Whilst Arda Güler has received much of the acclaim as the next great Turkish footballing prospect, another gem is being unearthed right before our eyes in the form of Juventus’ Kenan Yıldız. The 18-year-old midfielder is enjoying a breakout season for club and country and is showing signs of becoming a top class footballer in the near future.
Born in Regensburg, Germany to a Turkish father and German mother, Yıldız made the choice early on to represent his father’s homeland, climbing up the youth ranks of the Turkish national team before ultimately earning his first senior international cap in October 2023 during a victory over Croatia.
It didn’t take long for the youngster to score his first senior international goal with a brilliant finish against — fittingly — Germany, in a 3-2 victory in November 2023. These are the makings of a prodigious talent which has always been abundantly clear with Kenan Yıldız.
Joining Bayern Munich’s academy at just 7 years old, Yıldız developed and quickly progressed through the ranks in Bavaria. At the age of 10, he would sign an exclusive deal with Adidas with whom he’s still signed today. It was clear to coaches, scouts and executives across Europe that a wonderkid was emerging in Munich and he appeared to be well on his way to joining Bayern’s first team in no time.
The future is bright at Juventus:
-Dušan Vlahović (23)
-Kenan Yildiz (18)
-Fabio Miretti (20)
-Andrea Cambiaso (23)
-Samuel Iling-Junior (20)
-Timothy Weah (23)
-Nicolò Fagioli (22)
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) January 16, 2024
However, at the end of the 2021-22 season, Yıldız would make the surprising decision not to renew his deal with Die Roten and subsequently leave the club on a free transfer. There were numerous suitors vying for his signature and it appeared as though he was Barcelona-bound, but he instead chose to join Juventus. Yıldız likely saw the Old Lady as the ideal destination to allow him to play senior football at the highest level as soon as possible, although Bayern Munich claim his exit was due to financial factors.
Nonetheless, Yıldız had made the decision to leave his home of 10 years and embark on a new journey in Turin. Although he initially joined the U19 setup, pressure from Yıldız’ agent as well as the Turk’s undeniable talent earned him a promotion to the 2nd team within a few months, where he continued to shine and catch the eye of everyone at the club.
After impressing Massimiliano Allegri during Juventus’ pre-season ahead of the 2022-23 campaign, Yıldız would make his competitive senior debut for the club, coming off the bench during a 3-0 victory over Udinese in the first gameweek of the season. He would then make another cameo the following week as Juventus drew 1-1 with Bologna.
Despite these opportunities early in the season, Yıldız would see his game-time become rather limited, much to the frustration of the player’s entourage. However, this wouldn’t stop Yıldız from earning his first senior international call-up and scoring the aforementioned goal against Germany. Another impressive display a few days later against Wales in Cardiff would allow the Turkish starlet and his entourage to show Juventus that he deserved more game-time at club level.
These opportunities would indeed come as Yıldız would go on to score 3 goals in just 4 starts in December and produce dazzling performances, showing off his mature power and remarkable technique. Going forward, with these performances, it will be difficult for Allegri to keep the wonderkid out of the team very often, but what exactly makes Yıldız such a talented footballer?
Kenan Yıldız is a right-footed attacking midfielder who prefers to operate in the left half-space. He’s excellent at receiving the ball on the half-turn, which is a highly important skill for a high-end playmaker.
Whilst the half-space is his preferred area, Yıldız also has an affinity for drifting wide into a left-wing position where he can use his direct carrying, dribbling and deceptive quickness to progress the ball and take-on defenders. Whilst he’s not as pacey as a traditional winger, the youngster has a burst of acceleration that allows him to beat his man and carry forward powerfully, much like a younger Kevin de Bruyne.
When in these wider positions, he naturally favours coming inside onto his right foot, so adding more unpredictability to his game will make life even more difficult for opposition defenders. Becoming a more consistent two-way threat when in wide positions would make him virtually impossible to stop in 1v1 situations. He’s shown the ability to use his left foot when needed, so this is a realistic tool he can add to his game.
When one watches Kenan Yıldız play football, what becomes immediately apparent is that he possesses incredible physical traits. Standing at 1.85m tall, he boasts a notably strong frame for his age which allows him to comfortably handle the physicality of senior football. Crucially, he knows how to use these physical gifts to his advantage, especially when it comes to his ball-carrying. His size and strength contribute significantly to his ability to carry the ball long distances despite opposition pressure.
