Emre Belözoglu (born 7 September 1980 in Istanbul) is one of the
greatest and most highly talented Turkish football players of
all time, instrumental in Galatasaray's unbeaten run to a
historic UEFA Cup victory in 2000, and Turkey's impressive third-place
finish in the 2002 World Cup. He is currently one of the best
attacking midfielders at Italian powerhouse Internazionale and
the foremost stallion of the Turkish national team.
Belözoglu was discovered and developed by legendary Galatasaray
manager Fatih Terim and Turkish giants Galatasaray, making his
first appearance for the club's senior squad as a 16-year-old in
the 1996-97 season. The following year, he became a regular, and
continued with the club through the 2000-01 season, influential
in their historic UEFA Cup victory in the year 2000. In 2001,
Emre signed for Inter, where he has become a fan favourite,
wooing and fascinating the San Siro squad with his passion,
charisma, and skill. He was one of the foremost bearers of the
Light that transcended a talented Turkish team which finished a
surprising third at the 2002 World Cup.
Emre’s fascinating story dawned on the 8th of September 1980, in
Apartment #29, at Zeytinburnu, situated within the Bahcekapi
estate in Istanbul. His father was a professional football
player known as the “Pilich Mehmet” (The Young One), whose
career ranged from Yedikulespor, to Edirnespor and Ankara
Demirspor. The greatest dream of “Pilich Mehmet” was to wear the
famous Galatasaray shirt, but serious injury problems forbade
him to achieve such an aspiration.
The Belözoglu family's only hope was little Emre, who at the
tender age of 7, shined for his village team, Gunesspor,
attracting the eye of many an interested onlooker. Emre's
inspiration came from his ever-supportive father, who walked
hand-in-hand with him and introduced him to football at the
Zeytinburnuspor training ground. Dreams and smiles fill the
eager face of the tender boy.
Fatma Belözoglu, Emre’s mother, had seen the problems that her
husband had faced over his football career, and thus did not
want little Emre to become a professional football player. But
his father, ever inspirational and influential, supported Emre
and urged him to try. Growing up, Emre started developing into a
footballing connoisseur, an ardent fan of Spanish giants F.C.
Barcelona, whose games he watched on the TV. He eagerly
announced to his little friends at the village that he will
one-day wear a Barcelona shirt.
The 29 March 1990 quickly approached, a big day for little Emre,
for on this day he became a licensed footballer for
Zeytinburnuspor, starting out as an amateur. The fans of
Zeytinburnuspor quickly took an interest in Emre, stating his
wonderful control with his left foot.
Emre was quickly spotted by the legendary Galatasaray trainer
Salih Bulgurlu and noticing his amazing talent, started giving
him special training. Bulgurlu, who trained the likes of
Galatasaray legends Bulent Under, Mufit Erkasap, Cuneyt Tanman,
Korkmaz Bulent, and Buruk Okan, looked after Emre for 4 years,
teaching him all the basic techniques, improving and harnessing
his fitness and stamina dramatically. When Emre turned 12, every
football fan in Istanbul now know him perfectly, as one of the
most exciting and startingly fresh players they had ever laid
Emre was quickly discovered by the Galatasaray legend Bulent
Under, a close friend of legendary Galatasaray manager, Fatih
Terim. Under announced, “Wait and see, Salih Bulgurlu, in two
years, this teenager will be playing proudly within the
battlegrounds of Europe” and pleaded that Emre join Galatasaray.
Emre officially became a Galatasaray player during the 1995
season, fulfilling his and his father's dream. Salih Bulgurlu
would now pick him up from school, run on a train to the Florya
training grounds, and after the session was over, Bulgurlu would
bring him back home.
Even in those early days, Emre dreamed of playing in Europe. He
would always ask Bulent about the necessary arrangements one
would need to develop for a future career in Europe. Bulent was
however unenthusiastic on the matter of Europe, and wanted Emre
to first graduate from school, but nevertheless got Emre's aunt
to teach him English. During one point, Emre shared an English
course with Buruk Okan and Arif. Their relationship was
influential for Galatasaray's buildup to the Champions League,
and later the Turkish club's historic UEFA Cup victory.
Emre gained much popularity and fame at Galatasaray, earning the
reputation of one of the greatest player they had ever seen.
