A few months ago, Ahmed Kutucu had a choice to make. Play for Turkey. Or Germany.
Perhaps surprisingly, he chose the former.
“The coach (Mehmet Hacioglu) watched me play during a tournament in Germany a few months back and then approached me to play for the German team. I had already got a call-up from the Germany youth team too. But to play for the Turkey national team is a dream and a big honour for me,” Kutucu said during an interaction on Sunday.
Today, FC Schalke 04 striker Kutucu is among the four players in the Turkish squad for the FIFA U-17 World Cup who ply their trade in Germany’s Bundesliga. Defender Berk Cetin (who plays for Borussia Monchengladbach), midfielder Umut Gunes (VfB Stuttgart) and striker Malik Karaahmet (Karlsruher SC) are among the 21 players who have travelled to India.
Just like Kutucu, Turkish scouts identified the talents of Cetin, Gunes and Karaahmet when they were playing in Germany and convinced them to switch their allegiance.
Much has been said about the boost German football has received over the last few decades from the influx of Turkish immigrants. Players like Mesut Ozil, Ilkay Gundogen and Emre Can, who have played for the German national team, have Turkish ancestry.
But for each player with Turkish roots who chooses to play for Germany, there are those like Kutucu who pick Turkey instead. At Euro 2016, Bundesliga-trained players like Hakan Calhanoglu, Nuri Sahin, Yunus Malli, Gokhan Tore, Cenk Tosun were all part of the Turkish side.
Turkey’s U-17 World Cup team coach Hacioglu said that for them Germany, which has millions of Turkish-origin residents, was one of the biggest regions for scouting talent.
“As part of the national team, we watch every Turkish player irrespective of where he plays in the world. The country is not important. If there is a Turkish player somewhere, we will definitely watch him.
“The biggest source outside Turkey for our national teams is Germany because there are over four million people of Turkish descent staying there. The important thing for us is to get together players who have developed in Turkey and those who grew up in Germany. If a Turkish player playing abroad deserves to play for us, we always send him an invite to join the team. All of our youth team coaches watch footballers playing abroad across different age groups. We share this information between us,” Hacioglu said before adding that the youth coaches or scouts of the national federation also often made trips to foreign countries to watch promising youngsters play.
Another interesting aspect of the Turkish outfit, which has seven players from the youth team of Turkey’s Super Lig club Galatasaray, is that many of the players have played together in Turkish national age group teams since they were 13 years of age.
The Eurasian country has a robust two-level youth league system comprising of some 3000 regional amateur teams and approximately 125 professional teams. While the youth teams at the regional amateur levels start at the U-13 level, the professional teams have their own sides starting at the U-14 level.
The national federation has scouts tracking all of these teams.
“All of our players in the U-17 team play in the youth leagues, but one or two age group above their age,” Hacioglu said.
According to his estimate, there are some 2,80,000 footballers in the youth teams across the country. However, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) has set their sights on getting an ambitious 1 million youth footballers into the footballing clubs.
Hacioglu revealed that the TFF has started the youth league earlier than usual in order to give their players practice for the U-17 World Cup.
“All the three teams in our group (Paraguay, New Zealand and Mali) are physically strong teams. They clearly have a physical advantage over our players. But we have prepared for this. We started our youth league ahead of schedule just so our players have more match fitness to overcome this physical deficit,” Hacioglu said.
Turkey start their U-17 World Cup campaign against New Zealand on 6 October at Navi Mumbai’s Dr DY Patil Stadium.
Updated Date: Oct 02, 2017 09:54 AM