German-born Hakan Çalhanoğlu is now a Türkiye icon, forged in the Bundesliga. - © IMAGO/Emmanuele Mastrodonato/IPA Sport
German-born Hakan Çalhanoğlu is now a Türkiye icon, forged in the Bundesliga. - © IMAGO/Emmanuele Mastrodonato/IPA Sport

Hakan Çalhanoğlu: 10 things on the Bundesliga-made star leading Türkiye's UEFA Euro 2024 charge


It takes a special kind of player to be forever linked to one iconic goal, and Hakan Çalhanoğlu is undoubtedly one of those players, but Türkiye's UEFA Euro 2024 captain is remembered for far more in Germany due to stints at Karlsruhe, Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen.

The Türkiye captain’s spiralling 41-metre missile for Hamburg in February 2014, is forever part of footballing folklore, and any European football fan worth their salt has seen it dozens of times since. A decade on, Çalhanoğlu is still one of Europe’s most feared dead-ball specialists and one of his country's most celebrated players. looks at 10 things about the man leading Türkiye’s charge at Euro 2024.

1. German origins

Born in Mannheim, Germany, the attacking midfielder could have represented Germany, which only leads you to dream of how he would have dovetailed alongside the likes of Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger down the years.

Instead, he opted to represent his parents' homeland Türkiye at international level, making his full senior debut in September 2013. That goal was clear from day one, starting with the U16 Turkish side, through all underage groups and up to the seniors, making his debut in 2013.

Çalhanoğlu's breakout season was about as good as it can get. - Alex Grimm

2. Humble beginnings

Çalhanoğlu had to travel well south from Westphalia to get started in football. He made his professional debut while on the books of Karlsruhe, featuring in the second and third tiers.

Karlsruhe were relegated from Bundesliga 2 in 2011/12, but with Çalhanoğlu a guaranteed starter the following season, he led them back up with a whopping 17 goals and 12 assists in 36 third division appearances.

KSC topped the table, and Hamburg, who’d signed him and loaned him back, then took him to the Bundesliga the following campaign, where he would make his top flight debut.

3. Rapid start

With 10 minutes remaining in Hamburg's August 2013 game against Eintracht Braunschweig, and the side 2-0 up, coach Thorsten Fink sent on 19-year-old midfielder Çalhanoğlu for only his fourth Bundesliga appearance.

By the time the referee's whistle drew a halt to proceedings, the score was 4-0, and Çalhanoğlu was walking off to rapturous applause, having single-handedly doubled the scoreline: his first strike a mazy dribble, the other a perfectly-placed free-kick.

Watch: Çalhanoğlu's Hamburg days in focus

4. Dedicated to the art

Çalhanoğlu practises free kicks for half an hour after training every day, and picks up further tips by ‘watching videos of set-pieces online’.

“I train a lot on how to strike the ball,” Calhanoglu said previsouly. “It’s like tennis, you have to train every time on the movements. It’s the same in football, but with your feet.”

He added: “When I was at Hamburg and Leverkusen, I trained free kicks every day." His efforts certainly paid off during that time.

5. Lofty ambitions

Çalhanoğlu was always convinced he could make it to the top, something he made clear when HSV were struggling after he’d just signed a contract extension in 2014. 

"I want to reach the levels of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi," Çalhanoğlu told SportBild shortly after penning those fresh terms. "I want to be a player that everyone is talking about.”

Watch: Çalhanoğlu's best free-kicks

6. Joining the elite

Çalhanoğlu headed to Leverkusen after just one season in Hamburg's first-team, and immediately got a taste of European football with Die Werkself, competing in the UEFA Champions League in all three of his campaigns at the club. 

He took a liking to the competition, registering five goals and eight assists in just 20 Champions League games to let the world know he was the real deal. Çalhanoğlu scored in the last 16 tie against Atletico Madrid in 2014/15 to secure extra time, but was one of three Leverkusen players who failed to convert their penalties in the shoot-out.

All-in-all, Çalhanoğlu made 115 appearances for Leverkusen, scoring 28 times and providing 29 assists for his teammates.

7. Milan heartbreak

Given his pedigree, it may come as some surprise that the only trophy Çalhanoğlu had to his name at this point was the third division title with Karlsruhe in 2013. Moving to improving Italian Super Cup winners Milan, it looked like things would change.

However, it was four seasons of hurt for the Turk, who ended up with three runners-up medals in the league, Coppa Italia and Super Cup before becoming a free agent.

Çalhanoğlu had three near misses when it came to trophies in black and red. - TIZIANA FABI

8. A well trodden, but risky path

Europe's top clubs all had their eyes on Çalhanoğlu as a prized free agent on the market, but the midfielder was not only smitten with Italy, but Milan itself.

Ultimately, he moved to AC's fiercest rivals, Inter, in the summer of 2021, causing quite the stir in the process. He’s far from the first player to do so, though, with icons such as Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo and Christian Vieri all previously changing colours in the confines of the San Siro.

Things didn’t start well in Çalhanoğlu’s first season at Inter, they were beaten to the Serie A title by Milan by just two points and, sadly for the No.10, he was the main butt of the jokes during title celebrations.

9. Sweet revenge

Çalhanoğlu did win a Coppa Italia and Super Cup that year, though, and was able to repeat the trick the following season. That 2022/23 campaign also resulted in a run to the Champions League final, where Inter were unfortunate in defeat to Manchester City.

However, in 2023/24, Çalhanoğlu finally got his revenge, beating Milan to the Serie A title and clinching the honour in the derby with five games to play, where he made sure to hammer home the point.

“I’ve always worked in silence and suffered too,” he said. “The win was great revenge for me. It was revenge because of the suffering I endured when I arrived and we lost [the Serie A title]. I can’t forget what Milan fans did to my family and me, but I knew in my heart that everything would have finished well.”

Çalhanoğlu finally got his league title in 2024 - will more follow? - Marco Luzzani

10. A Türkiye legend

With Çalhanoğlu rising up the ranks at club level, he did the same internationally. Named Türkiye’s full-time captain in 2022, the midfielder has led his team at Euro 2024 in what may be a new ‘golden generation’ thanks to young talent such as Arda Güler in the ranks.

Çalhanoğlu even scored at his old stomping ground in Hamburg to send Türkiye into the last-16, further - and fittingly - enhancing his reputation as one of the best Turkish players to ever emerge from the Bundesliga.