What Could Have Been: Emre Belözoğlu

What Could Have Been: Emre Belözoğlu

“Emre is the prodigy who lived up to all the hype.”

A risky statement when he’s only just turned 23, World Soccer. Not unreasonable though. Despite having huge amounts of attention lavished upon him when he was still a child, Emre managed to pull through and actually come good. This kind of exposure heaps silly amounts of pressure on those usually too young to deal with it, so actually being near the top at 23 – the last year before a footballer ceases to be classed as young anymore – would appear to be most of the battle won. But, as any cynic will tell you, just because something starts out good doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

As centre of attention in the youth teams, Emre was fast-tracked into the Galatasaray senior squad at 16, showing off the sharp left foot that made Zeytinburnuspor fans take notice when he was just a child. One of those small, close dribblers that manage to make the ball look heavy like it was in the sixties, Emre can control the space like the prime example of how a playmaker should. Time seems to be running out for him as the opposition close him down, then a little twist and he escapes, rewarded with an incredible amount of time and space to play with. His turns are so impressive because they don’t look impressive – they’re rarely flashy, but they open up huge gaps.

Not that he can’t do flash: any highlight reel will show you lightning quick backheels and exquisite chipped goals. There’s something of a smaller Zidane about Emre – unsurprising given he names the Frenchman as his biggest inspiration – and he has the temper to match. Being hot-headed isn’t always a bad thing – although a cliché, there’s an element of truth about the link between a player’s short fuse and his competitiveness.

Take all this talent and throw it into a team managed by Fatih Terim and led by Gheorghe Hagi, along with some other high quality cameos, and you end up with 4 league titles, 2 league cups, a UEFA Cup and a European Super Cup. Just as the “Maradona of the Carpathians” Hagi needed to leave his homeland to further his career a decade before, the “Maradona of the Bosphorus” needed to move on in 2001.

Emre had plenty of options, with a list of admirers featuring most of Europe’s best clubs. With Hakan Suker already there and Galatasaray teammate Okan Buruk joining him, Internazionale were the easiest option. “I don’t know if I would have come to Italy if Okan wasn’t by my side,” he said. “Even at Galatasaray he was like a older brother to me. He has taught me so much.”

He didn’t play much in his first season in Italy, coach Hector Cuper opting to bleed him into the side by bringing him late on in games and several injuries restricting his playing time, but, after expertly showing what he could do during Turkey’s run to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, he pretty much had to play him in his next season. A reshuffling of tactics similar to Milan’s to incorporate Andrea Pirlo meant Emre was given a chance to run the show in midfield next to Matias Almeyda or Luigi Di Biagio during Inter’s run to the Champions League semi-final. His displays that season earned him the Pirata d’Oro, given to Inter’s best player, with only more injuries hampering his adaptation.

Emre’s time at Inter had fallen into a frustrating pattern – plenty of impressive performances, but also persistent injury problems that meant he fell out of favour and was eventually moved on. Inter’s form was influenced by Emre too much for him to be sitting on the treatment table, so they had to replace him. It was time for a fresh start at Newcastle, but unfortunately his body didn’t agree. Once again, he showed his considerable talent only between injuries in his three seasons on Tyneside.

Aged just 27, Emre returned to his homeland to sign for his boyhood club Fenerbahce, much to the chagrin of rivals and his former club Galatasaray’s fans. After a disappointing first season, Emre spurred on, taking his team close to a league and cup double and winning the Player of the Year award.

Emre started out brilliantly and, when given the chance, has done brilliantly throughout the rest of his career. That’s his problem though: he was always too injury-plagued to depend on, which means we’re unlikely to see him at the top of the game again. At least he and his fans can take solace in him finishing at his boyhood club.

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One thought on “What Could Have Been: Emre BelözoÄŸlu

  1. I am a big Inter fan and I cannot stop remembering Emre’s performance from that season at Inter. It was magical experience watching him. He was the best player on the planet then for me, right there with Zidane. I found this article by looking for Emres’ data, wondering after all these years what really happened to him and why he left Inter. I will never forget that season of his. Inter never had such a midfielder after him, a dribbler, a passer, a tackler… Wesley Sneijder is a joke compared to Emre. Inter never played such attractive football after and probably many years before Emre. Emre left a trace in Inter’s history that for me will never fade away…

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