Ferdi Kadıoğlu: The Inverted Fullback on an Unusual Path to the Top

Ferdi Kadıoğlu has slowly become one of the best fullbacks outside the top five leagues. His unconventional route into the position has made him quite an unconventional player which could allow him to make an impact at some of Europe’s biggest teams. What makes the 24-year-old such an interesting late developer?


An Unconventional Path to Fullback


Ferdi’s unconventional route to the top is what makes him such an interesting player. He first broke onto the scene at NEC Nijmegen as a traditional number 10, drawing comparisons to players like Phillippe Coutinho and Isco because of his ability to create chaos from half spaces and eye for goal.



A low-cost transfer to Fenerbahçe followed where Ferdi was never really entrusted with game-time in his favoured attacking midfield positions. In a trend that has plagued Turkish football, the talented young player was consistently pushed down the queue for the position with preference given to declining foreign players like Max Kruse or Andre Ayew.


Despite playing in advanced roles for the Netherlands U21 side, in nearly 200 appearances for Fener, Ferdi has only played in the central attacking midfield position three times. In his initial appearances for the first team, he found game time in the rotation on the wings.


His ability to dribble in tight spaces and pick passes in forward areas provided some promise in these positions but he never really cemented a settled place in the team. Perhaps lacking that explosive burst of pace or bit of athleticism to make him a true threat outside of central areas. At the start of the 21/22 season, he finally found consistent game time as a left wing back and then was moved further back into a standard left full back position as the season progressed.


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This was an odd development path for a right-footed player more accustomed to being a number 10, but Kadioglu never looked back. In a further nod to his versatility, Ferdi spent the 22/23 season playing primarily as a right back before switching back to left back once again for most of the 23/24 season so far.


A Modern Fullback


The skills Ferdi developed playing in more attacking roles early on in his career are evident today. He can manipulate the ball in tight spaces, use clever body positioning, and employ his surprising strength and acceleration to beat opponents. He can pick line-breaking passes and one-twos around the penalty area. He has maintained his eye for goal and ability to arrive into the area. 


These are the kind of traits you would expect to see to see from an advanced 8 or number 10 working in the half spaces rather than a fullback. With his low socks, shuffling style and habit of wriggling through gaps between opponents Ferdi often looks very similar to Jack Grealish on the ball.


His early career spent picking passes into advanced positions is reflected in his passing output. Ferdi makes deep completions, and ground passes to an area within 20 meters of the goal, at a far higher rate than any other fullback in the league. What has been pleasantly surprising has been how quickly Ferdi has adapted to the defensive side of the position. The Turkish international seems like he is at home in the role rather than a late convert.



Despite his small stature he wins most of his duels and contributes effectively in one of the league’s best defences. He might not post table-topping defensive stats in terms of outright volume of actions but when called to defend he is dependable enough not to be a net negative.


In an attacking sense, as you would expect, he adds massive value to Fenerbahçe. This season he has attempted the most passes of any fullback in the Super Lig whilst also maintaining the highest passing accuracy of any player in the position. He completes his forward passes with over 80% accuracy and leads the league’s fullbacks in expected goals assisted and passes into the final third.


His deeper starting position at fullback and tendency to come infield on his right foot opens the pitch for line-breaking passes from difficult angles to defend. The kind of passes he attempts are often more in the style (but maybe not to the quality) of a deep-lying playmaker like a Rodri or Frenkie de Jong, rather than the range of passes usually played by a fullback restricted to the touchline by their preferred foot and position.


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He is also generally on the front foot after playing a pass looking to receive one-twos and break into the final third. He often breaks into central areas near the box where he can create overloads rather than remaining wide like a traditional fullback would. The threat of Ferdi’s passing quality and his energetic raids into the central space allows him to be a double-threat ball progressor. He is also quick and skillful enough to exploit empty space left out wide by the defence if they try to adapt to his movement.


Of the league’s fullbacks he makes the most progressive runs and has the highest dribble completion percentage. It’s an area of his game honed through playing in more attacking positions that opens unusual attacking avenues that unsettle defensive blocks. Kadıoğlu is key to Fener’s buildup. He’s often the player with the most touches of the ball on the team, he completes the most dribbles per 90, passes into the final third, and progressive passes. Last month’s victory over Pendikspor was a good example of what Ferdi brings to his position.



