Bastürk comes of age

Bayer 04 Leverkusen's Yildiray Bastürk is looking to enhance his growing reputation.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen's diminutive playmaker Yildiray Bastürk has come of age this season – and begun to show why he has been championed as one of the rising stars of European football.

Hopes rest on Bastürk
If, as reported, Michael Ballack is missing through injury for tonight's UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg against Manchester United FC, then even more of the Ruhrland side's hopes will be placed on the 23-year-old schemer's shoulders.

Triple charge
Such pressure is unlikely to faze the German-born Turkish international. After all he has been as influential as anyone in his side's triple charge for honours in the 1. Bundesliga, the Champions League and the German Cup. Indeed, going into tonight's game he has been an ever present in Europe, appearing in all 15 of Leverkusen's Champions League ties to date.

Attacking abilities
The more defensive role Carsten Ramelow has adopted of late seems to have liberated Bastürk, allowing him to display his attacking abilities on a wider canvas. The sight of him pulling the strings alongside the tireless Ballack and the skilful Zé Roberto in Leverkusen's midfield has become a recurring motif of the 2001/02 Champions League.

Not the finished article
Nevertheless, even Bastürk's biggest fans would admit he is not yet the finished article. His dribbling ability is one of his greatest assets, but he has been criticised for sometimes ignoring the simpler pass. Skilful and agile with blistering acceleration, his finishing is also erratic, as just one goal in Europe this season testifies, but time is still on his side.

Toppmöller spots potential
Bastürk was born in Bochum, a former mining and industrial stronghold in the Ruhr, to Turkish parents in 1978. His footballling career began with spells with local clubs Spfr. Wanne-Eickel and Wattenscheid 09. The big break came when Klaus Toppmöller, then coach of Vfl Bochum 1848, spotted his potential and offered him the chance of Bundesliga football.

Fans' adoration
Bastürk spent four seasons at the Ruhrstadion, making 104 appearances, scoring 13 goals and winning the adoration of the local fans. Toppmöller left the club in 1999 after they were relegated, but Bastürk stayed and led them back to the top flight the following season with seven goals in 30 games and a series of inspirational performances. When the side plunged back to the 2. Bundesliga in 2001, Toppmöller, now ensconced at Leverkusen, swooped for his former charge and brought him to the BayArena in a €6.4m deal.

International recognition
Even before he arrived at Leverkusen, Bastürk had won international recognition. The Turkish Football Federation maintains a high profile in Germany - unsurprisingly given there is a 2.5 million-strong Turkish community in the country - and persuaded Bastürk to follow in the footsteps of Ogün Temizkanoglu, another of their German-born internationals, in pledging his allegiance to the land of his fathers. Besiktas JK sharpshooter Ilhan Mansiz has since followed a smiliar path.

Play-off mastermind
In January 1998 Bastürk made his international debut in Turkey's friendly match against Albania. Not an immediate hit at international level, he did not make the Turkish squad for EURO 2000™ and has won just 12 caps to date, a disappointing tally for a man who has been on the international scene for over four years. However, this season he has made great strides towards becoming a regular starter in Senol Günes's side having helped mastermind the 6-0 aggregate victory against Austria which earned the country qualification for their first FIFA World Cup finals since 1954.

Hectic climax
Before Bastürk can start dreaming of the World Cup, though, there are a few small matters to deal with. Tonight's game against United for starters, to say nothing of a possible Champions League final in Glasgow, the deciding final day of the Bundesliga season and the German Cup final. Quite some season, for quite some player.