The striker, commonly known as simply Umut, seemingly pulled off the impossible when he scored a brace against Portugal, a football powerhouse in Europe and strong contestant in Euro 2012. The goals won him a string of media accolades and praise from around the country, causing many to predict that he would be in Coach Abdullah Avcı’s starting XI from now on. Umut has been a member of the Turkish national team since 2007 and is now 29 years old, not young by footballing standards. Even so, he has never received so much attention in his long career.
Umut’s life began in Kayseri, but he grew up in Ankara and started his career in professional football in 1994 with Petrolofisi. He moved up to the Turkish Super League in 2001, signing with Ankaragücü. The team finished an astonishing fourth place that year, which meant the UEFA Cup competition, but Umut only got one chance to play for them. He was then loaned right out of the Super League to İnegölspor for the 2002-2003 season and scored five goals in 30 outings with the second league side.
Following the loan in 2003, Umut remained with Ankaragücü until 2006, netting 36 goals over those three years. By that point the striker had attracted the attention of Trabzonspor, who was looking to replace some of its outgoing favorites, including Fatih Tekke, whom Umut listed as one of the players he respected most at the time.
“I have reached my goal in Turkey. I have no higher goals than wearing the Trabzonspor jersey in Turkey. After this, the only road is Europe,” he explained at the time. “My final aim is to be able to wear the A national team jersey,” he added, firmly stating his plans and goals for the future.
He did not play much the first year, but soon after that became an integral part of the team.
In November 2009, Umut was given the honor of captaining Trabzonspor. He was quickly signed for three more years when his first contract with the club drew to a close, despite the fact that he often came under fire from the Black Sea Storm’s highly critical fan base for squandering many golden opportunities on the goal.
Trabzonspor’s Deputy Chairman Hayrettin Hacısalihoğlu made it sound like a no-brainer of a decision however. “There is no problem after all. We signed a three-year contract with Umut,” he said at the time.
In order to realize his lofty dreams of playing in Europe and for the national team of his country, Umut’s passion for the game and focus are all consuming. “During the season I am not interested in much beyond football. I go from training to home, home to training,” he said during his Trabzonspor days.
Following his second season with the Black Sea side, he was called to the national team for the first time in 2007. Prior to that he had put in his time at Turkey’s youth teams, starting with the U-19 in 2001, for which he scored one goal in four caps. He had two caps and no goals for the U-20 team the following year, skipped a year before having 21 caps and three goals for the U-21 in 2004-2005 and found himself on the Turkish A2 for one lone match later.
The striker previously had little chance to actually play for his country’s A team, managing just three caps the first year, one the second and seven in 2011. Moreover, he did not score until last week’s match against Portugal, which seemed a concerted effort to make up for lost time and prove that he is truly worthy of the Turkish jersey.
His long career at Trabzonspor was bound to end sometime and Umut finally realized his European goals in 2011. They grudgingly sold him to French Ligue 1’s Toulouse, saying there was nothing they could do to keep him from Europe. He has played in 26 matches and scored five goals for the French side. Perhaps this international experience is what helped him come into his own on the national team.
Speaking after the game about his experience on the national team and his level of comfort with it, Umut said, “While at Trabzonspor, I would switch with Burak [Yılmaz, another national team striker and Umut’s former teammate who still plays for Trabzon], so I am no stranger to this set up.”
He is positive about having a Turk as a coach again as well. “Because coach Abdullah is a Turk, our relationship is very good. He is trying to rebuild the family atmosphere in the team again. If he is going to be successful, we are definitely going to need friendship,” he says. “We have taken very good steps, I think we are going to be more successful,” he added, clearly elated by his performance and hopeful about the national team’s future.
Whether his brace was a fluke or a sign of big things to come for this Turkish late bloomer, he will have stiff competition from his compatriots in becoming a solid fixture in Avcı’s starting lineup. The new coach’s strategy is not yet set in stone, and he may have to prove that he can keep up the good work.