in the last two editions wearing the yellow and black of Borussia Dortmund, will triumph. However, he will have to watch out for internal competition. Yesterday afternoon, the latest addition to Florentino Pérez’s squad, Turkish super talent Arda Güler, arrived in the Spanish capital. The 18-year-old left-footed player was signed from Fenerbahce for €20 million plus €10 million in bonuses, plus 20% of the future sale proceeds, and a commission of around €20 million to his family. Bellingham, 20 years old, immediately took 2nd place behind the German Musiala in last month’s Golden Boy Index. But the determined Güler, who started from the back due to playing for a non-elite league club and being two years younger, is destined to climb positions in the upcoming monthly updates. He is already credited as the “best mover” in the ranking. And watch out for the Golden Boy Web, the one voted by readers on the Internet: Arda has already received 281,000 preferences in a few weeks…

Hailing from Altindag, a district of the capital Ankara, Arda Güler is the new star of Turkish football, the Messi of Anatolia, as the media have already dubbed him, initially comparing him to former Real Madrid player and 2014 World Cup champion Mesut Özil. He makes an entire country dream: 85 million fans. A playmaker, a fantasista, sometimes an attacking winger who wore the magical number 10 shirt for Fenerbahce (one of the three giants of Turkish football along with Galatasaray and Besiktas). Rumor has it that former Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, fresh from renewing his contract until 2024, is even willing to hand over his “dorsal,” as they say in Spain. Probably today at noon, at the presentation in the “Ciudad Real Madrid” in Valdebebas, the 2005-born player will wear a shirt with only his surname but no number yet. The number 9 is available after Benzema’s departure, but that is being kept warm for a certain… Mbappé.

Güler scored a total of 6 goals and provided 7 assists in the last season with the “Sari Kanaryalar” (Yellow Canaries) of Fenerbahce under the guidance of experienced Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, who has just left Istanbul to sign with ambitious Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal. The Turkish national team coach Stefan Kunz, who is German, launched Arda into the senior Crescent-Stars team as early as November last year when the Ankara talent was only 17 years, 8 months, and 25 days old. Since then, he has made 4 appearances and scored 1 goal, which came less than three weeks ago in Samsun against Wales (2-0) in the Euro 2024 qualifying Group D. At 18 years and 114 days old, he became the youngest goal scorer in the history of Turkey.

The powerful Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is betting on (and rooting for) Güler. He expressly wanted him as a “spokesperson” by his side to launch an anti-tobacco campaign. Arda, who has tied himself to Real Madrid with a contract until June 30, 2029, has long been on the radar of Barcelona, Arsenal, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, PSG, and even AC Milan. As the second child in his family, the prodigy from Altindag was introduced to football from a very young age by his father Umit. “There was no left-footer in the house,” he said, “so I bought him balls and balloons, encouraging him to kick with his left foot. It was undoubtedly training that benefited him…”

After taking his first steps at Gençlerbirligi, he started playing for Fenerbahce’s U14 team in February 2019. In January 2021, he moved up to the U19 team, with which he participated in the 18th Mladen Ramljak Memorial in Zagreb, organized by Dinamo Zagreb, where he received the award for the tournament’s best player. That same summer, he was promoted to the first team of the “Canaries” by Portuguese coach Vítor Pereira, who described him as “a mix between Dybala and James Rodríguez.”

Arda’s idol has always been a former number 10 of Fenerbahce, the Brazilian attacking midfielder who is now 45 years old, Alexsandro de Souza, known as Alex. He spent 8 seasons (from 2004 to 2012) with the “Kanaryalar,” where he scored 136 goals in 245 league matches. “I had his poster in my room, he was a legend to me,” Güler revealed, expressing great admiration for the former Paranaense star. “Every game, every goal he scored was incredible. He was a different player. When I still wore the number 25 shirt, Alex sent me a message on my phone: ‘You are number 10.’ I was on cloud nine, too happy and excited to have received a text message from my idol.”