Euro 2024 Turkey Player Profiles

Written by Emre Sarigul for

This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2024 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who qualified. is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.

Mert Gunok


Position: Goalkeeper

DOB: 01.03.1989 

The most experienced of the goalkeeping contingent, the 1.96m Gunok started off as a basketball player before switching to football. But he is not convinced his skills on the court have helped him succeed between the posts. “Did playing basketball help me with goalkeeping? That’s a good question,” he has said. “Sometimes I think it would have had more of an impact had I started with goalkeeping and moved to basketball.” Perhaps unsurprisingly given his sporting background, he is an accomplished shot stopper but isn’t very skilled with his feet and does not have the best distribution. His father, Mahir, was also a keeper, although he never quite made the grade at a top club. In 2020 Mert showed his caring side by donating 100 pairs of goalie gloves to 100 schools across Turkey.

Ugurcan Cakir


Position: Goalkeeper

DOB: 05.04.1996 

Likely to be the first-choice keeper for Vincenzo Montella’s side at the Euros, Cakir refused to play in goal as a kid until his coach convinced his father that he jumped like a cat and his massive hands would make him a natural keeper. The coach clearly had an eye for talent as Cakir has gone on to establish himself as one of the most highly-rated rated keepers in Turkish football. The Trabzonspor No 1 has been touted for a move abroad this summer, with Celtic rumoured to be interested in bringing him in to replace the retiring Joe Hart. One report even suggested that when Brendan Rodgers was at Leicester his then scout, Lee Congerton, reported back that Cakir was the best goalkeeper he had ever seen live. This tournament may provide the perfect opportunity to prove himself on the world stage. 

Altay Bayindir

Manchester United

Position: Goalkeeper

DOB: 14.04.1998

Bayindir started off as a striker, but his will to win pushed him between the sticks. “I grew up playing on the streets. I used to play as a striker but would go in goal to protect our lead after racking up the score because I was the tallest kid,” he explained. Will probably be feeling a little hard done by having spent the season playing second fiddle to André Onana at Manchester United, despite a number of high-profile errors from the £47m Cameroonian. Had Bayindir got more playing time he would probably be the starter for Turkey at the Euros but as things stand it looks like he will be on the bench for his country as well. Aged 26 he is the youngest of the three keepers in contention and has great potential but picking him would be a risk given his lack of match sharpness.

Zeki Celik 


Position: Right-back

DOB: 17.02.1997

The flying right-back has never actually played in the Turkish top tier. Lille recognised his talent while he was playing for Istanbulspor and snapped him up on a five-year contract at the age of 21. Nobody would have expected him to join a top French side but he settled into Ligue 1 football with ease, and helped Lille to an unlikely title triumph in 2021. Now at Roma, he has been used as a rotation player for much of the season but his game time has increased recently. Spends a lot of his free time studying other right-backs, with Kyle Walker among those he admires most. “I’ve been watching him since he played for Tottenham,” Celik has said. “Sometimes Guardiola also plays him as a centre-back – something I have done myself.” An avid computer gamer and Pokémon fan, he claims he learned English by watching the cartoon. 

Merih Demiral 


Position: Centre-back

DOB: 05.03.1998

Scored a comical and historic own goal in the opening game of Euro 2020, the first time the tournament began with someone putting through their own net, sparking Turkey’s 3-0 defeat to Italy. Was playing for Juventus at the time so his error gave rise to jokes about the Old Lady being the backbone of the Italy team, and Demiral’s career has declined sharply since then. Now plays in Saudi Arabia but is a shadow of his former self. Has struggled with injuries but is now match fit and playing regularly for his club. The 1.91m defender was criticised for his display in the 6-1 defeat against Austria recently and it would be a surprise for him to start Turkey’s opening game against Georgia.

