• Mié. Jul 24th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional

Arda Guler, the ‘Turkish Messi’ shining at Euro 2024 – and his path to Real Madrid

The Athletic


Few players have made as big an impact, in as little time, as Turkey and Real Madrid’s Arda Guler, with the 19-year-old’s recent performances for club and country propelling him towards a superstardom for which he has long been prepared.

Hailed as the ‘Turkish Messi’ while emerging as a precocious teenager at Fenerbahce in his native country, Guler made a sensational goalscoring run late in the 2023-24 La Liga season with Madrid — who he joined in a €20million deal (£16.9m; $21.5m at current rates) last summer.

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He has continued that hot streak at Euro 2024, where he became the youngest player to score on their European Championship debut with a stunning goal in Turkey’s opening group game against Georgia — breaking a record held by Cristiano Ronaldo.

“It’s still very early to suggest he will be a Messi or Ronaldo — Arda is still a boy — but he is a superstar in the making,” says Koray Palaz, coach of Turkish lower division team Kusadasispor and a pundit in Germany this month with Turkish channel TRT.

“There’s something special about the way Arda touches the ball, sees the game, sees the whole picture. He’s different from others. Whenever he gets the ball, you just know he will do something.”


Born in February 2005 in Altindag near Ankara, Guler first emerged at Genclerbirligi, a club known for fostering young talent now in Turkey’s second tier. Word of his talent quickly spread and in 2019, still just 13, he moved to Fenerbahce, who paid €200,000 plus €200,000 in extras. It was a sizable bet that would quickly pay off.

A Fener fan since he could remember, Guler aimed to follow his boyhood hero Alex de Souza, a Brazilian creative midfielder who won three Turkish Super Lig titles for the Istanbul club between 2004 and 2012.


Guler in his bedroom in February 2018, aged 13 – reading Alex’s autobiography (Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

It was immediately clear that Guler had the potential to also reach the top, says Tahir Karapinar, then Fenerbahce’s academy director.

“When I saw him on the pitch, his left foot and his football intelligence blew my mind,” Karapinar tells The Athletic. “But most of all, his hard work. If you tell him what he can improve, and if he believes you, he works so hard.”

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Within 18 months, Guler was playing for Fener’s under-19 side at the age of just 15. He scored 10 goals and provided seven assists in 22 games through 2020-21, even as his coaches set extra challenges to test him and develop his all-round play.

“We decided to play him as a No 6 so he can tackle, be in physical duels and tussles,” Karapinar says. “But Arda got upset as he wanted to play No 8 in a derby against Galatasaray (in May 2021). He promised he’d play very well, score and most importantly fulfil his defensive duties. And he did — he tackled, worked so hard and scored an incredible goal, too.”

Senior Fener manager Vitor Pereira, who had lots of experience developing young talents at previous club Porto, was watching closely and wanted to see him first hand.


Guler playing for Fener in a Europe League qualifier in August 2022 (Saycan Sayim/dia images via Getty Images)

“In the first session, he played like he would in the street with his friends,” Pereira says. “The character, the self-confidence, was very impressive. From day one, the experienced players would pass him the ball, respect him when he took shots, crosses. If he missed, he would try again, again, again. We imagined a great future for him.”

By August 2021, Pereira gave Guler a first-team debut against HJK Helsinki in the Europa League qualifying rounds. A few days later, his corner set up the only goal of a Super Lig game against Antalyaspor. Ex-Madrid, Arsenal and Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil was just one of the experienced players in Fener’s squad. But regardless of who was around him, Guler always took responsibility himself.


Guler celebrating with Ozil during an August 2021 league match (Photo by /BSR Agency/Getty Images)

“At 16, he played with the maturity of a 30-year-old,” Pereira says. “He always wanted the ball. When he didn’t get it, he would get restless and seek it out. He wanted to play the final ball or get a shot away. ”

Guler’s first senior goal came in Alanya in March 2022, a neat volley at the far post. At 17 years and 21 days, he became the youngest scorer in Fenerbahce’s history. He scored twice more in the next four games. The hype was already building, although niggling injuries were an issue as his slender body got used to adult demands.

