Salih Özcan has impressed for both club and country since joining Borussia Dortmund and is now headed to UEFA Euro 2024 with Turkey. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga
Salih Özcan has impressed for both club and country since joining Borussia Dortmund and is now headed to UEFA Euro 2024 with Turkey. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga

Salih Özcan: Who is Borussia Dortmund's Cologne-born Turkey international?


Borussia Dortmund midfielder Salih Özcan is a man with a UEFA European U21 Championship winners' medal with Germany and now a full Turkey international going into Euro 2024 in the country of his birth, but what else makes him tick? trains an eye on the ambitious midfielder...

Data correct as of 7 June, 2024

Salih Özcan

Age: 2
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Position: Central midfielder
Country: Turkey (17 caps)

Key stats

Özcan joined his local club Cologne at the age of nine, and the midfielder with Turkish heritage was soon showing his leadership skills. He captained almost every Cologne academy team he played on as well as Germany youth sides. Initially playing closer to goal, he found the net with impressive regularity as a teenager, which led to him making 46 appearances for Germany between U15 and U20 level.

Özcan made his debut for the Billy Goats in an eight-minute cameo aged 18 in the 2016/17 season. He featured 15 times in all competitions for the senior side that season, and that early promise saw him awarded a gold U19 Fritz Walter Medal by the DFB in 2017. The prize - recognising the best young player in Germany at that level - was previously won by the likes of Benedkit Höwedes, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Anonio Rüdiger, Matthias Ginter and later by Kai Havertz.

Salih Özcan (second from left) and his Germany U21 teammates were basking in the glory after getting the better of Portugal in the European Championship final in Slovenia. - Vid Ponikvar / Sportida via images/MB Media Solutions

A teenage Özcan featured 23 times in 2017/18 as Cologne were relegated from the top flight, before he scored his first senior goal in a 5-3 Bundesliga 2 win over St. Pauli. Cologne bounced back to the Bundesliga as second-tier champions, but Özcan spent the next campaign on loan with Holstein Kiel - scoring five goals and setting up seven more in 28 Bundesliga 2 appearances in 2019/20. He then returned to Cologne and played 32 times in all competitions in 2020/21, including in the first leg of their relegation/promotion play-off victory over Kiel.

In June 2021 Özcan became a European champion at U21 level, featuring in four of Germany's six matches at the finals. He crucially bolstered the midfield by coming back into the side in time for their semi-final win over the Netherlands and their 1-0 victory over Portugal in the final. Özcan ultimately elected to represent the country of his parents and made his full Turkey debut on 29 March, in a 3-2 defeat to Italy. He played 31 times in the league as Cologne finished seventh in the 2021/22 standings, securing a place in the UEFA Europa Conference League play-offs for his hometown club and a move to Dortmund that ended his 15-year association with the Billy Goats.

In his first full season with the Black & Yellows, Özcan featured 26 times in the Bundesliga and moved into double figures for caps for his country, underlining his importance both for club and country. He continued to impress in 2023/24, featuring 34 times for BVB in all competitions, including nine appearances in the UEFA Champions League as Dortmund went all the way to the final. His efforts were later rewarded with a call-up to Turkey's Euro 2024 squad.

Plays a bit like: Nuri Sahin

Özcan and former Dortmund man Sahin share a number of traits both on and off the pitch. The pair not only have common family roots - Sahin was also born in Germany before going on to have a 52-cap career with Turkey - but they are each gifted central midfielders with cultured left-foots and now Özcan follows directly in his predecessor's footsteps for both club and country.

The pair are also more at home in a deeper No. 6 role but more than capable of operating as No. 8s of 10s. Like Sahin, Özcan has a good all-round game, combining quick feet with decent distribution, but the younger midfielder is even more robust and has a more combative approach than the elder statesman. Sahin was a Bundesliga champion in 2010/11 under Jürgen Klopp and Die Schwarzgelben will be hoping Özcan will prove the missing piece of the puzzle as they aim to end their 11-year-long drought without lifting the Meisterschale.

Did you know?

Like his father and brothers, Özcan likes his wrestling and he was with local club RC Ehrenfeld as a child until football really took a hold in his late teens. He also made headlines locally as a 15-year-old in 2013, when he rushed to aid a boy injured in a tram accident.

Özcan has since realised one big dream by establishing himself at his home town football club and another by sealing a move to Dortmund as a full Turkey international. But for all his achievements in the first quarter of his life, Özcan plans to have many more proud moments to look back on and previously told "My biggest goal is to take part in the football World Cup one day and, in the best case, to win it."

What they're saying

"I try to exude calm and security for the team in this important position. Our strikers know they can make mistakes up front because we midfielders literally stand behind them. And we also try to help the guys in the back in pressure situations." - Özcan on his role in the team

"We're very happy for Salih. His recognition makes us proud. It shows that we're not the only ones to believe in his talent, but that he's been able to show it outside of Cologne as well." - then Cologne coach Peter Stöger on Özcan winning the Fritz Walter Medal 

"He's an extremely strong player in one-on-one combat and headers. Someone who goes where it hurts and does everything without compromise to ensure that his team is successful. His mentality and physique, paired with his game intelligence, will do our team good." - Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl after sealing Özcan's signature

"Cologne is my home club, to which I owe an awful lot. I would only have left my city for very few clubs. Borussia Dortmund's energy, which you can literally feel, plus the opportunity to play regularly in the Champions League, ultimately led me to my decision." - Özcan again, this time on his move to BVB