Arda Turan, Nihat Kahveci and the Altintop brothers. Four of Turkey’s most famous players. But none of them the record number of appearances for their nation. Today, though, I look beyond these offensives players and into the life of the country’s most famous goalkeeper: Rüstü Recber. In Turkey, he is not an ordinary player. The goalkeeper will have been the man of great happiness for the national team. From 2002 to 2008, from a huge World Cup to a phenomenal Euro, he became the idol of a whole nation. A square, battered mouth after a serious accident that costed his best friend his life in 1993. His ponytail and occasional Indian-style war paint made Recber an elegant man with bundles of charisma.
The adventure began
We discovered his potential in the European Cup in June 2000. He annihilated, by himself, any Belgium’s hope to progress. On this day, the dangerous attempts of the Belgium national proved too much. They won 2-0 and we wondered will this keeper be able to re-edit this kind of performances again?
2002 Historic World Cup
The response came two years later in the FIFA World Cup. This team composed by Alpay, Hasan Sas, Umit Davala, Emre and evidently Rüstü, allowed to Turkish to write the best page in its football history, finishing third in the most prestigious football competition. The first game, Turkey faced the finalists of the last World Cup. He pissed off Rivaldo and Ronaldo: both Ballon d’Or winners. Turkey’s defence crumbled in the final minutes. A 1-2 defeat versus the best worldwide national team, it’s better than receiving a manita.
The second game against Costa Rica saw Rüstü Recber batter his Central American opponents, the game ending 1-1. Their last game was against China in an easy 3-0 win.
Second in Group C, Turkey were pitted against successively two impressive teams: Japan and Senegal. They won on the same scoreline: 1-0. Against the African representant, it was more difficult for them to qualify. But a golden goal led to a rematch in the semi-final
The team was the same, but the occasion was much, much bigger. For the selecao, it was the third consecutive semi-final appearance, whereas it was the highest stage reached by a Turkish national team in a World Cup. The first-half was hotly disputed. Shortly after the break, Ronaldo picked the ball up 30 yards from goal, drove into the box at pace, bamboozling the Turkish defence before doing something which remained iconic years after. A shoot off the outside of his boot, at such speed that Rüstü was unable to stop it.
The third place play-off match took place at Daegu Stadium. Korea with Guus Hiddink had made a superb route, eliminating (unfairly) nations such as Italy and Spain. Rüstü’s action of the game was his fantastic save against Korean forward Jung Hean Ahn, keeping the score at 2-1 in the first half. This save was selected as the best of the tournament. The match ended 3-2 for the European team. A bronze medal to a golden goalkeeper.
2003 FIFA Confederations Cup
As if it was a habitude, Turkey was in the same group as Brazil. This time, they finished ahead of the selecao. In the semifinal, Rüstü Recber was substituted early due to an injury, at 36th minute. His stuntman Catkic didn’t avoid the elimination. No medal this time
The Barcelona misadventure
After nine seasons with Fenerbahce, he arrived for free in Catalonia. Not sexy, he has presented as the medicine to the goalkeeping malediction. Victor Baia, Dutruel, Enke or Bonano were all trashed by the pressure of Camp Nou. The Barcelona management staff believed in him but during the America tour, he has been injured. This saw a young keeper from La Masia steal his spot. His name: Victor Valdes.
He finally got his chance in December, he appeared for the first time in a winning effort against rivals, Espanyol. His second game against Celta Vigo finished as a draw, but the humiliation came in the third game in 3-0 defeat against Santander. Only seven appearances for this atypical keeper in all competitions. In the summer, he moved to Turkey for his former club, Fenerbache.
2008 UEFA Europa Cup
Turkey’s first choice goalkeeper Volkan Demirel was been sent-off in the last Group A game versus Czech Republic, which gave Recber his last chance to show his skills. At 35, Rüstü played in the quarter-final against the Croatian national team headed by Ivica Olič and a young midfield who will win the Ballon d’Or 10 years later, Luka Modric. This performance was described as heroic by UEFA in 2015. Then the iconic shot-stopper became a hero once again.
In the last knockout stage, they faced the Germans. After the game, the Mannschaft as usual won at the end on a goal scored by Phillip Lahm at the 90th minute. After the third failure in a semi-final with Turkey, he announced his retirement from the national team. However, he was called up against Spain for a 2010 World Cup qualifying match.
Everybody knows that Old Trafford is a place which provides some intense emotions, at the Theatre Of Dreams he knew several. On 30 October 1996, he participated in one of the most notorious achievements of the club, inflicting the first defeat in the European Cup for 40 years at Manchester United. On November 2009, at Old Trafford in the group stage, he produced a number of world-class saves to secure another prestigious 1-0 win. The result was especially sweet for Rüstü, who has conceded six on his last visit to Old Trafford with the Turkish club.
After 18 years of successful service for his country, his last appearance came against Finland (2-3) on 26 May 2012, it was his 120th. From an international point of view, Rüstü Recber was excelling. He was their first choice shot-stopper for 14 years and Volkan Demirel’s stuntman for four. Five times Turkish championship winner, he retired in 2011-2012. He was the pillar of the most valuable Turkish generation. Despite his eccentricity, and his failure at Barcelona, in the streets of Istanbul he is an idol, a star, a master, the greatest goalkeeper that Turkey has known.