Tuncay Şanlı: Turkey’s Flamboyant Playmaker

Harry Burford

The English Premier League has played host to a wide variety of different cultures, creeds and enduring personalities ever since its initial inception back in 1992. During that time, many memorable characters have passed through the doors of the English top-flight with mounting acclaim and widespread recognition to their name.

Some have gone on to achieve sweeping success within the wider European game in general, whilst others have seemingly found a long-term home among the Premier League – a distinct sense of belonging that can’t be emulated or replicated elsewhere.

Yet not every top-flight combatant of the English top-flight has been celebrated in such a way. For every up and coming young star who seeks to make their name within the bright lights of Premier League football, there are plenty of forgotten hopefuls who simply failed to stand the test of time despite their marauding efforts.

Turkey’s Tuncay Şanlı must arguably go down as one of those players. The quick-witted attacking-midfielder brought a touch of something special to the English game whilst representing Middlesbrough throughout the late 2000’s – and whilst both he and Boro have since drifted away from the most illustrious club stage English football has to offer – his was a reputation that ought not to be casually overlooked.

A scorer of great and important goals, Tuncay could have gone down as a long-lasting Premier League favourite had fortune proven somewhat kinder to the innovative Turkish international. Via his underrated goalscoring prowess and creative sense of ingenuity inside the final third, this is one flamboyant playmaker who certainly deserves his place among the time-honoured annals of Premier League history…

Tuncay first established himself as a serious young goalscorer whilst playing for Sakaryaspor among the second tier of Turkish football, but it was his time at Fenerbahce that really served to place him on the map. He quickly developed into something of a well-loved cult hero down at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, helping his side achieve three prestigious Süper Lig titles in five hard-fought seasons at the club.

The confident attacker began to excel as the result of his distinctive playing style. Tuncay combined a nice mix of creative flair and pragmatism as he went about his business, scoring a variety of well-worked goals from all manner of testing scenarios.

Much of Tuncay’s early prominence came after securing a splendid hat-trick against Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United among the UEFA Champions League. The divisive no.10 struck early via an acrobatic volley that fell awkwardly in the middle of the box. Tuncay then combined a quick near-post header with a composed right-foot finish past the onrushing Red Devils keeper, leaving the usually buoyant Manchester United faithful somewhat lost for words.

It, therefore, seems somewhat surprising, that out of all the clubs reportedly in the hunt for Tuncay’s coveted signature upon the final culmination of his time at Fenerbahce, the subtly emerging Turkish star would opt to join none other than Middlesbrough in their quest to secure long-term Premier League status.

Granted Boro had only recently just announced themselves as determined UEFA Cup finalists in May of 2006 – but under the not so well-versed guidance of current Three Lions boss, Gareth Southgate – the Riverside faithful would be in for a tumultuous ride that would lead them all the way to the impending threat of relegation across the tail-end of the 2008/09 campaign.

But whilst Tuncay ultimately proved unable to stop the rot on Teesside across his two memorable seasons at the club, the former Fenerbahce favourite would nonetheless sound himself out as one of the brightest sparks among a noticeably struggling outfit.

Unlike both Mido and the notorious Afonso Alves, who each left Middlesbrough with their so-called goalscoring reputations far from in-tact, Tuncay would go on to captivate the Riverside crowd with relative success. His achievements were subsequently recognised when he found himself on the receiving end of Boro’s Player of the Year award in 2009.

The long-haired attacker really was talented. He had more skill in his locker than most were initially expecting, and could play anywhere across the final third with equal ingenuity. Although Tuncay fared best when deployed among that all-important ‘hole’ just behind his designated strike-force, the frontman’s growing flair for spectacle was always noticeably abundant.

All good things seemingly come to an end at some point, of course. Tuncay left Riverside once Middlesbrough were eventually relegated back in 2009, but the attacking goalscorer would sadly fail to recapture that elusive golden touch that had previously served his top-flight ambitions oh so well.

He would go on to sign for Tony Pulis’ Stoke City without making much of an impact within his new manager’s first-team plans. The Turkish attacker then opted to join VfL Wolfsburg among the German Bundesliga where his fortunes would spiral even further downward, before leaving each of Bolton Wanderers, Bursaspor and Umm Salal in Qatar with very little to show for himself.

Of course, Tuncay served his national outfit of Turkey rather well during those memorable glory days. He helped lead his nation all the way to an illustrious semi-final place among Euro 2008 with a series of important assists and standout performances, but that particular benchmark would seemingly signal an unceremonious end to his major contributions upon the international scene.

Like many once highly revered names to have plied their trade among the English top-flight, Tuncay has since been largely forgotten in the wake of all the subsequent stars to have found a new home for themselves among the spotlight of Premier League football.

His overall output wasn’t exactly abounding, and neither was his long-term significance to Middlesbrough Football Club on the whole. Yet what Tuncay lacked in capacity and hard-nosed productivity, he more than made up for via his outwardly maverick approach to scoring goals.

The Premier League has paid witness to so many wonderful stars and talents throughout the years – and whilst his career seemingly failed to conclude amid joyous celebration and heartfelt farewell, few have ever managed to captivate the Riverside faithful with such skill and artistry as Turkey’s Tuncay Sanli.

The man deserves recognition for what could have – and arguably should have resulted in a standout Premier League career…


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