ISTANBUL: Arda Turan, who rose from a tough upbringing in a working class Istanbul district to join Barcelona in the highest-profile move ever by a Turkish footballer, has to prove his international class at Euro 2016.
No other Turkish player comes close to the profile of Turan, who moved to Atletico Madrid in 2011 and became a pillar before moving on to Barcelona, a team he describes as one of the best in football history.
Despite his dream move all has not been plain sailing for Turan at Barca. He had to wait until January for his debut due to a transfer ban imposed on the Catalan club and he has yet to secure a regular first-team place.
But Turan prides himself on overcoming adversity and nothing could set him apart more than spearheading a successful performance by Turkey in their first international competition in eight years.
“I think it is a beautiful story right from the start,” Turan said of his career in an article for the magazine of his old club Galatasaray recently.
“It’s an example for young people who dream. Because this is a success story. It shows there is a way in a profession by starting right at the bottom and going to the top.”
One of best teams ever
Turan, 29, was born in the Istanbul suburb of Bayrampasa in 1987, and his first matches were for the gritty western district’s local team Altintepsi Makelspor.
After his move to Barcelona, the authorities in Bayrampasa announced that they had named the street where he grew up “Arda Turan Street” in his honour.
He was snapped up in 2005 by Istanbul giants Galatasaray, a club to whom he retains an intense loyalty.
Then came Atletico, where he was a huge favourite with fans and won La Liga in 2014 under Diego Simeone, before his transfer to Barca in 2015.
“I am part of one of the best teams in the history of the world. I am very happy both for my own career, Turkish young people and the Galatasaray community. I think I can be a good example to everyone,” Turan said.
“Every day I work more and try and be better. Both for my country and for the national team.”
While Turan insists he has realised his dreams, some Spanish media reports have suggested he is unsettled at Barca after failing to find a regular starting place under Luis Enrique and could be tempted by a move to China.
Turan stands out as the most gifted Turkish player of his generation.
He is known for his uncompromising style of play. In 2015 Turan appeared to hurl one of his boots at the assistant referee in frustration during a La Liga clash while playing for Atletico.
Despite his time in Spain, Turan makes no secret of his patriotism and pride in pulling on the red jersey with the white star and crescent moon.
When Turkey qualified for the Euros with a dramatic victory against Iceland, images went viral on the Internet of the Turkish hardman, scratched and bloodied after the game, weeping uncontrolled tears of joy.
Turan has been quoted in the press expressing his admiration for Turkey’s controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying in February this year that the football loving-leader was “like a friend”.
Despite living abroad he is rarely out of the Turkish media, with fans glued to his games and as an inescapable presence in advertisements for endorsing products.
His love life remains a source of fascination for the gossip columns, breathlessly covering the end of his engagement with actress Sinem Kobal last year and new relationship with Aslihan Dogan.