Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Hakan Çalhanoğlu is once more showing his class in the UEFA Champions League, though it is not so long ago that the 21-year-old was playing in the third division in Germany. He discusses his glorious learning curve with UEFA.com.
UEFA.com: You went from the German third tier with Karlsruhe to Hamburg, and then on to scoring in the UEFA Champions League with Leverkusen. How would you describe these last few seasons?
Hakan Çalhanoğlu: It has all gone so fast – I never thought this would happen, but I am very happy to have reached a point where I can prove myself in front of all these clubs and all these people. As a player, you just want to play in the Champions League and compete against the best teams, and that's why I am happy to have made these steps. I have worked very hard for it, but I certainly have to continue fighting and improving at this level.
UEFA.com: You are a midfield regular at 21; how would you describe your role in Bayer's exciting young team?
Çalhanoğlu: Well, I play in several different positions – as a defensive midfielder or on the left wing or as a second striker. I always try to give my best on the pitch and do what the coach expects of me. And I want to make my contribution to the team and get the best out of myself.
UEFA.com: You are a great free-kick taker. What is your secret?
Çalhanoğlu: I try to put the ball over the wall. That is my strength, and if I hit the ball well then it normally goes in. I have watched many free-kick specialists. David Beckham was an outstanding free-kick taker, Juninho as well, and you always have to watch players like that and learn from them. I think every footballer has a role model, and those two were mine – through them I developed my own technique.
Leverkusen coach Roger Schmidt
UEFA.com: You are in your second season under Roger Schmidt. How would you describe working with him?
Çalhanoğlu: We joined the club at the same time and we had a great first year. I got along with him very well, and with the whole team. He has been doing a really great job and treats us the way every player would wish to be treated. We have all been growing together.
We are a very young team that is willing and hungry. And we want to continue to show that. People think our coach's playing style is a bit too attack-minded and reckless, but we achieve a lot with this system. When it works well, it is a lot of fun.
UEFA.com: That style of play involves high intensity and pressing for possession high up the field. How does it suit you?
Çalhanoğlu: Well, you have to press well up front and have faith in your defenders. And that is the most important thing in a match – you need to have trust in all your team-mates and that trust has been growing. And if you have players in attack that you link up well with, then it is double the fun. Scoring goals is the greatest thing for a footballer, myself included.