For Hamit Altıntop, the events of 8 December 2012 – footballing at least – were fairly forgettable. Sat on a bench in Istanbul on his 30th birthday, this is where he remained for 90 minutes as Galatasaray defeated Sivasspor 3-1.
Three decades earlier, however, in a Gelsenkirchen hospital, came the birth of a twin brother that would dictate the direction of his life. Halil was the name chosen by parents who represented two of the millions of Turkish immigrants residing in Germany. They were raised by their mother Meryem, alongside three older sisters, after their father died of cancer when the twins were just two.
Spending their youth with Schwarz-Weiß Gelsenkirchen-Süd and TuS Rotthausen, in 1997 the pair transferred to Wattenscheid. A Bundesliga side just three years prior, by the time the Altıntops rocked up the club were playing their football in the third tier Regionalliga. At such a level and both possessing sizeable talent, it wasn’t long before the twins were living up to their unique surname, which translates as “golden ball”.
Hamit was a versatile midfielder capable of playing anywhere in the centre of the pitch. On the right wing, providing attacking impetus with his long shots, adding steel defensively, or even at right-back, Hamit could do it all. Halil, meanwhile, was as adaptable, being used either as or just behind the striker or out wide at differing stages of his career.
Despite arriving into the world 12 minutes after his brother, it would be the latter whose star initially shone brighter. Halil was first to make his professional debut, coming off the bench to open the scoring against Tennis Borussia Berlin in early March 2001. Hamit’s bow came a week later against Sachsen Leipzig, although he would be restricted to fleeting substitute appearances for the remainder of the season. Halil meanwhile would add another four goals before the campaign was out.
As the man who got Wattenscheid into the Bundesliga, coach Hannes Bongartz could certainly spot talent. He would entrust his young pair during the following season, and both players would play over 30 times as Wattenscheid narrowly missed on promotion. Despite such intangible reward, the stock of both Altıntops was only heading one way. After another impressive campaign, the brothers were heading to the Bundesliga.
For Hamit, this came in the form of Gelsenkirchen’s premier club Schalke. Halil was snapped up by the more southern Kaiserslautern. Leaving the sanctuary of each other’s side, for the first time in almost 21 years the twins had been separated.
Faced with a two-division jump, Hamit arguably transitioned far better. Scoring both goals in a 2-2 draw with Schalke’s fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund on his league debut, he almost instantly became a fans favourite. Halil, however, struggled to transfer his prolific nature to the Bundesliga, playing second fiddle to Miroslav Klose and only scoring twice in his first year in the top flight.
Some 350km north, Hamit was being tipped for his international breakthrough. The twins had been involved in Turkey’s youth set-up since their days at Wattenscheid, with Hamit’s debut coming in February 2004 against Denmark. Halil would have to wait some 13 months later to win his first international cap.
In total, the pair would appear 122 times for Turkey, with Hamit accumulating the majority of these and helping the nation to the semi-finals of Euro 2008. Halil would be overlooked for the final squad of that tournament, although would speak to his brother on a daily basis during the competition.
Such omission does not diminish his achievements. Having settled at Fritz-Walter-Stadion, his haul of 20 goals in 2005/06 made him the third-highest scorer in the Bundesliga. Returning more goals than the likes of Lukas Podolski and Roy Makaay, Altıntop was a property too hot for the relegated Kaiserslautern to hold onto.
In January 2006, it was announced that Schalke would be reuniting Halil with Hamit upon the expiry of his contract that June. Together again, the brothers played their part in a Schalke side which led the Bundesliga for the majority of the 2006/07 campaign. This was until a dramatic loss to Dortmund on the penultimate day handed the title to Stuttgart.
Hamit would taste the glory of lifting Die Meisterschale twelve months later, although this would come in the altered colours of Bayern Munich. Despite being disrupted by injury during much of his four seasons at the Allianz Arena, Hamit would win two Bundesliga titles and DFB-Pokals whilst reaching the 2010 Champions League final.
In his absence, Halil remained in Gelsenkirchen, although with somewhat limited success. He would only score 25 goals across four seasons before leaving for Eintracht Frankfurt in January 2010. This would end in relegation the next year.
With the twins now 29, the ever-alluring prospect of playing in Turkey became too strong to ignore. In the summer of 2011, Halil became the first twin to join a team in their ancestral homeland, in the form of Trabzonspor. Hamit would follow a year later with Galatasaray, although not before making history of his own.
Signed alongside compatriot Nuri Şahin, on 27 September 2011 he became the first Turkish play to appear for Real Madrid. Despite the free transfer raising more than a few eyebrows, José Mourinho was attracted by his high-level experience and versatility. Predictably he played just 11 more times before moving on to Istanbul.
During five years at Galatasaray Hamit would win two Süper Lig titles and a further two Türkiye Kupası. In keeping with their careers, Halil’s time in Trabzon would be less successful. After two seasons he returned to Germany in 2013 with Augsburg. Here he would average a goal every five games, facing off against his twin for one final time in late February 2017 after Hamit moved to Darmstadt.
“We set aside brotherly love for 90 minutes. He’s won more often, but I’ve scored more goals. They’re always special games. We don’t bear a grudge afterwards,” Halil once commented on contests between the pair.
Hamit would retire in 2018, whilst Halil enjoyed short stints with Slavia Prague and back at Kaiserslautern before bringing down the curtain on his career later that year. The duo have since moved into new roles within football, with the former sitting on the TFF board and latter serving as assistant coach with Bayern Munich’s under-16 team.
A golden ball may have alluded them, but together Hamit and Halil Altıntop shared over a century of Turkish caps whilst playing for some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs. The satisfaction of doing that alongside one another surely trumps any personal trophy.
By James Kelly @jkell403