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When Ozil left in summer 2022, Guler inherited the number 10 shirt. New coach Jorge Jesus used the Europa League to give him opportunities. Within months, he was a starter in every competition. He finished his first full senior season with six goals and seven assists in 35 games, the technical quality and power of his sweet left foot leaving its mark.

Word was already spreading wider. His first professional contract, signed at 16, only ran until 2025, with a release clause of €5million. After talks between Fenerbahce chairman Ali Koc and Guler’s father Umit on the president’s luxury yacht cruising the Aegean coast in April 2023, a new deal with a higher clause of €17.5m was agreed.


That was more a mark of respect for his club than a sign Guler planned to spend much more time in the Super Lig. Everyone could see that a transfer was coming, but at least now Fener would get well rewarded for polishing the jewel.

Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Ajax and Atletico Madrid all enquired in early summer 2023, but Barcelona seemed best placed. Blaugrana president Joan Laporta publicly acknowledged an interest but the club’s deep financial issues made it difficult to trigger his release clause.

Madrid were following the situation closely, if more quietly. Guler and his father were convinced by their long-term plans for him, and the Spanish giants agreed to pay slightly over his release clause — €20million plus a 20 per cent sell-on clause for Fener.

Even though Madrid also signed Bellingham for €100million last summer, and already had plenty of talent in midfield and attack, Guler trusted himself to convince coach Carlo Ancelotti he was worth significant playing time from the start.

“Beyond the technical side, he had the personality of a great player,” Pereira says. “Playing for Fenerbahce is not easy, but he had this rare maturity. James Rodriguez was similar at Porto — huge technical quality but also maturity and self-confidence. I wasn’t surprised when Arda moved to Madrid. He has had injuries but he has the quality for Madrid’s level.”


Guler and Bellingham in pre-season training for Madrid in July last year (Victor Carretero/Real Madrid via Getty Images)

Pereira is alluding to a knee injury suffered last pre-season, which required surgery. Two subsequent muscle injuries meant four months on the sidelines. During this time, Guler regularly quizzed Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in English about their careers and games. He also worked in the gym to make his body stronger and more resilient.

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A Madrid debut finally arrived in late January’s Copa del Rey round-of-32 tie at fourth-tier Arandina. Guler’s excellent touch and awareness were clear but the biggest impression was him grabbing the ball from team-mate Dani Ceballos to take a 20-yard free kick, which he struck off a post. This ability to seize the opportunity was no surprise to former coaches watching back home.

”Arda likes very much to play under pressure,” Karapinar says. “He’s so brave and strong mentally. Even if he’s sat out six games, in the seventh he can lead his team.”

Ancelotti preferred his more established players as Madrid chased a double of La Liga and the Champions League through the spring. Guler’s opportunities came off the bench, often when his team was already ahead. His first La Liga goal came when he rounded the keeper and fired in the fourth goal in a 4-0 win at home to Celta Vigo. The following week at Osasuna, a fantastic chip from the halfway line hit the crossbar with the keeper beaten.

That only further drove anticipation among Madrid fans and pundits. Once the league title was wrapped up, Ancelotti rested Bellingham and others ahead of the Champions League final. Starting games on the right wing, Guler kept making the most of his opportunities.

The standout performance was at Villarreal on the penultimate weekend of the league season. Guler’s first goal that day was a sweet left-footed finish from 15 yards. His second was even more impressive, taking his time to pick his spot from a tight angle. That made it six goals in 379 minutes for Madrid during 2023-24 — a goal almost every hour.

“I want to keep scoring goals and making the fans happy,” Guler told Real Madrid TV in May. “I never thought I’d have numbers like this. I just think about football and working hard. Even when I was not playing, Ancelotti talked to me, told me to be patient, keep working, and my moment would come.”


Guler’s swift ascent to stardom meant he did not play too much for Turkey’s under-age teams. Then senior manager Stefan Kuntz gave him a full international debut as a sub against the Czech Republic in November 2022, when he was still just 17. His first senior goal came in June 2023 — a trademark left-footed curler in a 2-0 win over Wales.


