Remember when Bayer 04 Leverkusen scored that flawless set-piece routine at home to Hertha Berlin last season? And remember who was at the heart of that scrumptious move? Not many players have that kind of innate ability and vision.
Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s creative play has thus stood out as some of the brightest in Europe and the world this past year. The German-born Turkish international has been playing in the Bundesliga since he was 18-years-old.
When he made his entrance in the top-tier of German soccer in his second season with Hamburg SV, two things were immediately evident. This boy has an incredibly high ceiling. And what a free kick specialist!
Now at the tender age of 21, Çalhanoğlu’s free kick abilities are already among the best in the world. He moved to Bayer Leverkusen in a $15 million transfer before the 2014/15 season, becoming one of their most important players.
His one and only Bundesliga season before the big switch to Leverkusen certainly showed how capable he would be at a bigger club. He kicked off life in the first division at Hamburg with 11 goals and four assists. Such a season puts you firmly on the radar of larger mid-sized clubs (think Spurs, Valencia or errm, Leverkusen).
Çalhanoğlu has only improved his stock since joining the Bayer 04, despite having vastly similar statistics to the prior year. In 33 starts, he notched eight goals and six assists while wearing the no. 10 shirt. But keep in mind that these are excellent statistics for a 21-year-old in his first year with a top-four side.
He also led Leverkusen to a fine run in the Champions League, adding another two goals and two assists. His side was knocked out on penalties by the reigning Spanish champions, Atletico Madrid, in the round-of-16.
Stylistically, Çalhanoğlu fits the mould of the ideal no. 10. A classic playmaker, it’s hard to compare him to just one player. Due to his Turkish origins, he’s often touted as the next Mesut Özil, but you can also see a bit of Juan Mata in his play.
Not the speediest CAM in the world, the Turkish international makes up for his lack of pace with pinpoint passing and exquisite vision. And much like the little Spaniard, he can put some wicked bend on his free kicks and place them beautifully into the side netting all too frequently for opposing teams.
But Çalhanoğlu has an itchy trigger finger and shoots from distance a little too frequently. It’s one thing when a striker rips a snapshot whenever he feels it, but the hope is that a playmaker will be more patient and pick his moments with care.
Just look at the 106 shots he took in the Bundesliga alone last season. Only 32 of them were on target. Compare that with Juan Mata’s 33 shots with 12 on target. Or Özil’s 29 and 13. Both Mata and Ozil had similar goalscoring numbers on far fewer shots. Now there’s a statistic he should be looking to improve.
If Hakan matures and improves on his shooting instinct, this could only increase his assist numbers. His excellent technique ensures that his shot always has lethal potential, but if his assists find a similar vein of accuracy, the Turk could become one of the best weapons in the game.
Differently than most other CAM’s, Çalhanoğlu likes to drift wide left and either cut back onto his right foot for a shot or cross the ball into the box. This gives him a dangerous and unpredictable edge, one that many top sides would love to have in their arsenal.
The club most linked with the Turk’s signature is Manchester United. And truth be told, he’d fit in quite well at Old Trafford. As Wayne Rooney gets older and sees his role at the club diminish, Red Devils’ fans would delight at the prospect of Çalhanoğlu playing in the hole behind striker Anthony Martial.
Of course, this would mean Louis Van Gaal would have to find a way to play Çalhanoğlu and Mata together. Maybe give him a free roaming role in attack? Assuming the manager pulls that off, the young star would surely be a huge hit in England. What a welcomed talent he’d be for the Premiership.
So how has this emerging talent fared in the first third of this season? After a slow start, he’s begun to find his feet again. Recording two goals and two assists in the German first division, he’s more than capable of smashing his statistics from last year. Ten goals and ten assists are certainly a possibility. In fact, that should be his target.
He’s also managed another three goals and two assists in the Champions League. Hakan Çalhanoğlu could be in for a massive season if he hits top form and Leverkusen performs well. For the time being, fans will have to delight at the mere thought of the young Turkish player plying his craft alongside other top talents. Maybe then we’ll see an astronomical statistical surge from a player more than capable of it.
Until then, here are some highlights showing exactly what he’s able to do with the ball at his feet. Hats off to Hakan: