Hamburg - New Bayer 04 Leverkusen signing Hakan Calhanoglu has been named best young player of the 2013/14 season by leading German football magazine 11 Freunde.
Bend it like Hakan
The former Hamburger SV star, who joined die Werkself on a five-year contract at the beginning of July, was unable to accept the award in person, but thanked the 22-man panel for voting for him via a live video link.
The Turkey international received 40 points in the poll voted for by 22 football writers, finishing ahead of FC Schalke 04 midfielder Max Meyer and his new Leverkusen team-mate Josip Drmic, who both won 24 points. Calhanoglu bagged eleven Bundesliga goals last term, including four from direct free-kicks, earning him a reputation as something of a set-piece specialist.
“His free-kicks remind me of David Beckham’s,” said Sky pundit and former Eintracht Frankfurt star Jan-Aage Fjortoft - one of 300 guests from the world of sport, economics and media at Friday’s award ceremony - to which Calhanoglu responded, “I think Mr. Fjortoft is spot on: David Beckham shoots almost exactly like me!”
Champions League bow?
As meteoric rises go, Calhanoglu’s ascent to the upper echelons of Germany’s top flight has been mightily impressive. After helping Karlsruher SC to the Third Division title in 2012/13, he quickly settled into HSV’s midfield, announcing himself on the Bundesliga scene with a brace against Eintracht Braunschweig on Matchday 4. He admits, though, that the transition from third tier to top-flight football was far from straightforward.
“The step up to the Bundesliga wasn’t an easy one for me,” he said. “I had to wait a while for my opportunity.” That wait was most certainly worthwhile for the Mannheim-born attacking midfielder who, should Bayer successfully negotiate their qualifying tie in August, will make his UEFA Champions League bow this year. “Helping to get Leverkusen [into the Champions League] is a big challenge for me,” Calhanoglu said last week.
‘Expecting great things’
If his pre-season form is anything to go by, Calhanoglu is more than capable of rising to that particular test. He bagged a debut goal in die Werkself’s 6-0 romp against Belgian outfit Lierse SK at the beginning of the month, while coach Roger Schmidt has professed himself delighted with his impact in training.
“He’s made a very positive impression on me,” said the 47-year-old, who himself only took the reins at the BayArena this summer after guiding FC Red Bull Salzburg to the Austrian Bundesliga title. “Hakan comes across as extremely motivated. We’re expecting great things of him.”