To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Turkey chose Hakan Sükür as their Golden Player.
It is no accident that the rise of Turkish football in the early 1990s coincided with the emergence of the country's newest football star. Hakan Sükür amply fulfilled that early promise, enjoying unprecedented success in domestic and international football and becoming Turkey's most recognisable player.
His country's top scorer in international football, Hakan also holds Turkey's record for the most goals in European club competitions, and was a prolific finisher in the Turkish league with 249 top-flight goals. In addition, he had the honour of scoring the fastest goal in FIFA World Cup finals history when he found the net after just 11 seconds of Turkey's third-place play-off match against Korea Republic in the 2002 finals, a game his side went on to win 3-2.
Born in Sakarya on 1 September 1971, Hakan began his football career with local club Sakaryaspor AŞ and made his league debut shortly after his 18th birthday in 1988. Two seasons later he moved to Bursaspor and won his first cap in a friendly against Luxembourg in March 1992, scoring his first international goal in his next match against Denmark. He went on to feature for Turkey as they ended a long absence from major tournaments with appearances at EURO '96, UEFA EURO 2000 and the 2002 World Cup.
Inevitably his heading ability – at 191cm, Hakan made full use of his height – and all-round excellence soon drew the attention of bigger clubs, and a move to Galatasaray AŞ followed in summer 1992. "Galatasaray hesitated a lot before making an offer for me," he remembered. "I was not doing wonderfully well at Bursaspor though I received my call-up to the national side while playing for them. But in the end I joined, and both Turkish football and Galatasaray benefited from this move."
The striker went on to score 228 league goals for the Istanbul club and was the Turkish Super League's top scorer on three occasions. His time in Istanbul proved fruitful in more ways than one, with Galatasaray claiming eight league titles and five Turkish Cups. In 1999/00, he converted a spot-kick to help Galatasaray beat Arsenal FC in a shoot-out and add the UEFA Cup to the trophy cabinet, becoming the first Turkish side to claim a European title.
Nicknamed 'The Bull of the Bosphorus' by the European media, Hakan – who had had a short stay at Torino Calcio in 1995 – opted to return Italy in 2000, trying his luck with first FC Internazionale Milano and then Parma FC. Neither move was successful however, and after scoring twice in nine games for English side Blackburn Rovers FC in 2002/03, he returned to Galatasaray, netting 12 times in 28 league games in his first season back.
"I have never felt like I should necessarily go to Europe and play for a bigger team," Hakan Sükür said of his time abroad. "Galatasaray were big enough." Despite his lack of success outside his homeland, his fine record for club and country, allied to an unselfish nature and a penchant for scoring crucial and memorable goals, such as a spectacular header against Belgium at UEFA EURO 2000, assured him of a special place in the hearts of Turkish football fans.
He went on to win his 100th cap in the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Ukraine in September 2005 and by the time of his retirement from football aged 37 in 2008, he had an impressive international record of 51 goals from 112 appearances.
Last updated: 26 January 2011
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