Unearthing Talent in Turkey

Patrick Caskie uses TransferLab to find players in Turkey’s Süper Lig who might be ready for a step up to the European big five.

When a washed-up footballer goes looking for one last pay-day, so the urban legends say, they head East to Turkey, its Süper Lig providing a haven to those who want to see out their final days whilst simultaneously lining up their pockets. For some, this sort of characterisation is overly simplistic. However, when the list of the league’s most prominent names reads like a FIFA 15 career mode window, it’s hard to ignore the kernel of truth it contains. 

But despite this abundance of twilight and post-twilight talent in Turkey, it doesn’t necessarily mean that burgeoning young players are absent. In fact, the two are far from mutually exclusive. Turkey has always provided a consistent stream of talent to those higher in the food chain, and this hasn’t changed. 

Times are changing, though. The presence of a more aggressive and ambitious approach to scouting and recruitment from clubs outside Istanbul has undoubtedly bulked up the available talent in the country. With this in mind, let’s have a look at some players who seem destined to swap Turkey for one of the Europe’s top five leagues.

Using TransferLab’s Best XI tool, we can populate a lineup with the best performing players in a domestic league. Here’s what we get filtering for Süper Lig players aged 23 or under:

Let’s take a look at four of these players.

Ravil Tagir

To those not in the know, overlooking Izmir-based TFF 1. Lig side Altinordu FK is easy and excusable. They rarely make any noise and have failed to break the glass ceiling that is mid-table mediocrity. However, those who look under the bonnet will quickly appreciate the place that this football factory operates in within the broad ecosystem of Turkish football. 

Recent graduates have included Enis Destan, who recently joined Trabzonspor, Burak Ince, who also left Izmir in January for Bielefeld, and the subject of this section, Ravil Tagir, who now turns out for Basaksehir in Istanbul.

Despite his relative lack of playing time since stepping up to the Süper Lig, Tagir has shown all the requisite skills for the modern ball-playing centre back.

Pardon the cliche but Tagir’s presence and ability on the ball are “beyond his years”. This is corroborated by his incredible numbers within TransferLab’s “Centre Back – Ball Playing” profile. As you can see, the youngster stands out in the Super Lig for his passing, his carrying and his 1v1 defending. 

In possession, Tagir’s long and lanky limbs provide both aesthetic and substantive value when carrying and distributing the ball. He can cover ground quickly and use his long levers to ping accurate diagonals to his wingers. 

The scatter plot below compares Tagir against the other centre backs in the Süper Lig for the volume and quality of his line-breaking passes. As the plot shows, Tagir is competing with older players with much more experience than he has:

It  would be lying to suggest Tagir has no faults. Like many players of his age, he struggles to deal with the physical demands of senior football: he is often caught out in foot races and needs to beef up to avoid being a net-negative in the air. As his profile indicates, his header quality and aerial duel win % put him in the bottom 10th percentile in the league. 

Regardless, when evaluating young centre back prospects, technical and tactical attributes supersede physical qualities given the relative ease to develop the latter vs the former. As a result, it isn’t hard to imagine that Tagir will soon leave Turkey for a bigger league. 

Ferdi Kadioglu

Football is inherently cyclical. Tactical trends come and go on an almost yearly basis. However, one that will seemingly meander for a while is the use of progressive play-making wingbacks. Although Vitor Pereira’s second spell at Fenerbahçe was largely unsuccessful, his use of a wingback system saw one of the clubs most promising youngsters super-charge his output: Ferdi Kadioglu. 

Kadioglu is an enigma and pushes the upper boundaries of what you might expect from positional flexibility. This is seen in his heatmap from this season. Given the period cut-off for this viz, this heatmap doesn’t even include his lengthy spells spent as a ten or as a winger from the past few seasons.

Kadioglu’s experience as a winger is abundantly evident when you see him play as a wing back, utilising a plethora of transferable skills. His ability to both create space with effective off-ball movement and take advantage of open-space with his ability to carry the ball is evident and invaluable. With a fantastic ability to accelerate and decelerate, combined with an ability to contour his body to manipulate defenders, Kadioglu is a nightmare to deal with, especially for an opposition’s first line of defence, their forwards. 

Closer to the goal, Kadioglu’s efficacy doesn’t dissipate; if anything, it compounds. His ability to play teammates in through various mediums is outstanding. Just take a peek at the passing metrics in his TransferLab profile:

Though his speciality is in possession, Kadioglu does provide the defensive security that is required of a wing back, corroborated by his 1v1 defending and interception quality. This is increasingly impressive given his effort and output on the other side of the ball.