SOURCE: JUVENTUS TV
Ball-carrying is arguably Yıldız’ most impressive and effective trait. He covers ground quickly and aggressively, successfully translating these abilities to senior football. Once he gets a head of steam, he becomes virtually impossible to overpower. He also combines this with quick feet to slalom through opposition defences and create chances seemingly out of nothing.
SOURCE: Serie A on CBS Sports
The combination of these traits make the Turkey international a dynamic and unpredictable on-ball presence. He’s subsequently adept at operating within both transition and possession-based systems. This profile of player is a coach’s dream as it allows for tactical versatility and different approaches against different teams. It’s worth remember that Yıldız is still just 18 years old and only in the infancy of his journey as a professional footballer. Despite this, he’s shown the ability to manipulate the ball like a seasoned veteran at the highest level.
Yıldız is described as a playmaker, so it’s essential to examine his ability as a passer. He’s certainly a good passer of the ball, but he’s not a particularly expansive one (yet). His progression largely comes from his ability to carry the ball, but he is capable of the occasional penetrative pass. Ultimately, if he wants to become a world class no. 10, he’ll need to become a more consistent penetrative passer to create chances for his teammates. There are often moments where he has the right idea, but he fails to get the correct weight on his pass.
His willingness to play these passes is encouraging, but the execution of the pass will become increasingly important as he continues to develop. That said, despite showing flashes of his passing ability, he does have a habit of developing tunnel vision at times due to his ability as a dribbler and can subsequently miss simple passes. However, as he matures as a footballer, enhanced vision and improved decision-making will almost certainly follow.
It’s worth remembering that he’s still a teenager playing in a highly competitive league known for its robust defences, so his journey is expected to have some speed bumps. He certainly has the talent to become a more consistent creator through his passing, so that should be the next step in his evolution as a playmaker.
One area of Yıldız’ game that can hardly be faulted is his ball-striking. The Regensburg-born starlet already possesses remarkable ball-striking. He has a variety of finishes in his locker, but he favours powerful shots which he can unleash with regularity.
When he receives the ball with time in his favourite zone, the results are often positive. His impressive shooting range forces defenders to close him down and creates space in behind for his teammates. That said, his elite technique also means he’s capable of difficult first-time finishes.
SOURCE: COPPA ITALIA
This particular goal shows the player’s versatility as a finisher and his high level timing and execution in front of goal. In addition to his fantastic technique, his physical build likely plays a role in his ability to generate significant power behind his shots.
As mentioned prior, whilst he is predominantly right-footed, he is capable with his weaker left foot. His ability to shoot accurately and powerfully with his weaker foot makes him more unpredictable and difficult to force into a particular direction. Whilst powerful shots are his preference, he’s capable of placing his shots with control when required with either foot.
SOURCE: UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE
In terms of his progression as a finisher, the next step is incorporating these types of finishes with more regularity when the opportunities present themselves. He’s certainly capable, but it then becomes a matter of becoming a more mature decision-maker.
Kenan Yıldız is a rather unique player, so making comparisons is difficult. That said, his game does draw some parallels to that of Jack Grealish, particularly during his Aston Villa stint. He operates in similar zones and has a skillset that mirrors that of the England international considerably. Yıldız, however, is perhaps even more physically developed than Grealish ever has been, despite his young age. This gives him an advantage over the Manchester City star in that respect, although he hasn’t quite developed the poise, ball-retention or vision of Grealish, but that should eventually come with more senior football.
On his current trajectory, Yıldız can become a world class player much sooner than some might expect, but that’s contingent on the player receiving the opportunity to play and taking advantage of those opportunities when they arrive. Having attracted interest from the likes of Barcelona, Liverpool and Arsenal, it’s clear that other clubs have taken note of his astonishing potential — the sky really is the limit for Yıldız.
He has the opportunity to spearhead a new golden generation of Turkish football alongside Real Madrid’s Arda Güler. As shown by this piece, Kenan Yıldız has all of the physical and technical tools to become an elite footballer, now it’s about how he mentally copes with competitive senior football and whether or not he can fulfil that undeniable potential.
By: Lebohang Mwamuka / @lebzygold
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Emilio Andreoli / Getty Images