- Calhanoglu scored three goals and provided five assists in the Bundesliga in 2015/16.
- Has a well-earned reputation for being a set-piece expert.
- Will represent Turkey at UEFA EURO 2016 this summer.
For most footballers there is no single moment that marks their progression from talented hopeful to established professional - but Hakan Calhanoglu is not like most players.
His breakthrough dates back to Matchday 22 of the 2013/14 season. Playing for Hamburger SV at the time, at the start of the day - 22 February 2014 - there was no indication that something special would occur. Quite the opposite, in fact: the rain was sleeting down, HSV were second bottom of the table, head coach Bert van Marwijk had just been sacked and none other than title-chasing Borussia Dortmund were the opponents for new boss Mirko Slomka's first game in charge.
Nevertheless, Hamburg went 2-0 up and were easing their way towards a priceless victory when they were awarded a stoppage-time free-kick in the centre-circle, 41 metres from goal. Normally, most teams would play a short ball to the nearest team-mate in order to run the clock down – but not Calhanoglu. Instead, the midfielder hammered the ball goalwards, hitting it with such vicious dip and swerve that it caught BVB goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller off guard and flew into the top corner.
Check out Calhanoglu's rocket against BVB in the video below
"I think that was the best free-kick I've ever taken," said the 22-year-old Turkey international, fondly remembering the moment. "The keeper wasn't expecting it. Nobody on the Dortmund team blocked my path, so I just whacked it."
Now at Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Calhanoglu says he owes a debt of gratitude to his mentors en route to stardom for giving him the freedom to experiment: "All of my coaches have always encouraged me to try free-kicks like that. They knew, and still know, that I've got the technical ability to pull it off." Indeed, football fans across the globe now know all about the playmaker's dead-ball prowess.
Juninho role model
Teams are now visibly more cautious about conceding set-pieces near their own penalty area when they play against Leverkusen – and rightly so. Calhanoglu has scored 12 direct free-kicks in the Bundesliga since that strike against Dortmund, and although the player says he does not have a favourite type of free-kick, he does have one particular preference: "I like it when I can put spin on the ball."
Calhanoglu was born in Mannheim and cut his teeth in the game at Waldhof and Karlsruher SC before making his professional debut with Hamburg. He returned to Bundesliga 2 side Karlsruhe on loan in order to gain match practice, before eventually leaving HSV for Leverkusen. With the Werkself, he is now a regular in the UEFA Champions League, the competition in which his role model and fellow free-kick expert Juninho Pernambucano dazzled for several years with Olympique Lyonnais. "He's still my absolute idol when it comes to free-kicks," Calhanoglu said of the former Brazil international. "He was simply brilliant."
Born for the big stage
Calhanoglu is now equally at ease in Europe's premier club competition. In 2015/16, he scored two goals and provided five assists for Leverkusen in the Champions League and only failed to have a hand in a goal in one game. He is, then, clearly suited to the big stage.
He will get another chance to demonstrate his ability at EURO 2016 in France, where he will represent Turkey. After an impressive qualifying campaign, in which they finished above the Netherlands, now Calhanoglu, Nuri Sahin, Yunus Malli and Co. go into a tough Group D alongside Spain, Czech Republic and Croatia.
"We're facing opponents of the highest quality but we'll give it our all," Calhanoglu said. "Although we're certainly not the favourites, we definitely want to reach the next round. Maybe there'll be a surprise in the group stage." That would not be out of character for Calhanoglu - just ask Roman Weidenfeller...