Salih Ucan is the next breakout star
The transfer of Salih Uçan from Turkish champions Fenerbahçe to Roma this summer went somewhat under the radar. After all, Rudi Garcia's side have been busy in the summer transfer window, with high-profile signing Juan Manuel Iturbe arriving from Verona, experienced midfielder Seydou Keita joining from Valencia and a number of other shrewd captures to amplify the capital club's squad.
The deal for Uçan sees the former Bucaspor midfield man, still just 20 years old, arrive in Rome on an initial two-year loan deal with an option to buy. Should the Giallorossi choose to make the deal permanent, it will cost them just over 15 million euros in total for a player already widely regarded as the finest talent of his generation in Turkey. The deal could see Salih become the most expensive Turkish footballer ever, marginally eclipsing the amount spent by Atletico Madrid on Galatasaray's Arda Turan back in 2011.
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Salih came to the fore in Istanbul during the 2012-13 season under former Fenerbahçe manager and club legend, Aykut Kocaman. Playing in all but one of the knockout matches as Fenerbahçe made a memorable run to the Europa League semifinals, Salih was named by UEFA as one of their Rising Stars of European Football given how he influenced the games against BATE Borisov and scored the decisive goal against Viktoria Plzen.
"I put in some big performances at Fenerbahçe. [Roma director of football Walter] Sabatini wanted to sign me on the back of the success I had there." Salih said to the assembled press at his unveiling in Rome.
A year ago, Salih was at the heart of the national team squads at both the UEFA U-19 European Championships and the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the latter held in Turkey. Turkey lost in the round of 16 to a strong France side boasting the likes of Paul Pogba, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Kurt Zouma. Les Bleus went on to win the competition but Uçan's reputation grew.
When he left Bucaspor's academy in 2011, he had the opportunity to move abroad -- the likes of Manchester City, Villarreal and Rubin Kazan reportedly expressed interest -- but Salih ended up with Fenerbahçe for a reported fee of 1.5 million euros. But a career with the Turkish champions that started so promisingly soon reached a point of stagnation, with Salih taking part in just 16 matches over the course of their title-winning campaign. An early exit in the Turkish Cup, a trophy Fenerbahçe had lifted in successive seasons, saw his first-team opportunities limited further.
The complete modern midfielder, Salih has the potential to become one of the very best. Exquisite ball control and quick feet coupled with exemplary vision, Uçan is versatile, comfortable in the recesses of the midfield but with all the qualities required to play as far forward as a number ten, such is his ability to read the game.
Salih is a cerebral footballer, aware of what's going on around him and the kind of player that seems to have two or three potential moves lined up before he even takes possession of the ball -- a player with so many of those qualities required to flourish in Italian football. A couple of seasons spent polishing the defensive aspect of his game, becoming more disciplined with his work-rate and developing physically at AS Roma should propel Uçan into the top echelon of midfielders in world football.
With a host of options in midfield for Rudi Garcia -- Miralem Pjanić, Kevin Strootman, Daniele de Rossi, Radja Nainggolan and Seydou Keita to name just five -- it won't be easy for Salih to break into the first team for Roma but with his move to the Serie A side, his development is more assured than had he stayed in Turkey, a league with a terrible reputation for developing young talent.
Arda Turan has seen such benefits since his move to one of Europe's more prestigious leagues with Atletico Madrid, becoming physically stronger and more robust. Going back further still, the career of Emre Belozoglu was enhanced with his footballing education in Italy and England. Those weaknesses in Salih's game -- a tendency drift through games, a lack of tactical discipline, a leaning towards the individual over the collective -- will be eradicated under a coach of Garcia's philosophy and methodology.
"There are lots of great midfielders at Roma who can lead the team to success. I feel I'm a midfielder but I'm used to playing in different areas of the pitch. I can play in the hole, too," continued Salih at his unveiling.
Salih's versatility will stand him in good stead at his new club. Roma impressed in the 2013-14 Serie A campaign, conceding just once as they won their opening 10 league games, but suffered the consequences of a significantly shallower squad than eventual champions Juventus, finishing the season 17 points behind the Old Lady.
Uçan is already good enough to play in Roma's first eleven, despite the competition at the club. It's imperative, though, that for Salih to develop as he can that he plays first team football this season after a slow season under Ersun Yanal last year. If he does so, fans of AS Roma and Italian football will be see what all the fuss is about in Turkey. His preseason showings on tour in the U.S. against Liverpool and Manchester United whet the appetite of many, leading to praise for the young midfielder from all sides.
Not only could Salih prove to be pivotal in Roma's season, but having already been called up to the Turkish national team by Fatih Terim at just 18 years old, he may become a mainstay in the Roma - and Turkey - midfield for years to come.