Ozan Kabak


Position: Centre-back

DOB: 25.03.2000

Has a wealth of experience at the age of 24 having played for Galatasaray, Stuttgart and Schalke, but is best remembered as one of Liverpool’s two panic signings on transfer deadline day in January 2021. As the Anfield club raced to solve an injury crisis in defence, Kabak arrived on loan from Schalke after being recommended by David Wagner, who was best man at Jürgen Klopp’s wedding and now manages Norwich. He helped them the Reds qualify for the Champions League but they decided against activating an £18m – rising to £26.5m – buy option. The centre-back has had a renaissance at Hoffenheim after a difficult few years and Vincenzo Montella could turn to him to steady what has been a shaky defence recently. 

Caglar Soyuncu 

Fenerbahce (on loan from Atlético Madrid)

Position: Centre-back

DOB: 23.05.1996

Joined Fenerbahce on loan in January in order to gain playing time and increase his chances of playing for Turkey at Euro 2024. Once a guaranteed starter for the national team he now finds his place under threat. Has not even been a definite starter in the Yellow Canaries team since returning to his homeland and the chisel-jawed defender who was once seen as the posterboy for a new generation of players bypassing Super Lig to impress on bigger stages has a lot to do in order to win over his national team manager. You’d probably be surprised to learn who his hero was growing up. “When I played as a forward, Wayne Rooney was my idol,” Soyuncu explains. He cites slumming it in the wild hinterlands of the Turkish amateur league for two years as mentally preparing him for professional football: “It built character, that place made me.”

Kaan Ayhan


Position: Centre-back

DOB: 10.11.1994

One of several players in the squad born in Germany, Ayhan joined Schalke’s academy when he was four years old and made his debut 14 years later. Has been an important player in Galatasaray’s title push this season and gives Vincenzo Montella options as he can also play at right-back and central midfield as well as centre-half. Believes he has calmed down with age, but still seeks to lead by example. “I still enjoy seeing the fire in my eyes on television,” he has said. “Without emotion, without fire in my belly, it would be difficult for me to have the right body language out on the pitch. That’s part of my game and I never want to lose that.”

Mert Muldur 


Position: Full-back

DOB: 03.04.1999

The sole Austria-born player in the squad offers Vincenzo Montella the pace he wants out wide. Can can play at right-back or centre-back but it remains to be seen whether he still has the trust of the manager after starting in the March friendly defeats. Having grown up in Vienna the 6-1 defeat against Austria must have stung, but he has never regretted opting to represent the land of his parents. “Listening to my heart, it is a special pleasure for me to be selected for Turkey,” Muldur said before making his international debut as a teenager. “After all, who doesn’t want to wear the crescent-star jersey?” Has picked out Sergio Ramos as his idol: “He is a complete player with all the features I love: control over aerial balls, strength and ability to play forward from defence.”

Ferdi Kadioglu


Position: Full-back

DOB: 14.07.2018

The versatile full-back can play on the right and left flank, as a centre-back and on the wing. Has starred at Fenerbahce this season and is likely to be first pick for Turkey this summer. Born in Arnhem, he started out in Dutch football and had the choice of playing for Canada, the Netherlands and Turkey at international level. Kadioglu offers Montella an attacking outlet who is capable in defence. The 24-year-old is in great form and has the chance to impress his many suitors this summer, but could have had an entirely different career. “I used to play tennis,” he explains. “I went to tournaments all over the country [in the Netherlands] but eventually I had to make a choice between tennis and football.” 

Samet Akaydin

Panathinaikos, on loan from Fenerbahce

Position: Centre-back

DOB: 13. 04. 1994

Vincenzo Montella knows Akaydin well from his time in charge of Adana Demirspor, where the pair the helped the club to fourth in the Turkish league – the highest finish in their history – last season, despite the city being hit by the earthquake that devastated south-east Turkey and Syria in February 2023. “My players were woken up by family members who were on the street,” Montella said at the time. “It was raining heavily in Adana and an apocalyptic scenario of still undefined proportions was foreshadowing before their eyes.” Montella introduced a player he once described as “the best defender in Turkey” to the national setup and Akaydin excelled in October’s Euro 2024 qualifying win in Croatia. He offers strength and surprising pace, while his decent passing range adds another dimension to the backline. 

