Cengiz Ünder

Cengiz Ünder: A Rapid Rise To The Top

Despite still being early into his professional career in the game, Cengiz Ünder has already experienced a lot, both domestically – for İstanbul Başakşehir and Roma – and for his native Turkey at international level.
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Born in Sındırgı – the home of a famous carpet festival – Ünder moved to the stunning metropolitan city of İzmir as a youngster to play for Bucaspor and then Altınordu at youth team level, before also representing the latter at senior level, scoring 11 goals in one season.

It was at Altınordu where a youthful Cengiz first crossed paths, as a teenager, with Çağlar Söyüncü – a close friend, international team-mate and new Leicester City colleague.

Upon discovering Ünder’s switch to King Power Stadium, the Blue Army unearthed a picture of the Turkish duo together as teenagers on the former Roma star’s social media channels – Cengiz with a boyish fringe and Çağlar sporting an unfamiliar short trim.

As their friendship grew, so too did their potential and, while Söyüncü headed to German outfit SC Freiburg, Ünder remained in his homeland, joining İstanbul Başakşehir in 2016.

Despite not yet in his 20s, Ünder quickly become one of the main protagonists of a Başakşehir side which very nearly pulled off one of the biggest fairy tales in Turkish football history.

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Cengiz Ünder
Cengiz Ünder

Ünder initially stood out as an emerging talent for İstanbul Başakşehir.

Successive fourth-placed finishes in Turkey’s Süper Lig, following promotion, were already considered to be notable achievements for the İstanbul-based side before Ünder’s arrival.

However, in 2016/17, they went even further, drawing comparisons to Leicester City in 2015/16, as they challenged Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray for the Turkish title.

A campaign which coincided with Ünder’s emergence on the international scene for the Crescent-Stars ended with the exciting winger netting nine goals for club and country.

Agonisingly for Başakşehir, Beşiktaş pipped them to the title, but a second-placed finish in the Süper Lig nonetheless qualified them for the UEFA Champions League – and set the foundations for their eventual title win in 2019/20.

Ünder’s performances, though, had alerted some of Europe’s platinum clubs and a switch to Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma quickly materialised for the enterprising Turkish winger.

After being formally welcomed to the Rome outfit by Italian icon Francesco Totti during a pre-season tour in the United States, Ünder gradually began to settle into a new dressing room.

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Cengiz Ünder
Cengiz Ünder

Cengiz didn't take long to exhibit his ability to find the back of the net in Italy.

At the turn of the year during his maiden campaign with I Giallorossi, Cengiz’s potential truly came to the fore as he netted a flurry of eight goals between February and May – including an effort on his Champions League debut at Shakhtar Donetsk in the Round of 16 stage.

Ünder and his team-mates also completed a magnificent 3-0 victory over Barcelona in the quarter-finals, to overturn a 4-1 first-leg defeat on away goals, before losing a last-four epic with Liverpool 7–6 on aggregate, narrowly missing out on facing Real Madrid in the final.

In 2018, meanwhile, Ünder’s exceptional emergence resulted in him scooping Turkey’s Footballer of the Year award, previously won by the likes of Hakan Şükür and Rüştü Reçber.

The following season, Di Francesco was replaced at Stadio Olimpico by returning Roman Claudio Ranieri – City’s 2015/16 title-winning manager – as Ünder and his colleagues finished sixth in Serie A, leading to a place in the UEFA Europa League.

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Cengiz Ünder
Cengiz Ünder

Ünder joins Muzzy Izzet and Çağlar Söyüncü on a prestige list of Turkey plays to sign for Leicester.

Over recent seasons, much of Ünder’s landmark moments have come in the famous red and white of Turkey, helping his country qualify alongside world champions France for EURO 2020.

Even beating Didier Deschamps’ side in İstanbul – with Cengiz scoring one of his six international goals in the process – Turkey’s stock in the game continues to rise, largely due to a golden generation of players including both Ünder and Söyüncü in Şenol Güneş’ squad.

Back in Rome, meanwhile, the 23-year-old has continued to impress for Paulo Fonseca’s I Giallorossi, who ended 2019/20 in fifth place, also reaching the Europa League last-eight.

In all, Ünder arrives in Leicester having scored 43 goals across his short career, featuring in 772 minutes of continental football for Roma, and is ready to resume a playing career alongside friend Söyüncü as the Club embarks on its fifth campaign in Europe competition later in 2020.

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