Hakan Çalhanoglu speaks up in a memorable interview

The German TV-Show Das Aktuelle Sportstudio has been on the air since 1963. In the beginning, the minds behind the concept tried whatever they saw fit, producing some of the most memorable moments in the history of German sports journalism. Over the years, however, the program has drifted into a feel good show more concerned with presenting its guests in the best possible light. These days, the show usually features one in depth interview with a footballer, and most of the time the players are happy to be on the air. It’s good PR and the biggest share of the questions tend to be softballs. However, last Saturday saw a departure from the cosy atmosphere between host and guest when Katrin Müller-Hohenstein interviewed Leverkusen player Hakan Çalhanoglu.

Müller-Hohenstein has, over the years, not established the sternest of reputations in terms of being a hard hitting sports journalist– most of Germany’s TV audience knows her as the woman gushing at Oliver Kahn during the halftime analysis of national team matches and the players she interviews in Das Aktuelle Sportstudio after all, which seemingly should have boded well for Çalhanoglu. The woman who was interviewing him had written a book about the host nation of the 2014 World Cup, which was deemed as poor by several reviewers after all.

However, Katrin Müller-Hohenstein decided to take a closer look at the controversies surrounding Çalhanogluof late and she asked him outright about them, even from time to time pushing him with follow up questions (something most German TV viewers haven’t been accustomed to from the 49-year-old). She was actually a proper journalist doing her job, and not sounding like the supposedly “cool mom” in a low budget SitCom.

The player answered all of Müller-Hohenstein’s questions, at times reluctantly, and made headlines over the following few days for those answers. During and after the interview, Çalhanoglu’s answers sparked discussion among German football fans on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Many fans were upset about the statements he made in regards of leaving HSV, saying that they weren’t believing what Çalhanoglu was saying. Others didn’t buy the story he was telling about what happened between him, Ömer Toprak and Göhkan Töre in that infamous hotel room. In the end, most people agreed that the footballer had been naive in trying to answer all of Müller-Hohenstein’s questions.

On leaving HSV

Many fans of the Red Shorts are still upset about the circumstances under which Çalhanoglu left the club. The 20-year-old had signed a contract extension in early 2014 and after HSV managed to stay in the league the fans didn’t understand why the Turkish international pushed so hard for his transfer. Before Çalhanoglu was allowed to say anything about the circumstances, Das Aktuelle Sportstudio showed a clip of then HSV president Carl-Edgar Jarchow condemning the midfielder for what he had done. However, the reason why the transfer happened were different from those portrayed in the media, according to the player:

There was a conversation, and a promise that I could leave the club for a certain transfer fee. He (former HSV sporting director Oliver Kreuzer) said yes, it’s a promise. But, then the offers came in and the whole discussion started. (…) Afterwards he went to the press and told them that Hakan would definitely be staying. (…) When I extended my contract, I wanted to help Oliver Kreuzer, who later on stabbed me in the back. The fans didn’t know what was going on, and in the end I looked silly.

On his sick leave

Ahead of the start of the season, Çalhanoglu was given a medical certificate by a psychiatrist that he should be granted 30 sick days due to mental health issues. After the transfer to Leverkusen had gone through, the Turkish international decided to return to the pitch earlier. Many viewers had sent in critical questions, asking if his sick leave simply was a tactic to get his wish. One of the viewers asked the star via Twitter if he could share his secret to help other people who were having the same mental health issues as Çalhanoglu. The 20-year-old replied:

I almost couldn’t go outside in Hamburg anymore. There were insults coming my way from all directions. My car was demolished. I was abused online. I wasn’t as strong mentally after all of that. And therefore I needed professional help. (…) That is why I was granted those sick days. (…) When I signed that contract, it was a motivation for me to go there, to accomplish new things. Then I felt unconstrained.

On Roger Schmidt’s tactics

Çalhanoglu confessed during the interview that he had an offer from Bayern München as well, but that he decided to join Leverkusen because he wanted to get as much playing time as possible. His coach Roger Schmidt is probably happy about the player’s decision. However, one of the statements the midfielder made was probably not to the coach’s liking. Schmidt had told the German magazine Der Spiegel that his players were loving the system, but Çalhanoglu gave a different impression when he talked about how Leverkusen could squander a 3-0 lead in the second half against Stuttgart:

We weren’t as zippy anymore. Maybe we were lacking a bit of energy. Our system is very strenuous, for me as well. We are playing an attacking pressing game, always trying to attack the other team. Maybe, maybe we should be a bit more clever, put the breaks and stand still.

On what happened with Göhkan Töre

Another topic from the interview that garnered much attention from the Turkish and the German press is what happened between Çalhanoglu, Toprak, Toprak’s friend, and former HSV player Göhkan Töre. Reportedly, another man managed to get into the room where Toprak, his friend, and Calhanoglu spent some time and that Toprak and Çalhanoglu were threatened by Töre’s friend with a gun. Çalhanoglu’s father has gone as far as saying that his son wouldn’t play on the same team as Töre anytime soon. However, his son offered a different take stating that he really had no interest in the story getting publicised in the press and that he didn’t want to hurt Töre’s career. There were rumours about the midfielder’s injury ahead of the international break being a false claim in order to allow Çalhanoglu to get out of the squad which featured Töre. “I was really injured”, was Çalhanoglu’s answer. He even gave a detailed account of what had happened in the hotel room in Istanbul after Turkey’s match against the Netherlands:

To clarify one thing, this wasn’t about me or Ömer Toprak. This was about a friend of Ömer’s and the ex-girlfriend of Göhkan Töre. We weren’t involved in that matter, we were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. We were in our room, not in a club, there isn’t any reason to be in a club after a loss after all. We just had something to drink, and Töre found out that Ömer’s friend was there as well. He (Toprak’s friend) had come onto Töre’s girlfriend, I don’t know what happened there. We were in Ömer’s room, because it was our last night there. Our flight back was the following day and we were just killing time. (…) He (Töre) and another arrived at the hotel. He kept knocking on our door and the guy (Toprak’s friend) knew what this was about. I don’t know what was going on with Töre, I don’t if he had taken something (drugs). All I can say is that he was very upset. We didn’t hope the door, and he went back down. He asked the receptionists to give him the key card, and he was given that card because they knew who he was and that this was the team hotel. (…) In the end, I opened the door, and he went just straight past me and went straight to the other guy, and behind him there was another guy getting into the room. I didn’t even see him. That was where the story started. He pulled a gun from his suit. At first he went over to Ömer, telling him to lay down, or else he would shoot him. He threatened us to ensure that Töre could talk to the other guy (Toprak’s friend) alone. They didn’t beat us or anything. He didn’t anything, otherwise he would have shot. I was laying in a corner, and he came over to me. He said: “Don’t move, or I’ll shoot you.” (…) Everything came to an end after a while and the guy (Toprak’s friend) was bleeding.

Here’s the entire interview in full length:

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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