Ridvan Yilmaz


Position: Left-back

DOB: 21. 05. 2001

Flying down the left flank, Yilmaz is a menace for opposing defences. His form in Scotland has him pushing for a starting spot for Turkey, whom he has represented at every level since the under 16s. Known for his pinpoint crosses and overlapping runs, he offers a dangerous weapon to the national team’s attack as they gear up for Euro 2024. Yilmaz has competition if he hopes to make the first team but he is no stranger to hard work, even if some of his early training methods sound a little unconventional. “I got the hardest ball I could find and would kick it as hard as I could against the wall all day until my legs got stronger,” he has explained. “I have always worked hard, I always knew I had no option but to work hard to get where I want.”

Cenk Ozkacar


Position: Centre-back / Left-back

DOB: 06. 10. 2000

Towering over attackers with his 1.91m frame, the 23-year-old is a rock in defence. Usually deployed at centre-back by Valencia, Vincenzo Montella has shown trust in his versatility, playing him at left-back for Turkey. Ozkacar’s strength and aerial prowess will be crucial to the team’s fortunes at Euro 2024, as they aim to solidify their backline. Snapped up by Lyon as a teenager, he has had a loan spell in Belgium before recently establishing himself as first choice for Valencia. “My playing style is really aggressive defensively,” he has said. “I’m very strong and with the ball I like to play good football. I’m from Turkey, so I’m going to be aggressive on the pitch.”

Abdulkerim Bardakci


Position: Centre-back

DOB: 07. 09. 1994

Galatasaray’s defensive rock has emerged as a star this season. More than just brawn, the powerful centre-back possesses surprising skill on the ball for one with such an imposing physique. It was his expert long pass over the top in Berlin that sent Ferdi Kadioglu away to crash in Turkey’s opening goal of their stunning 3-2 win over Germany in November, delighting the three million Turks living in Germany and suggesting the team could be a force at Euro 2024. Bardakci’s bravery and leadership make him a mainstay of the defence, and his presence in the side is an example of the faith Vincenzo Montella has in Super Lig players. 

Ismail Yuksek 


Position: Central midfield

DOB: 26.01.99

In the heart of the Turkish midfield, Vincenzo Montella places his trust in the energetic presence of his tireless defensive dynamo. Yuksek’s work rate is unmatched. He acts as the engine room, constantly on the move, winning tackles and disrupting opposing attacks. Also possesses an impressive passing range, allowing him to initiate attacks and switch the play. He is the ultimate modern midfielder and his in-demand skill set means he has attracted admiring glances from clubs in the Premier League, where his all-action style would seem to be well-suited. He has a preference though. “The club I would like to go to in Europe is Manchester United,” Yuksek told TRT Spor. “My childhood dream is to play for them.” 

Ozan Tufan 

Hull City

Position: Central-midfield

DOB: 23.03.1995

The joker of the pack, Tufan was a bit of a jack the lad in his youth. He kept finding himself in the papers for social media misdemeanours; sliding into DMs, liking and commenting on Instagram models’ profiles and so on. He famously customised the number plate on his car to ‘DM’ as a result. The box-to-box midfielder has since calmed down, got married and really focused on his game. He joined the growing Turkish contingent at Hull City last summer and has performed well in the Championship. Was left in the international wilderness for three years but returns fitter, stronger and raring to go having outlined his desire for a recall in March. “I miss the national team very much,” he said. “I’ve played 65 matches and two Euros but I haven’t had a call since. Hopefully one day I will be among them again.” 

Arda Guler

Real Madrid

Position: Attacking-midfield

DOB: 25. 02. 2005

Back in 2022 Mesut Özil told the teenager: “You will be a world star.” Two years on he is a Real Madrid player and has returned to the Turkey squad just in time for Euro 2024 after an injury-plagued first half of this season. While his fitness remains a question mark, his talent is undeniable: he can single-handedly change the course of a match with his dazzling footwork and knack for scoring spectacular goals. Guler’s ability to create something out of nothing makes him a nightmare for defenders, sparks hope for Turkish fans and injects excitement and unpredictability into Vincenzo Montella’s attack. Has the potential to be a game-changer at Euro 2024 if he can rediscover his fitness and form.

