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Illustration by Federico Manasse

It took 10.8 seconds. That was all Hakan Şükür needed to pounce on a South Korean defence dithering over their own self-destruct button and dispatch the opening goal of his country’s triumphant third-place playoff in the 2002 World Cup. Yet remarkably, despite being the fastest goal ever scored in World Cup history, the goal had actually arrived rather belatedly for Şükür.

Endorsed as one of the competition’s brightest stars, Şükür was among those fancied to top the scoring charts at the tournament. Instead, the forward remained tethered, his talents shackled until the third-place playoff when his only goal of the tournament saw his name added to the illustrious and storied lore of the World Cup.

In many ways, his goal against South Korea better exemplified Şükür than any other, in both its physical form and the wider context in which it was scored. Though the tournament seemed as if it were resisting his charm at times, refusing his advances, Şükür still found a way to make his indelible mark on the history of the game with a devastating defiance. With a cool side-footed finish, notched before many fans had even taken to their seats, Şükür’s record-breaking goal against the competition’s co-hosts typified the way he had responded to many of his career’s more arduous affairs, reaffirming his status as Turkey’s greatest player.

Throughout an incredible 20-year caree,r Şükür departed for foreign shores on three separate occasions, in pursuit of the same dream. Desperate to make a mark outside of his home nation, the forward embarked upon spells with Torino, Inter Milan and Parma in Italy, as well as a solitary campaign with Blackburn Rovers in England. Unfortunately, on each occasion, Şükür failed to make the same impact he had made back at home and was consistently moved on without fracas or fanfare. Undeterred, however, Şükür returned each time to Turkey, to the sanctity of Galatasaray, where he would pick up exactly where he left off, racking up record after record.

Of course, the relative success of a player’s career, or the enduring impression left upon their adoring fans throughout its duration, will never be fully communicated by the scores of trophies lifted or the records amassed along the way. Put simply, there are some occasions, moments and feelings that data can do no justice.

Original Series  |  The 50

However, in the case of Hakan Şükür, Turkey’s greatest ever goalscorer, the remarkable numbers belonging to the forward’s career go a great deal of the way to describing just why Galatasaray fans, to this day, still refer to Şükür as Kral – meaning ‘King’.

Having fired his way to the top of the charts in emphatic style, becoming the all-time top scorer in Süper Lig history along the way to lifting eight league titles, six Turkish cups and a UEFA Cup – still the only European trophy to be won by a Turkish team – Şükür soon came to lead his country in much the same way he had his beloved Galatasaray.

He would go on to become his nation’s most relied upon outfield player, with 112 caps, as well as their highest goalscorer, with 51 goals; a total that more than doubles the tally of his closest rivals. It is no wonder so many of Şükür’s compatriots consider him to be footballing royalty.

Far from simply having “good feet for a big man”, Şükür’s finesse would have stood out as being exemplary should it have been employed by a man of any size. Adept at scoring with his head, either foot, or any other body part deemed legal, such was his predatory instinct, the number of goals scored by the Turk with just a single touch, particularly within 10 yards of the target, was outstanding and few came close to rivalling his prowess.

By way of ill fate, elsewhere on the continent, Şükür’s most lethal form deserted him all too often and his unmatched goalscoring exploits from his every spell in Turkey remained tragically unrepeatable. Still, there are few who could argue that for Galatasaray and for his country the Kral showed sufficient reason for his wearing the crown belonging to the greatest Turkish footballer of the 20th century.

Should fortune have favoured his European adventures kindly, or his home comforts have been less of a necessity to see him playing at his best, it is likely the name Şükür would today stand tall alongside those of the greatest goalscorers of any nationality 

Writer  |  Will Sharp 

Editor  |  Matt Gault