In the “Full Back – Attacking” profile on TransferLab, no one comes even close to Kadioglu in the Süper Lig, as you can see from the graphic below: 

When you factor in his ability to play several positions, his age, and his contract situation—which at the of the time of writing expires in 6 months—there are few players in Turkey who look better suited to making the step up into one of Europe’s top five leagues.

Youssouf Ndashiymie

If Kadioglu is the domestic poster-boy for the marriage between positional versatility and genuine quality, his international counterpart is no doubt Basakeshir’s Youssouf Ndashiyime. 

The Burundian international is the most profitable example of Yeni Malatyaspor expansive and aggressive recruitment team and spearheads a growing trend of Turkish teams looking south and recruiting straight from Africa. Malatyapor plucked him out of the Burundian Premier Division before eventually selling him not long after for 500x profit to then champions Basaksehir. 

As evidenced by his heatmap below, the Basaksehir player straddles the line between a centre-back and a holding midfielder. Often the expectations for each are one and the same, maintaining defensive structure whilst being the primary build-up facilitator from deep, both of which he does very well.

According to his TransferLab profile, Ndashiyime is undoubtedly more valuable in possession than out of it:

His passing metrics profile as some of the best in the Süper Lig, whilst his defensive quantitative and qualitative numbers look a little more inconsistent, and for the most part, not that impressive. However, this is not to say he is a sub-par defender. His frame and athleticism allow him to be a bit more error-prone than most as he can make up for it in the recovery run. He knows when and when not to engage, tackles firmly, but much like Tagir, needs to improve in the air.

Although it does appear that his future is primarily at centre back, this seems wholly dependent on the system he is joining and the league. If he were to join a team who operates out of possession for the most part, he would likely struggle at centre back but could be valuable as a holding midfielder, and vice-versa if the opposite were true. 

If nothing else, Ndashiyime’s trajectory to date suggests that there is value to be found scouting backwater markets in Africa for the talent that is undeniably there.

Mounir Chouiar

It would be best to say that Turko-French relations over the past few years have been frosty at best. On the football field, the most vivid and recent images of this developing rivalry came in Konya, where Turkey defeated France in Euro 2020 qualifying to rapturous applause. 

In terms of player trading between the nations, the more dominant pipeline is Turkey to France. Umut Meras and Yusuf Yazici both took this route to differing degrees of success. On the flip-side, the most high-profile example came when a 22-year-old French winger arrived in Istanbul 17 years ago. His name was Franck Ribery. 

This summer saw a compatriot make a similar journey, albeit further east, to Malatya; his name is Mounir Chouiar. The Ribery comparisons are nothing but circumstantial. However, that doesn’t mean that Chouiar hasn’t impressed in Turkey. In fact, the argument could be made he’s impressed more so than Ribery ever did.

Chouiar is plenty of fun to watch. The type of winger who is never afraid to take someone on despite slim odds. This is evidenced by that scatter plot below which compares dribble volume with dribble quality: 

As you can see, not only is Chouiar putting up a decent quality of dribble, he’s also comfortably the biggest dribbler per volume in the Süper Lig. On the field, his touch and ability to contour his body make him incredibly difficult to mark and, when coupled with his genuine pace, he becomes even more challenging to contain.

In TransferLab, his profile score of 91 is the highest out of any Super Lig winger within the “Classic Winger” template: 

This is no mean feat given the traction that both Yunus Akgun and Kerem Akturtoglu are receiving off the back of their impressive performances so far this season. What these two lack is something Chouiar has in abundance: entertainment and dynamism. Chouiar is perhaps the most fun player to watch in Turkey right now.

Being fun to watch is one thing and often a precursor to cult status. But there is nothing more frustrating than someone who appears elite until they get close to the box. This is something that Chouiar suffers from. His relative struggles in front of goal are evidenced within his statistical profile, which shows a middling end-product. 

This is somewhat surprising given his consistency in the past and the production he put up during his last year in France. If you can optimise Chouiar’s output, you have a direct dribbling monster capable of off-beating just about anyone. But if you’re unable to optimise his production, then what you’ve got may be nothing much more than a hardworking show pony. 

This might help a team like Yeni Malatyaspor sell tickets, but it won’t provide much actual value to those in the top five European leagues. The risk is there, and maybe, just maybe, it could be worth taking.

Header image copyright IMAGO/ Seskim Photo

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