During the early days, he would get the train from Zeytinburnu
to Florya, but now, he would just skip lessons and take a quick
taxi. During the 1998 season, when Emre turned 18, he got his
driving license and bought his first ever car, a Mercedes A-140.
The level-headed Galatasaray manager Fatih Terim approached
Emre, and advised him not to live such a life at such an early
At the end of the 1996-97 season, Galatasaray played against
Besiktas. The score was dead-locked at 2-2 with the game nearly
over, but Emre scored a screamer at the 83rd minute, winning
Galatasaray the game, making them proud champions of the Turkish
Championship. After the match, father-figure Terim met Emre, and
after seeing a Ł4,000 Rolex watch on his wrist, shouted, “You
haven’t even bought a house for your family, yet you’re going
around wearing expensive watches, aren’t you at all ashamed of
yourself?”. Emre’s eyes reportedly filled up with tears, saying
shakily, “The watch is Arif’s, he gifted it to me after I scored
the goal against Besiktas". Terim is extremely sorry and replies
“Well done to Arif! We should have thought of that.”
Emre, after the two encounters with mentor Fatih Terim, became a
changed and much more responsible man, buying a house for his
family in 1999, moving to Florya.
Emre performs brilliantly for Galatasaray, combining with Buruk
Okan and Hakan Sukur to guide and inspire a highly-talented
Galatasaray squad towards a historic and un-beaten run to win
the 2000 UEFA Cup, beating Arsenal on penalties to become the
only squad in history to win the UEFA Cup un-beaten through-out
the entire campaign. 19-year old Emre had by now gained a
worldwide reputation as one of the most skillful and talented
young players in the entire world, attracting the likes of
Internazionale and Arsenal.
As Emre began to feel success, the most devastating moment of
his life arrived on the 24th of October 2000. At 5.30 in the
morning, Emre was driving from a Belgrad Woods training session
with his friends to the Eyüp Cami, a renowned mosque in
Istanbul, when he swerved to avoid a car which incorrectly
crossed the motorway instead of going over the pedestrian
bridge. He attempts to swerve away, but to no avail; he hit the
car. Inside was a man that worked as a cleaner for the Gunes
Hotel, who later dies. Emre was absolutely devastated, in deep
and un-nerving pain. Immediately after the accident, he promised
to help the workers family, granting them money, food, and aid,
staying in-touch with them, keeping dear to a steadfast promise.
In 2001, Internazionale signed Belözoglu Emre alongside Buruk
Okan and Hakan Sukur, forming a great bond between the three.
Emre performed admirably, and quickly gained a great fanbase at
the San Siro, proving himself as one of the most popular players
at the San Siro.
Fatih Terim on Emre: "One morning we had a training session in
Florya. In those days, Buruk Okan was a soldier in the army, and
he was Emre’s adopted big brother. Whatever Okan said, Emre
would do it, and he would never do any thing else. They are both
late for training one day, Emre coming in 2 minutes earlier. I
ask him where he'd been, and Emre replies that he is very sorry
but he cannot tell me. Then Okan comes and says the same thing.
But they hide the fact that they were together. I found out
later that day that Okan had got permission to leave the army
grounds and Emre had left to pick him up, but for some reason
when they didn't leave Okan out early, Emre had waited for him
the whole time. Of course, he didn’t tell that to me, since he
knew I would tell Okan off. I loved this great bond between the
two, but I still left out Emre of the lineup for the next game.
Emre had a large role in our UEFA Cup victory. I cannot forget
the red card he got in the match against Leeds. We were ahead,
and Leeds were lagging behind with 10 men. Then Emre conducted a
slightly reckless challenge at a Leeds player, getting a
red-card and sent off. When he walked towards the dugout, I
pushed him on the back of his neck. For this action of mine, I
received much criticism from the media, but I told Emre that I
just wanted to bring into light the fact that the referee was
right, the audience was right and he was just wrong. We can't
all be always right. He was upset, but he accepted the criticism
Emre was named by Brazilian legend Pelé as one of the top 125
greatest living footballers in March 2004.
Belözoglu is a devout Muslim, and good friends with Buruk Okan,
Hakan Sukur, and mentor Fatih Terim.