Tugay: Turkish Delight

turkish footballer tugay

Player Profile: Tugay

Full Name: Tugay Kerimoğlu

Date of Birth: 24/8/1970

Height: 5 ft 10 in

Position(s): Central-Midfield

National Team: Turkey

International Caps: 94

International Goals: 2

Club Career

It’s a mark of Tugay’s legacy as a footballing icon that his name is synonymous with three teams: Galatasaray, Blackburn Rovers and Turkey. Over the course of a 22-year career, the dextrous player who could be employed anywhere in midfield made over 550 league appearances in his Turkish homeland, Scotland and England. He won 18 trophies in that time, most of them coming in a period of domestic dominance for Galatasaray.

He began his journey with Trabzonspor, his local club side in Turkey. His enormous potential was recognised early on and he was pinched from Trabzon by Galatasaray, the club where Tugay would forge a reputation for himself as one of the most sophisticated midfielders in the game.

For four years Tugay matured in the Istanbul club’s academy, homing his eye for the perfect pass and developing his excellent technical attributes. Aged 17, he was offered his first professional contract and made his senior debut soon after.

Three years later Tugay won his first international cap for Turkey. Fast-forward another two and he was given the captain’s armband by then Galatasaray manager Karl-Hemp Feldkamp. Given his reputation in the twilight years of his career at Blackburn Rovers as something of a golden-oldie, it may surprise many Premier League fans to know that Tugay was young once. In fact, when he was awarded the captaincy aged just 22, Tugay became the youngest skipper in the club’s long and illustrious history, a record which stands to this day.

At this point in his burgeoning career, the Turk had already won four trophies – one Süper Lig, one Türkiye Kupası and two TFF Süper Kupa – but it was when Tugay took the armband that Galatasaray began to tighten their stranglehold on the Turkish game. They won a domestic treble in his first season as captain with Tugay an integral part of the all-conquering side, raking passes, turning over possession and circulating the ball from his position as a deep-lying playmaker.

The following season, Galatasary retained their crown. Having won the Süper Lig just three times in the 21 years prior to his captaincy, Galatasaray had now won it twice in two attempts with him as skipper.

By that Galatasary side’s lofty standards, they would experience a slightly more baron spell over the next three years, failing to win the league but winning two cup competitions nonetheless. After that, though, Tugay’s Galatasaray climbed back to the top of the pile, winning the title three times in three years.

The squad now boasted some highly-esteemed names: former Barcelona captain Gheorghe Popescu, Turkey’s all-time record goalscorer Hakan Şükür and legendary generational playmaker Gheorghe Hagi. The latter described Tugay as one of the greatest and most influential playmakers in Europe, proving that in a team of superstars Tugay could do more than merely pull his weight.

He left Galatasaray just before the turn of the century. He left a legend. In total, Tugay made over 400 appearances for the club. He scored 43 goals, the overwhelming majority of them spectacular – Tugay didn’t do ‘ordinary’ goals. Though he would later become known for his penchant for a thunderbolt from distance, in his early years Tugay was just as deadly from close range too. See his impudent dink past an onrushing Porto goalkeeper in the Champions League, for instance. His adoring public in Turkey would forever remember him for these moments of instinctual brilliance.

Such was Tugay’s prowess that Dick Advocaat – one of the game’s most respected managers at the time – jumped at the chance to sign Tugay for his Rangers side. He joined in the January window for a £1.3-million sum. In his first campaign, he jumped straight into the first team, making 16 appearances and scoring one goal and winning his first trophy outside of Turkey in the form of the Scottish Cup, the Scottish Premier League soon followed.

In his second campaign at Ibrox, Tugay struggled with injuries and Rangers were less successful, but the Turk still managed to exhibit his virtuosic style of play in 26 matches.

Former Rangers hero and then-Blackburn Rovers boss Graeme Souness had been tracking Tugay’s progress at Rangers keenly and brought him to Ewood Park in 2001. There he stayed for almost a decade, becoming cherished by the fans as a rare example of a truly world-class player. Sadly, he was suspended for Rovers’ only trophy success in that period, a 2002 League Cup win – although he truly earned the winners’ medal.

One of the defining features of Tugay’s game in his later years was his shooting from range. Of the 13 goals he scored for Rovers, just one came from inside the box. Chief in the Tugay goal collection are two first time volleys, one from 30-yards against Spurs in 2006 and another directly from a corner in 2005 against Fulham. These were the kind of goals which endeared him no-end to the Rovers faithful.

He retired in 2009 to a rapturous Ewood reception. Thousands turned up in Tugay masks; the Turkish flag could be seen waving in every corner of the 31,000-capacity stadium and “Tugay, you are my Turkish delight” was roared lovingly from all four stands.

International Career

Tugay retired from international football in 2003 having played 92 times in Turkish red, six years before hanging up his boots at club level. He returned briefly in 2007 and made two more appearances, taking his tally up to 94. Had he continued, he surely would have surpassed Rüştü Reçber as the nation’s most capped footballer.

With Tugay in the side, Turkey made it to the finals of three major tournaments: Euro ’96, Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

The unquestionable apex of his international career and indeed of Turkey’s footballing history was the third-place finish they achieved under Şenol Güneş 2002, losing only narrowly to Brazil in the semi-final.

Where is Tugay Now?

After holding coaching positions with Manchester City and the Turkish national team, Tugay took his first major post-playing job when he returned to Galatasaray as Roberto Mancini’s No. 2. He left with Mancini at the end of the 2013-14 campaign and took his first, and only, senior managerial position so far with Şanlıurfaspor. He failed to impress in his 23 games there and was dismissed early in 2016. It is unclear whether Tugay wishes to return to management.

Facts about Tugay – Did You Know?

Tugay was a chain smoker: Former Rover Matt Jansen revealed in his autobiography that Tugay was a 20 a day smoker, describing him as “a throwback to the days when players would just live their lives how they wanted to.” He would even have a puff at half time, a luxury afforded to him by multiple Rovers managers.

Tugay was an accomplished motor racer: If it wasn’t football, it would have been motorsport for Tugay. Before he became a footballer, he was a Formula 3 driver.

Good in the kitchen as well as on the pitch: In 2010, Tugay won the Turkish MasterChef crown.