From national hero to exiled taxi driver, Hakan Sukur’s atypical path since retiring barely reflects his status as an international icon.
The 6ft 3in forward won no fewer than 112 caps for Turkey; he is, with 51 goals, far and away the nation’s record scorer; and he played a key part in the team that achieved their best-ever World Cup performance.
Yet instead of being revered at home, he has been forced out of Turkey and is currently working for Uber in the US after his assets were frozen by a rather ungrateful Turkish government.
Suker, an MP for the ruling Justice and Development Party from 2011 to 2013, was charged with criticising President Recep Erdogan on Twitter in early 2016. There was a warrant for his arrest after he was allegedly linked to a failed coup later that year. It had been so different in his playing days: Sukur was so popular that his first wedding was shown live on Turkish TV.
Between his international debut in 1992 and retirement in 2007, Sukur averaged nearly a goal every other game for his country. He bagged seven in Euro 96 qualifying, eight ahead of the 1998 World Cup, and four in a single Euro 2008 qualifier against Moldova.
Turkey had only appeared at one major tournament finals, the 1954 World Cup, before Sukur’s era. But, as part of a talented generation, the Bull of the Bosphorus played at Euro 96 and helped Turkey to the Euro 2000 quarter-finals with a match-winning brace against co-hosts Belgium.
The 2002 World Cup would be Turkey’s finest hour. They reached the semi-finals, where eventual champions Brazil won by a single Ronaldo goal. Sukur got over it quickly – very quickly, scoring within the first 11 seconds of the third-place play-off to secure the bronze medal for Turkey and a World Cup record for himself.
Sukur was overlooked for the Euro 2008 finals by coach Fatih Terim, and his post-football life in exile has mirrored a career that drifted away after he had reached sky-scraping heights.
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