Salih Özcan

Borussia Dortmund

Position: Defensive-midfield

DOB: 11. 01. 1998

One of several players in the team who was born in Germany, Özcan switched allegiances to the land of his parents after Under-21 level and has caught the eye of Vincenzo Montella.  Offers experience and a defensive shield in front of the backline, but has struggled to see off the challenge of Emre Can in the battle to be Dortmund’s starting No 6. Often used from the bench at club level by Edin Terzic, his ability to win tackles and disrupt opposition attacks will be crucial if Montella opts to go with him alongside the more attacking pair of Internazionale’s Hakan Calhanoglu and Benfica’s Orkan Kokcu in midfield. 

Baris Alper Yilmaz


Position: Winger

DOB: 23. 05. 2000

Yilmaz’s explosive rise at Galatasaray has not gone unnoticed. The young winger has forced his way into the national team squad on the back of impressive performances in the domestic league and Champions League. Possesses a potent combination of raw pace, power and skill, allowing him to torment defenders on the flanks with his dribbling ability. Also works hard for the team and contributes defensively, tracking back to aid his full-backs. Has been linked with Manchester United, Aston Villa and Tottenham, and has been likened to some pretty special players. “I compare him to Gareth Bale in terms of strength,” said former coach Ilker Puren. “One day, he will definitely play in the Premier League because physics comes to the fore there. He has also improved his positional knowledge. The level he is at now is close to Phil Foden.”

Abdulkadir Omur

Hull City

Position: Attacking midfield

DOB: 25.06.1999

Once touted as one of the most promising talents in Turkish football, Omur’s career has stalled over the past few years partly due to a series of unfortunate injuries. Has yet to reach his potential but at 24 he still has age on his side. Joined the Turkish contingent at Hull City during the winter transfer window a year after playing against them in a friendly for Trabzonspor. “After the game myself and Ozan [Tufan] were joking with each other, I was asking him how England was,” said Omur. “I could not imagine I would go to Hull, but life is like this.” Consistent game time in the Championship has heralded a return to the national team for the skilful attacking midfielder with the flair and creativity to unlock opposition defences. Seen by Vincenzo Montella as a valuable weapon in his attacking arsenal. 

Kerem Akturkoglu


Position: Attacking-midfield

DOB: 21.10.1998

Nicknamed Harry Potter after being likened to the fictional magician by fans: “It all started after I wore a pair of glasses on Instagram,” he explains. “I got called Harry Potter by the fans and then celebrated a goal waving an imaginary wand and that was that. I am actually a fan and love the idea of being able to bring magic to the pitch.” An energetic forward who can terrorise defences from either flank or through the centre, Akturkoglu has impressed in the Champions League for Galatasaray. But he can be wasteful at times and some have questioned his finishing ability. Vincenzo Montella is a fan, though, and will be hoping the winger brings his magic to this summer’s tournament.

Orkun Kokcu


Position: Central-midfield

DOB: 29.12.2000

Kokcu was born in the Netherlands but chose not to play for them. “I feel more at home in Turkey, that’s why I picked them,” he said. “Also I thought there would be more competition for a place in the Dutch team.” Now, though, he faces competition for a place in Vincenzo Montella’s midfield, and finds himself in a curious position. The young midfielder has been tearing it up for Benfica, showcasing his creativity and attacking ability, but replicating that form for the national team has so far proved elusive. This inconsistency has not deterred his manager, who recognises Kokcu’s talent, but the challenge for Montella is to unlock that potential on the international stage by finding the right position and tactical setup to maximise his strengths. The former Feyenoord captain only joined Benfica last June but already there are rumours he could reunite with Arne Slot at Liverpool this summer.

