The Curious Story of Oğuzhan Özyakup

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Updated: August 20, 2015

Going into the opener, Beşiktaş had a big hole to fill next to Atiba Hutchinson in the center of the midfield. On the transfer front, Beşiktaş recently, and in demoralizing fashion, lost out on Ozan Tufan (to rivals Fenerbahce – For more info click here), and even more recently Gokhan Inler (to Leicester). The board seemed to be scrambling to find a suitable target; the Turkish media, in perhaps typical form, started naming the likes of Lucas Leiva, Marouane Fellaini, and Nuri Sahin. The Turkish football rumor mill produced by its media, often with a penchant for selling papers over partaking in honest investigative journalism, started listing those big names, which very likely put fear into the hearts of the Beşiktaş faithful, knowing such names weren’t particularly realistic, and probably signaled an absence of actual news to report, if anything at all. With this being the condition of the Center of Beşiktaş’s midfield leading up to kickoff, many wondered how Şenol Güneş, Beşiktaş’s new manager, would handle the starting eleven.

Last season fan favorite Slaven Bilic, who was sacked after a third-placed finish to the dismay of many (myself included), often played with Veli Kavlak next to Atiba Hutchinson. This offseason, ‘Deli’ Kavlak, however, went down to a serious injury and isn’t likely to return any time soon. Bilic’s second option was often Tolgay Arslan, who even moved up to first option towards the end of the season, especially upon scoring his now famous goal against Liverpool, sending Beşiktaş into the Europa League’s Round of 16 (where they eventually lost to Club Brugge). Tolgay Arslan is also out with a long-term injury, and probably won’t be seen on the pitch until after the winter break. The third option for Slaven Bilic was often Necip Uysal—a product of Beşiktaş’s youth system who was a Bilic favorite, but who in truth underwhelmed most fans. Many would probably not be too excited to see the still relatively young Necip get much playing time this season. At 24, it’s hardly appropriate to call Necip a ‘prospect’ any longer, and the truth is that, while being a useful utility player off the bench, capable of slotting in at a few positions and playing well enough on a good day, he hasn’t proven himself a starter by any stretch. Regardless, the odd man out in Bilic’s lineups, especially upon the ascendance of Tolgay, was Oğuzhan Özyakup.

Oğuzhan Özyakup, going into last season, was a player often spoken highly of, and one who inspired hope in many fans. He’d been coming off a very impressive season, and seemed destined for greatness. He started off moderately well, even garnering some international press for his Champion’s League qualifying and Europa League performances, but perhaps too comfortable, his performances started tapering off. Veli, because of his physicality and (slightly) improved discipline, started getting Oğuzhan’s place in the lineup. Tolgay arrived during the winter break, and steadily emerged as a starter, until by the end of the season Veli saw less football, and Oğuzhan hardly saw the pitch at all, except occasionally as a late sub. In total, he’d scored twice and distributed 11 assists for the season, not bad numbers for a central midfielder, but most of those came in his very solid early season start, and by the end of the season many feared the worst for his career at Beşiktaş. Indeed, as the offseason came about, many rumors floated around in the media stating that he could be headed abroad, as a number of clubs monitored his status. The trouble, for many fans, was that the clubs coming in for him, of the likes of Lazio and Inter Milan, were high profile clubs, and this news left many wondering how Beşiktaş couldn’t make use of him if clubs like that could. Either way , he seemed destined to be on his way out, until disaster struck the Beşiktaş camp – not once, but twice – in the form of long-term injuries to both Tolgay Arslan and Veli Kavlak.

With the injuries to Kavlak and Tolgay, and the failure to get Ozan Tufan or Gokhan Inler, it became more and more unlikely that we’d see the young Dutch midfielder of Turkish descent leave. Then came the news that Şenol Güneş might have bigger plans for the young man than most had anticipated (see here), and at the very least fans hoped they might see him play rather than Necip. This wish was realized when the starting eleven was announced—Oğuzhan Özyakup was penciled in to play alongside Atiba Hutchinson, with Necip consigned to the bench.

The results?

(click to enlarge)

oguzhan

 

In perhaps his finest performance in the black and white, the young midfielder, in only 74 minutes, posted more than a quarter of his total assists from last season in one magnificent performance.  With a near-miss on a long free kick, a few stunning dribbles into Mersin’s half, and efficient passing throughout the game (which resulted in three assists), Oğuzhan took control of his situation, and practically forced his manager to give him the spot in Beşiktaş’s midfield for at least another week.

After the match, Şenol Güneş spoke glowingly of the young Turkey international (though he played for the Dutch u21s, he has been locked in by the Turkish national team thanks to Fatih Terim). While Güneş spoke of the need for a more defensive presence in the center of the midfield, and even went so far as to say that a transfer hadn’t been ruled out, he also signaled that Oğuzhan had made it clear that they weren’t desperate at the position. In truth, it was a few members in our defense (no names necessary) who looked dispensable, and who very well may have given us a new top transfer priority for the time being (perhaps a goalkeeper, for example, will be needed for Beşiktaş to make a serious run at the Europa League and/or the Turkish title.

There is very likely more to come in the saga that is Oğuzhan’s Beşiktaş career, but at least for now, he has again captured the imagination of the team’s fans, and may very well have solidified his future with the club, possibly even as a member of the starting eleven.

Below are some of his highlights (pardon the poor quality):

Sinan Schwarting

Sinan is a life-long Beşiktaş fan. He writes fiction and is just completing his first project (look out for it), as well as being the co-founder of Be Fluent NYC, where he also teaches during the week.
Sinan Schwarting