Istanbul hosts the Champions League Final this weekend, with two giants of the modern game, Manchester City and Internazionale Milano, set to battle it out for Europe’s top club trophy.
Man City come into the final as favourites, having won the English domestic double, the Premier League and the FA Cup, this season. Inter finished Serie A in third place, but still got their hands on some silverware, beating Fiorentina 2-1 to win the Coppa Italia for the ninth time in their history.
Many individual players will play key roles in Saturday’s game that is being hosted at the 75,000 capacity Atatürk Olympic Stadium, including two Turkish attacking midfielders, Hakan Çalhanoğlu for Inter and Man City captain İlkay Gündoğan.
It will be interesting which of these two players, both born in Germany, will have the biggest impact and command the largest support from the neutral home fans.
As a Turkish international Çalhanoğlu will be the more familiar of the two. The set-piece specialist has spent two seasons at Inter after transferring on a free transfer from their rivals Milan.
He has scored 14 goals in 105 appearances for Inter, helping them to win two Coppa Italia and two Super Cups. He also played an integral role in Inter’s progress in the Champions League.
Çalhanoğlu’s family are from Bayburt, northeast Turkiye, a city that is 85 miles away from Trabzon on the Black Sea. The family moved to Germany and settled in Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg, where Çalhanoğlu was born.
The 29-year-old showed a love and flair for football from an early age. He began his career with Karlsruher SC, moving on to Hamburg – one of Germany’s leading clubs – in 2012.
Çalhanoğlu spent a year on loan and then played for Hamburg in his second year at the club and made an immediate impression in the Bundesliga, leading to a €14.5 million transfer to Bayer Leverkusen in 2014. During three years at the German club, Çalhanoğlu scored 28 goals in 115 official appearances. In 2017, he signed for Milan for an initial €20 million fee.
The midfielder opted to play for Turkiye, and helped the U20s reach the quarter-finals of the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where they were knocked out by France. Çalhanoğlu made his senior debut in 2013 and has remained an integral part of the national Turkish team ever since.
Fellow Turk Gündoğan was born in Gelsenkirchen, North Rhine-Westphalia. Both sides of the Man City player’s family are from the Dursunbey district of Balıkesir, a city in Marmara Province, western Turkiye.
Gündoğan showed early promise as a footballer and he had a spell with his local big club Schalke 04 when he was aged 8, but he was dropped by them as he was physically a slow developer. He instead came through VfL Bochum’s youth academy and was signed by 2. Bundesliga club FC Nürnberg in 2009.
The talented midfielder shone in two big games against Bayern Munich, assisting a goal in one in Sept. 2009 and scoring his first goal for Nürnberg in the second in Feb. 2010.
It wasn’t long before other big clubs came knocking and in 2011, Gündoğan signed for Borussia Dortmund, helping Jurgen Klopp’s side to claim its second successive Bundesliga title and achieve the club’s first domestic double. His form also warranted a first senior cap for Germany against Belgium in October 2011.
Gündoğan’s stock continued to grow during his five years at Borussia Dortmund, before he made the move to the English Premier League, arriving at Man City at the same time as Pep Guardiola. He has been an integral part of the team since arriving that has won multiple domestic trophies: five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, four ELF Cups, two FA Community Shields and runners-up in the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League.
The 32-year-old player was made the club captain at the start of this season and has spearheaded Man City to the domestic double. He scored both goals in City’s 2-1 FA Cup victory over big local rivals Manchester United, with Gündoğan’s first goal in the 12th second becoming the fastest goal to be scored in the final of the FA Cup.
He is now one game away from making another kind of history by leading City to a triumphant treble. It would match the feat of Man. United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, when they became the first, and to date the only, team to win a treble in English football back in 1998-99.
TV coverage of Champions League final
You can see how Gündoğan and Çalhanoğlu fare on Saturday night. The game kicks off at 8pm UK time, 10pm local time, and will be broadcast on BT Sport 1 in Britain, and TV8 and Exxen in Turkiye and North Cyprus.
Team squads for Istanbul
Manchester City: Stefan Ortega, Ederson, Scott Carson, Kyle Walker, Rúben Dias, John Stones, Nathan Aké, Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Gómez, Manuel Akanji, Rico Lewis*, Kalvin Phillips, İlkay Gündoğan, Jack Grealish, Rodrigo, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Máximo Perrone, Phil Foden, Cole Palmer*, Erling Haaland, Julián Álvarez.
Inter Milan: Samir Handanovič, Alex Cordaz, André Onana, Nikolaos Botis*, Denzel Dumfries, Stefan de Vrij, Raoul Bellanova, Francesco Acerbi, Federico Dimarco, Danilo D’Ambrosio, Matteo Darmian, Milan Škriniar, Mattia Zanotti*, Alessandro Fontanarosa*, Alessandro Bastoni, Roberto Gagliardini, Robin Gosens, Kristjan Asllani, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Nicolò Barella, Valentin Carboni, Marcelo Brozović, Edin Džeko, Lautaro Martínez, Joaquín Correa, Romelu Lukaku.