Irfan Can Kahveci 


Position: Central-midfield

DOB: 15.07.1995

Growing up, Kahveci’s dad used to threaten him that if he did not focus on his football he would have to join him at the garage changing oil in the cars. It seems to have done the trick. The temperamental box-to-box midfielder works hard while having the technical ability and creativity to threaten opposing defences. His main problem is his discipline: at his best he is a fine forward-thinking player but he is prone to picking up needless cards. That fiery temperament can be a double-edged sword but statistically Kahveci is one of the best in his position in Europe, weighing in heavily with goals and assists during a fine eason and drawing interest from Newcastle United in the process. Vincenzo Montella likes hard-working players but he will need to weigh up the risks. If he can maintain discipline, Kahveci will be an asset to Turkey’s midfield.

Yusuf Yazici 


Position: Attacking-midfield

DOB: 29.01.1997

Yazici had a rather unusual childhood for a footballer. “I would spend summers as a shepherd with my grandmother,” he once revealed, but things changed rapidly once his talent emerged. Helped his school team become World High School Champions in 2015, starred for Trabzonspor after breaking into the first team and earned himself a big-money move to Lille. His career then stalled for a few years but the attacking midfielder is back from the wilderness after rediscovering his form at Lille and forcing his way into the Turkey squad again. Creative and dangerous from set pieces, Yazici hit the headlines in December when his home was ransacked by burglars for a second time while he played in a Europa Conference League match. Two high-value watches, clothes and leather goods were stolen as he scored a penalty in Lille’s 3-0 win against Klasvik.

Hakan Calhanoglu 


Position: Central/Attacking-midfield

DOB: 08.02.1994

Calhanoglu is not short on confidence, “I’m the best playmaker right now,” he said in February. “After me Rodri, then Toni Kroos, [Joshua] Kimmich and Enzo Fernández.” The creative heartbeat of this Turkey team brings experience and guile to the midfield. Has matured into a deep-lying playmaker at Inter and his vision and ability to dictate the tempo of the game are invaluable for Vincenzo Montella with Turkey. Calhanoglu’s dead-ball prowess remains a huge weapon, his pinpoint free-kicks and corners offering a constant threat. He will be tasked with pulling the strings in midfield, orchestrating attacks and linking defence with attack. While the goals might be less frequent these days, his experience and leadership will be crucial to guide Turkey’s young talents at Euro 2024.

Cengiz Under 


Position: Winger

DOB: 14.07.1997

Under is reigniting his career at Fenerbahce. The skilful winger terrifies defenders with his electrifying pace and trickery.  Unafraid to take on his man, he uses his dribbling ability to weave past opponents, creating scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. Beyond his close control, he possesses a fearsome long shot. At his best he is a game-changer but his form is unpredictable. Joined Roma in 2017 and had decent success there before loan spells at Leicester (not so good) and Marseille (much better).Now excelling at Fenerbahce and his return to his best has not gone unnoticed by Vincenzo Montella. It was the Champions League that first had him dreaming of making it as a footballer. “As a child, I could only watch the first halves of the games shown at 9.45pm in Turkey,” he has said. “I would have to go to bed before the second half. The most memorable game for me was the 2005 Liverpool v Milan final that ended 3-3 and then went to penalties. It was a very big match that was played in Istanbul.”

Enes Unal 


Position: Striker

DOB: 10.05.1997

Unal’s experience makes him a valuable asset for Turkey and his form at Getafe earned him a January move to Bournemouth. He has yet to hit top form at his new club but they have decided to make his loan permanent in the summer anyway. “We are very happy, especially with his attitude and how he is integrating on and off the pitch. It is a very good signing for us,” said Andoni Iraola. Despite being a proven scorer at club level, he struggles to translate that success to the international stage. Is likely to be in Vincenzo Montella’s side, although the manager’s dilemma is whether to gamble on a striker in better scoring form. Whatever happens, Unal can relax by reading. “I read several books at once,” he has said. “Other than reading books I can’t say I do much else.”