An all-action display including a goal, assist, nine of 14 duels won and the most touches of anyone on the pitch. Ferdi frequently created danger by drifting inside from his left back position in defence into central areas in possession. From there he frequently picked dangerous passes with his preferred right foot.


His quality in this area causes problems for opposition defences. Ferdi can function as both a deep playmaker and ball progressor from areas where teams are not usually set up to press. This quality in fullbacks has been used by managers like Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta successfully in recent seasons to vary their teams’ attacking build-up. 


Inverting the Fullback: Potential Fit


Ferdi Kadıoğlu’s unconventional style makes his next transfer move intriguing. He stacks up well to the kind of players that have been used in the inverted fullback role at some of the biggest clubs in European football.



Of course, Ferdi’s stats should be taken in the context of him playing in a league ranked ninth in Europe by UEFA. However, the indications are, at least stylistically, that he matches up with the best in Europe in the inverted fullback role. As a left-footed player on the right, he brings a different dimension to the role. Trent Alexander-Arnold, for example, uses the more central positions the role affords him to play long passes and quick crosses off his stronger right foot rather than look to dribble inside or drive attacks towards the penalty area himself.


João Cancelo is perhaps the most like Ferdi with both playing on the side of their weaker foot. Both players dribble more frequently than the other progressive fullbacks and have a similar habit of picking up the ball on the left touchline and drifting inside to find passes between the lines.


The difficulty Ferdi could face in finding a suitable transfer destination is that few teams play with such influential fullbacks and the ones that do already have elite performers in the role. This is an issue since using Ferdi as a more traditional fullback doesn’t make the most of his best traits. A good comparison is Bayern Munich’s recent signing of Sacha Boey from Fener’s rivals Galatasaray.



Boey offers nothing like the on-ball value Ferdi has the potential to add to a team but is a better athlete and more defensively solid. He brings more of a known quantity to the fullback position and slots into a system like Bayern Munich’s more predictably. He’s a safer bet but lacks a lot of the upside Kadıoğlu could offer if used effectively.


As a result, it’s difficult to see a clear transfer destination for Ferdi. It is a big ask for him to make the jump straight to regular minutes for a team like Arsenal or Manchester City. It’s uncertain whether the step up athletically would be too much for him at this stage. But currently, few teams have the tactical setup to make the most of his qualities. A tough spot when he needs a team to prove himself before potentially moving to a level where he can show his strengths.


Equally though, players with the skillset Ferdi possesses are few and far between. Particularly ones that have been playing the inverted role for several seasons. Players have typically been converted to the position, as Ferdi himself was, rather than coming through the youth levels playing the role.



There are not many players on the market who are surefire fits for the position. And to his credit, his performances in European competitions and at international level (particularly against Germany and Leroy Sané) suggest there is reason to think he can adapt to a more demanding league.



Stefano Pioli’s Milan have flirted with inverted fullback usage before, as have Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton. Both teams have lacked the personnel to implement the tweak to its full potential, although Brighton recently signed Valentín Barco who has the potential to do so. Ferdi could offer teams a way to evolve tactically under an experimental coach with faith in his talent.


For any club that does take the leap Ferdi’s ability to play in both fullback positions as well as function as an advanced 8 and wide player at least offers versatility if he cannot be used effectively in his adopted position. He could also be a useful wingback on both sides of the pitch in the right system.


It is not common to describe a 24-year-old as a project player. However, given Ferdi’s late switch to the fullback position, just how few specialists at this interpretation of the fullback position there are, and his lack of top-league experience, he has the potential to develop further. Under the right manager and system, he could become an elite player for a top side. However, the wrong transfer at this stage could relegate him to the role of utility player in systems not set up for him to showcase his best qualities.


Ferdi Kadıoğlu is a player with top-level quality on the ball beyond most fullbacks. He can add an unusual attacking dimension that can unsettle organised defences. How his defensive work scales against better athletes and whether he can find a place to put his mark on a team are the two major question marks he needs to overcome to make it at the very top level.


By: Luke Petty / @petty_luke

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / ANP / Getty