Think Hakan Calhanoglu and think spectacular free-kicks, although the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder is about more than just set-piece wizardry
Think Hakan Calhanoglu and think spectacular free-kicks, although the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder is about more than just set-piece wizardry

Calhanoglu a sure-fire hit at Leverkusen

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

Bundesliga career spur

By the time the referee's whistle drew a halt to proceedings, the score was 4-0, and Calhanoglu 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. So just who is this Wunderkind now wearing the no10 jersey for Bayer 04 Leverkusen?

Calhanoglu's career path up until now has been characterised by extraordinary goals, and his Bundesliga trajectory appears set to follow suit. The Turkish Under-21 international played his youth football for SV Waldhof Mannheim in the town of his birth, but left the club at the age of 15 to join the nearby Karlsruher SC. Hamburg noted his promise and swooped to sign the youngster in the summer of 2012, loaning him immediately back to Karlsruher in order for him to gain playing time.

Being on the books of a Bundesliga side spurred the then 18-year-old on and he demonstrated his dizzying talents in scoring 17 goals from midfield in the 2012/13 season, helping Karlsruher to the 3. Liga title.

Goal-scoring midfielder

Of that tally, seven came from direct free-kicks, perhaps unsurprising given Calhanoglu's dedication to the dead ball: he practices for half an hour after training every day, and picks up further tips by “watching videos of set-pieces online”. As Braunschweig and many others since have discovered to their cost, his efforts have certainly paid off. The Lions were powerless to stop a sumptuous curling effort from flying into the top corner - Calhanoglu's party piece.

Calhanoglu's eye for goal is by no means limited to the domestic leagues. Back in June 2013 he netted a vital equaliser from distance against Australia in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, a tournament in which his Turkey side, the hosts, were knocked out by eventual winners France in the last 16, but not without earning plaudits and admirers along the way.

No coincidence

Yet while there is plenty more to Calhanoglu’s game than mere shooting ability - the youngster has superb technique, an enviable range of passing and terrific stamina - the midfielder now needs to showcase his wares regularly in the Bundesliga.

A move to Leverkusen in the summer of 2014 allowed him to step out of the shadows of Rafael van der Vaart and become his own man with the Werkself. His deadly precision from set-pieces has added another string to Leverkusen's bow and Calhanoglu is consistently confirming there was no coincidence in what he achieved that day in August 2013 against Braunschweig.