Kenan Yildiz


Position: Striker

DOB: 04.05.2005

From academy prospect to first-team regular in a blink of an eye, Yildiz’s rise at Juventus has been nothing short of meteoric. He became a fan favourite after dedicating his goal celebrations to Alessandro Del Piero. The Juve legend responded by saying: “’I would give him the No 10 shirt.” Standing tall as a powerful forward, Yildiz is not afraid to take on defenders. Possesses a natural eye for goal and is a handful for opponents. One of several rising stars being touted as the future of the national team. Born in Bavaria to a Turkish father and German mother, he joined Bayern Munich’s academy aged seven and 10 years later Juve won the race for his signature. Was included in the Guardian’s list of the world’s 60 best players born in 2005 and scored his first goal for Turkey in his first start in the 3-2 win over Germany.  While his experience at international level is limited, his confidence and ability to perform under pressure suggest he can thrive on the big stage.

Can Uzun


Position: Striker

DOB: 11.11.2005

The 18-year-old was born in the same city, Regensburg, and started playing at the same youth academies as his fellow teenage prodigy Kenan Yildiz, even if he has taken a rather different route to the Turkey squad. Emerging through the ranks at Nürnberg, Uzun’s prolific goalscoring record in the German second tier attracted the attention of Eintracht Frankfurt, whom he will join next season. Germany offered him a place in their national setup but there was only one winner in that contest. “You have to feel the national team and here my heart and stomach said that Turkey is the right choice for me,” he explained. His presence adds another dimension to Vincenzo Montella’s attacking options, his hunger to prove himself and his ability to find the net making him a player to watch. Has the potential to become a breakout star for Turkey at the Euros.

Yunus Akgun

Leicester on loan from Galatasaray 

Position: Winger  

DOB: 07.07.2000

A tireless winger with electrifying pace, he’s been a favourite of Vincenzo Montella since their time together at Adana Demirspor. Enzo Maresca was Montella’s assistant manager at the Turkish club and signed Akgun on loan when he became Leicester manager last summer. Offers what Montella wants from a player, working tirelessly, tracking back defensively and using his speed to stretch defences on the counterattack. Contributed solidly to Leicester’s promotion to the Premier League despite not always grabbing the headlines, and enjoyed their open-top bus parade through the city, where he was cheered on by fans in Galatasaray jerseys among the Leicester supporters. Akgun is likely to be a squad player at the tournament but should get some playing time. 

Semih Kilicsoy


Position: Striker

DOB: 15.08.2005

Turkey has gone from having a striker shortage to an abundance of emerging teenage talent up front. Vincenzo Montella is spoilt for choice and now has Kilicsoy as an extra option. The 18-year-old from the bustling Istanbul suburb of Gaziosmanpasa forced his way into the squad by scoring more than 10 goals for Besiktas in the Turkish Super Lig this season. At the time of writing he has yet to make his national team debut but was desperate to join the team for Euro 2024. Boasts impressive technical ability as well as an eye for goal. Was called up to the national team for the first time in March only to be later demoted to the Under-21 side. “He will get more playing time there,” Vincenzo Montella said at the time. Given the nature of the two friendly defeats by Austria and Hungary, Montella may not make the same decision again.

Bertug Yildirim


Position: Striker

DOB: 12.07.2002

At 1.85m tall, Yildirim provides a tempting option for Vincenzo Montella in attack. The powerful target man currently plies his trade with Rennes and his aerial prowess could be a valuable asset for Turkey. His strength allows him to hold up the ball effectively, bringing teammates into play. He offers a focal point in attack, is a target for crosses and has the ability to bully defenders in aerial battles. Impressed for Hatayspor before they had to withdraw from the Super Lig after the devastating earthquake of February 2023, but has found goals, assists and minutes harder to come by since moving to France. Scored an 88th-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Armenia in Euro 2024 qualifying however, and managed to scrape into the squad for the Euros.