The Wonderkid Files: Arda Guler - the talented Turk breaking records at Fenerbahce

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The number ten has a special significance for Fenerbahce fans. It was the shirt number worn by Alex, the former Brazil captain and swashbuckling attacking midfielder who became one of the Turkish side’s most beloved players. Since then it has been passed to some of their biggest signings – Robin van Persie and Mesut Ozil both wore it. Now, the number has a new wearer – 18 year-old Arda Guler, and expectations are very high indeed for the latest heir to Alex’s throne.

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Welcome once again to The Wonderkid Files, where we dive into the data and flick through the scouting reports to bring you the lowdown on the game’s most thrilling young prospects. You can scroll down to the bottom to find our previous entries, but today we’re looking at a youngster who’s already attracted attention from the biggest clubs in the world, with Liverpool, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain all linked to his signature in the last year.

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Arda began his youth career with hometown club Genclerbirligi but was whisked away at the tender age of 14 to Istanbul, where Fenerbahce took charge of his development. Catching the eye with his preternatural technical skills and eye for a pass – not to mention his rocket pace – Arda was fast-tracked through the Fener ranks and made his senior debut at the age of just 16 in a Europa League play-off game against HJK Helsinki.

Scoring his first senior goal in March 2022 – becoming the youngest goalscorer in Turkish Super Lig history in the process – he ended the season with six goal contributions in just 255 minutes and immediately established himself as a fan favourite.

It was this summer, with the now-retired Mesut Ozil acrimoniously frozen out, that Arda was invited to wear the famous number ten jersey, a statement not just of faith but of fervent expectation. The new shirt went hand-in-hand with a new contract as interest from Europe’s superclubs was warded off – for now, at least – and Arda has added another four goals and three assists this campaign, as well as earning his maiden international call-up, making his debut against the Czech Republic in November.

Blessed with a fine first touch, an impressive passing skills and the technique, pace and nous to beat his man, Arda has played both wide on either flank and in a free role through the middle, collecting the ball from deep and delivering surging plays to send attacks forward at breakneck pace. A partial comparison can be drawn with Jack Grealish – not just in terms of his dribbling but his ability to draw fouls, although like Grealish he has been criticised for diving, most recently in Fenerbahce’s derby defeat against Besiktas. For all the merits of the comparison, he also appears to be able to far exceed Grealish’s passing range already.

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In terms of weaknesses, Arda is somewhat one-footed and games on the wide right have revealed that he lacks options going around the full-back – although his quick change of pace and fast feet mean he’s had no problem beating his man on the inside. He’s also fairly slight, and at just 5’9” lacks the strength to muscle his way past the rare defenders he can’t outmanoeuvre.

There are also some queries about his decision making, with simple passes often overlooked for potential Hollywood balls – but then he also has the skill to pull plenty of them off, as well as the helpful knack of being able to drop off his man at will and give himself the time to make those decisions. With a little more maturity and guile added to his evident self-confidence, Arda will have all the tools to become one of the best passers in the European game.

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There is no reason to believe that Arda will make his seemingly inevitable big move in the immediate future. He’s getting gametime and learning rapidly in Turkey and the pace of his progress suggests that he’s on the right track already – although a reported price tag of around £25m is relatively unlikely to put off too many of his potential suitors. And if he stays in Istanbul a little longer, he might be able to establish himself as a worthy heir to Alex – and if he’s remembered half as well by the blue and yellow army as the Brazilian, he’ll have made a truly impressive start to his career.

The Wonderkid Files

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