“Nihat is on the way to becoming world class,” declares veteran Turkey striker Hakan Sukur. “He will soon be better than Owen, Raul and Vieri.”
Hakan may be overdosing on the hyperbole, yet the general thrust of his comments on the young Turkish attacking midfielder are valid. One of the most exciting performers in the Spanish League this season, Nihat’s right-footed invention and goals have been key elements in Real Sociedad’s storming start to the campaign.
The 23-year-old is just the sort of player new Sociedad coach Raynald Denoueix appreciates. In his time at Nantes – whom he led to the League title in 2000-01 – the Frenchman’s midfield and front-line were packed with short, skilful, pacy players; Nihat comes from the same mould.
Denoueix demands incessant movement, a slick, short-passing game, and explosive forward bursts. Nihat meets all the requirements.
“Everything is going really well for me at the moment,” says Nihat, who started his professional career with Besiktas. “My form is good and the team are getting positive results. I’m especially pleased with the goals I have scored this season. At Besiktas I would score a half-dozen or so every year. This season, I have already equalled that amount and know I can add more.
“People are wondering if we can stay at the top of the table. I think we can. We have quality players and so much confidence. We can definitely compete for a Champions League or UEFA Cup place.”
However, Nihat has not always looked a class act. He was far from convincing following his œ3million move from Besiktas midway through last season, and a return home was envisaged. But he opted to stay put, and no one at the San Sebastian club regrets it.
“We half-expected him to start slowly,” explains Sociedad assistant coach Jesus Zamora.
“He was getting over a bad knee injury and had to settle in a new country. Although he did not play much for Turkey at the World Cup (he made two substitute appearances), he came back in buoyant mood. In pre-season, we saw a brilliant Nihat and it was the same when the championship got under way.”
Nihat’s starring role in Spain has not gone unnoticed by Turkey boss Senol Gunes. He started both the October Euro 2004 qualifiers, against Macedonia and Liechtenstein, giving impressive displays and scoring the winner against Macedonia.
“He’s dynamite on the ball,” says Gunes. “Some of the things he does leave you astounded.”
Club Real Sociedad (Spa)
Born November 23, 1979, in Istanbul
Previous clubs Esenler Istanbul, Besiktas
International debut October 2000, v Sweden
International caps 17 (3 goals)
Honours Turkish Cup 1998