25.09.2021Bayer 04

Yildiray Bastürk – The “game changer”

It was perhaps the game where he really announced his arrival in Leverkusen. A game where even the last sceptic realised what a fantastic footballer this young Turk is, because not all fans or so-called experts were convinced that Yildiray Bastürk would make it in Leverkusen.

The question was whether the midfielder, who had joined Bayer 04 from relegated Bochum, could break through at a club where there were so many big names and who had finished as Bundesliga runners-up three times in the last five years. The No.10 answered that on 25 September 2001.

Bastürk had made 11 competitive appearances prior to the second Champions League group game of the season. One of those had been in the League Cup, seven in the Bundesliga, two in European qualifying and one in the opening group fixture at Lyon. He’d started every single one of them. He was a first choice under Klaus Toppmöller, his coach and mentor previously at Bochum. But Bastürk was on the bench for the first time in his Werkself career when the Barcelona fixture came around, having had a slight knock following the 1-1 draw at Borussia Dortmund at the weekend.

Jörg Butt's missed penalty

The favourites from Spain dominated from the start and went ahead in the 22nd minute. It was the first time that season that Toppmöller’s team had appeared inhibited, almost fearful. And when Jörg Butt missed a penalty half an hour in, it looked like it was going to be one of those days for the Werkself. Nothing in the first half pointed towards the hosts being able to turn things around.

Toppmöller made changes during the break, switching from a back four to a three and sending on Bastürk for Zoltan Sebescen. And it was like a different game.

Toppmöller: “Bastürk tipped the game”

That was down to Bastürk. He backed himself against a team containing Patrick Kluivert, Xavi, Carles Puyol and Phillip Cocu. It was his goal in the 52nd minute that levelled the score and kickstarted the turnaround. And he didn’t just ensure more culture in the game afterwards, but also led the way as a fearless, waspish battler.

In 45 intense minutes, ‘Illi’ showed on the big stage against a big opponent just how valuable he was for the team. He was the difference in the 2-1 win over Barcelona. He was the “game changer”. As Toppmöller summarised afterwards: “Bastürk tipped the game.“

BASTÜRK: “Key game for us”

When looking back on that magical Champions League campaign, Bastürk himself later called the Barcelona win a “key game for us”. But it was probably also one for him personally. His name was later known across Europe, and there were few fans remaining who didn’t see his transfer as a real plus.

Of course, it helped that Toppmöller – who had backed him at Bochum – liked technically versatile players like Bastürk. “He showed trust in me as an 18-year-old and gently built me up. Toppi just knew how he had to deal with me. I really owe him a lot.”

“A model professional”

The coach wasn’t just convinced by the quality of his favourite student. He also thought a lot of Bastürk as a person. In an interview with Spiegel, Toppmöller once said: “He’s just a good guy who you could tell he’s going to get 10 million or also that he’s only going to get €100 – he’d play just as well in either case because he just loves football. He has nothing to do with anything, never plays the star. When you see him in the morning, he might as well be someone who’s about to sweep the yard here. And when he leaves in the afternoon, he looks like someone who just swept the yard. That’s how modest the boy is. He doesn’t think he’s important at all. When others are celebrating after the game, he prefers to disappear into anonymity. An absolute model professional.”

The Turk’s grounded nature has a lot to do with his background. Bastürk’s parents came to Germany in 1970 and first lived in Bochum-Hordel, then in Herne. His father worked in mining, his mother was a housewife. The couple had seven children – Yildiray is the youngest of four sons. The older three brothers often took him to play football and always put him in goal. He benefitted greatly from that, Bastürk said, because he had to learn to assert himself against older and bigger players. Before his move to Leverkusen, the 22-year-old – who coach Rold Schafstall had named captain at Bochum – still lived with his parents in Herne.

technician and hard worker

Leverkusen was a new phase in Bastürk’s life in every respect. In terms of character, the boy from the Ruhr was the perfect fit for the Werkself. The midfielder proved time and time again, also in the Champions League, that he not only knew how to handle the ball on the pitch but also that he was a tough guy. The 1.68m Bastürk featured in all 17 games, starting 13 of them. He had the season of his life.

And he was also one of the standout performers in the knockout stage. He set up Lucio’s decisive goal late in the dramatic 4-2 win over Liverpool in the quarter-final. In the 2-2 draw away at Manchester United in the semi-final, he set off on countless quick dribbles, won almost every duel, was everywhere on the pitch, and it was his deflected shot that set up Oliver Neuville to equalise. “It was so much fun that day! And I think you could see that in my game,” Bastürk recalled. Even United coach Sir Alex Ferguson highlighted his performance after the game. “I felt very honoured.”

The Turkey international also set up Neuville shortly before half-time in the return fixture, firing home under the crossbar to make it 1-1 – the goal that sent Bayer 04 into the final. “The final minutes were a real nail-biter because United threw everything at us. But we finally did it and made it to the final. That was when all the dams broke for us and our fans.”

Ninth in World Player of the Year

It’s significant that Bastürk attributes the greatest international success in the club's history not only to the extraordinary playing class of the Werkself. The decisive factor was: “Everyone helped everyone, no one was too shy to do the dirty work on the pitch. That's what we were.”

The 2001/02 season had another highlight for him as Bastürk and Turkey finished third at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. And he went on to finish ninth in the vote for the FIFA World Player of the Year. “No Turkish player has managed that since me. I’m proud of that.”

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