The story of Hakan Sukur

The story of Hakan Sukur

By the time he hung his boots there could be little debate that Hakan Şükür was the greatest Turkish footballer of all time. In a 15 year career with the national team, he scored a record 51 times over 112 games.

At domestic level, he is most strongly associated with arguably the country's most supported club, Galatasaray. And it was with the side that he scored the bulk of the 249 goals that put him at the top of the all time scoring charts of the Süper Lig.

His popularity, even during his playing days, was such that when he married in 1995, not only was the ceremony broadcast on national television but then Istanbul mayor, Recep Erdogan and influential religious leader, Fethullah Gülen, both served as witnesses. 

 

So how did the country's most celebrated sporting star become an outlaw in his own country, exiled in the United States and reportedly driving cabs to get by?

Like so many ex-athletes, Şükür pivoted his sporting popularity into a career in the world of politics following his retirement in 2008.

2011 saw him elected as an MP for Istanbul, representing the Justice and Development party (AKP) headed by Erdogan. But it would be his continued association with the other man stood by his side at his wedding that would ultimately lead to his life as he knew it falling apart.

Fethullah Gülen had been exiled from Turkey over a decade earlier but his reach was still widely felt in the country. After initially partnering with the AKP party, the Gülen movement had worked its way into the heart of Turkish politics and by the time 2010 rolled around they were firmly entrenched.

Despite the movement having played a key role in bringing them to power Erdogan and the AKP party were growing increasingly wary of the movement, especially for the influence and loyalty they held in the countries police force.

After nearly a decade of friendly relations the AKP party began a campaign of outward hostility against the Gülen movement in the early 2010’s.

Despite holding an active role within the AKP, Şükür never disavowed his association with Gülen and when his party enforced a series of closures of Gülen led schools in 2013, Şükür left the AKP party to begin serving as an independent.

Then in February 2016, Şükür was charged with insulting the president on Twitter and officially charged with being a member of the Gülen movement, which was, by now, designated a terrorist organisation.

The next year an exiled Şükür arrived in the United States, where he has been ever since. Initially settling in San Francisco, he became a partner in a Turkish cafe but quickly left the business after “strange people kept coming in”. He did not clarify whether this was due to his status as a fugitive member of the Fetullah Terrorist Organisation or simply because he was in San Francisco.

Şükür himself stated in an interview with German publication Welt am Sonntag, that all of his assets had been stripped by Erdogan’s forces, leading him to get by as an Uber driver. Though these reports somewhat conflict with images of him relaxing in expensive cars and shopping at upmarket Californian stores.

Whatever the ultimate truth may be the journey of the Hakan Şükür from national treasure to political exile is a fascinating one and it’s complexity speaks volumes on Turkish society today.

Exile or not, it’s hard to imagine the man known as the ‘Bull of the Bosphorus’ not tuning in to see how his country, whose fans are as passionate as any on the continent, get on against Italy in the inaugural match of Euro 2020 tomorrow evening.

 

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