Guler was 17 when he made his international debut (Elif Ozturk Ozgoncu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Last summer’s move to Real Madrid pushed him to another level of stardom. The Arandina debut was shown live on Turkish TV. By now he was nationally famous, not just within football, says Tufan Karayel, editor of magazine Deplase Dergi.

“The expectations for Arda were enormous,” Karayel says. “Club rivalry meant he could not be a full hero (while at Fener). After joining Madrid, he became ‘our boy’, supported by everyone.”

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Guler was unavailable through injury when Montella took over as coach last September, and he missed all four Euro 2024 qualifiers that autumn. He then only started one of Turkey’s four friendlies in March and June — a 6-1 defeat by Austria (when fellow 19-year old Kenan Yildiz of Juventus started too).

Montella clearly had doubts about how to fit his talented kids into the XI for the Euros. But Turkish fans and pundits were clamouring loudly for them to start, especially Guler after his burst of goals for Madrid.

Montella went with an attacking line-up against Georgia and was rewarded. The match was level at 1-1 when Guler skipped infield from the left. No defender came to close him down, and nobody who had seen him for Fener or Madrid was surprised at what came next.

When substituted after 79 minutes, the goal the crowning moment of an excellent all-round display, Guler received a standing ovation from a stadium packed with Turkish fans. “It feels incredible,” he said after being named player of the match. “I dreamed about this goal. I’d like it to be a gift for the Turkish fans.”

“There was an outpouring,” Karayel says of the reaction at home. “Everyone was on edge during the game’s tense moments, and they erupted when Turkey’s hero scored. Even my mum started to cry. On social media, everybody’s timelines and stories were covered with Arda.”

One of Guler’s own tweets was seen by over 20 million people within two days. By contrast, Bellingham’s tweet after his goal in England’s opening win over Serbia had about 2 million views in the 48 hours following that game.

That just raised the expectations for Turkey’s second game against Ronaldo’s Portugal. Montella left Guler on the bench, however, and a completely outclassed Turkey were already 3-0 behind when he entered with 20 minutes left. “Arda wasn’t fit to play,” Montella said afterwards.

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Back in Turkey, disappointment with the result mixed with upset at the selection. Some even argued that Montella was jealous that Guler, not the coach, had been the hero of the win over Georgia.

“The coach got it 100 per cent correct in the Portugal match, resting key players for the next game,” says Palaz. “The problem was the news that he was tired, or injured. There were contradictions. But I think Montella is trying to protect him, as Ancelotti has.”

When Guler returned to the starting XI for the final group game against the Czech Republic, there were no signs of any fitness issues. He almost opened the scoring early, but an acrobatic volley was blocked.

With Turkey 1-0 up, and the Czechs down to 10 men, Guler’s moment seemed to have come when a Baris Yilmaz cross appeared to give him a tap-in. But he took his eye off the ball, the chance disappeared, and within a minute the Czechs had equalised. The final stages were frenetic, until Cenk Tosun’s late goal secured qualification and relief all round.


Guler and Montella after his goal against Georgia (Bernd Thissen/picture alliance via Getty Images)

“Even if it had gone the other way, there would have been no backlash from fans,” Palaz says. “Arda already has a lot of credit — more than the manager. He’s a special boy who needs to be protected in the right manner.”

Making the last 16 was celebrated joyously by Turkish fans and pundits, although some again argued the success was despite, not because of, Montella. Many want Guler to start against Austria on Tuesday in a floating role behind a centre-forward. Montella will recall the 6-1 defeat to Austria just three months ago when his team were too open and were picked apart.

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“You cannot yet compare with a Messi or Ronaldo, who have won World Cups, Euros, Champions Leagues,” Palaz says. “But I can assure you that Arda Guler will have more success than (Turan, Emre or Tugay). He still needs to develop his physical attributes. He is a very raw talent, tactically he still has a long way to go. But he is in the right place at Madrid.”

For those who have been with Guler along the way, seeing him become a national hero already brings a tremendous feeling of joy and pride.

“I’ve worked with many young players who have had good careers in Turkey and Europe,” Karapinar says. “I rank Arda top of them all. I truly know what he is capable of, and how he has improved himself so far. Watching him now makes me feel pride — just pure pride and joy.”

Additional reporting: Nick Miller and Jack Lang

(Top photo: Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)