Tuncay Sanli

Once in a while a player comes along with whom you fall in love. I’d already had this experience with Turkish international Tuncay Sanli when I saw him play for Middlesboro during Stoke City’s first season in the Premiership. Below are my thoughts on him from ASLNM when he gave a Man of the Match performance and still ended up on the losing side at the Britannia Stadium (incidentally, I predict that ‘Boro will continue to lose, having just appointed Tony ‘found on the moon’ Mowbray to the managerial hotseat [managerial seats: never cold]):

In the second half Tuncay – a hero from the Turkish side who did so brilliantly in those European Championships last year – runs the show, trading back-heels through his midfield, playing dummies that deliver, crossing, sometimes shooting and generally providing no small measure of energy. But still Boro cannot score: they have no outlet for Tuncay’s creation and he cannot do it all on his own. Tuncay should play for us, our crowd of Magyar-Ottoman hybrids would appreciate him: at one point Tuncay shoots over the bar, or wide, and his momentum takes him into the advertising hoardings in front of the Boothen End where he is greeted by wild derision for his miss. He momentarily freezes, he is just a gesture away from retaliating, but a likeable note of good humoured self-preservation kicks in and he takes a step backwards, smiles, and half-bows. The crowd appreciate it…

And now, as things have turned out, Tuncay does play for us. In the final moments of last year’s summer transfer window this incredible news was confirmed: Tony Pulis had gone madly against type and bought a flair player to the club. My heart skipped several beats and, as much to wind up Old Stokie as anything (OS has something against Turks, he claims they cut his father’s throat with a dancing girl and a dagger or some such Ali Baba-type tomfoolery) I painted a white t-shirt with a red banner leaving blank the spaces for the reverse crescent moon and star of the Turkish flag (the most accepted legend of the flag is that it represents a reflection of the moon and star in a pool of the blood of Turkish warriors. That’s what you call symbolism.) My t-shirt was rather grubby by the time Tuncay had his proper full debut (if indeed he ever did; I can’t remember it). It took longer than it seemed it ought for the gifted new signing to get on to our pitch for anything like ninety minutes because, although he was a ‘smashing kid’ (Tuncay Sanli is twenty-eight) who ‘worked hard in training,’ he was judged to be short of match fitness having ‘not had a full pre-season.’

Tuncay arrived from Middlesboro along with German centre back Robert Huth. With the same pre-season as Tuncay behind him, Huth walked straight into the starting eleven. At 6ft 3ins and 13stone 12lbs the centre-back is an effective unit with more than a touch of Deutschland über alles about him – he has been caught swinging an elbow into an opposition player off the ball more than once and regularly hauls an opponent to the ground if that appears to be the last resort. All to the good, and apart from the malevolent streak he’s a player I like and is exactly the sort of individual who, in conjunction with Rory Delap, can cause havoc in the opposition penalty box: he scores a number of bread and butter goals with his head. Huth immediately went on to Pulis’ Category-A list of un-droppables. How this list is compiled is anyone’s educated guess: a combination of being quick to salute, good at following orders, never questioning of the gaffer, and of being the acme of a hard worker will define it, in short: a Pulis Category-A is a conformist. One glance at Tuncay will tell you he is a non-conformist. He is a simples meerkat in a pair of flash blue boots and an ill-advised piratical headband. Therein lies part of the problem.

Having bought him, Pulis instinctively feels he cannot trust him, and in some dark part of his being the manager must struggle with an urge to self-flagellation because Pulis sees the chairman’s money as his own (the figure was about 5 million). The way Pulis deals with his ‘mistake’ is to single him out for special treatment. For example, having bought Tuncay on as a substitute away at Hull last season he then subbed him back off in a bizarre tactical change following a sending off. Having been on the pitch for six minutes (81-87) Tuncay stormed down the tunnel (and we actually lost the game after he had disappeared) a dramatic gesture he soon repeated at our place following another premature withdrawal. Pulis won’t have that. He could hold clear-the-air talks, perhaps, but he’s just not built that way, and these matters are not so straightforward to deal with in any event as the tabloid manager-player drama between Wayne ‘Robbed by a Scouser, you’re getting robbed by a Scouser!’ Rooney and Sir Alex demonstrated so well all last week in the build up to the match on Sunday.

So, after a very short period of probation, Pulis takes against Tuncay. And subsequently and forever afterwards the manager lets the crowd in on how badly Tuncay is playing and how terrible he is at following orders by giving him ‘the water treatment’. This involves the slinging down of the plastic bottle in his hand or a kicking-out at the one nearest to his feet whenever the player makes the slightest mistake. We’ve seen it before, also involving a flair player (shoulder-length-hair, at any rate), the full-back Carl Hoefkens. But in the Hoefken’s Case the real matter at issue was that he had been purchased by interim manager Johan Boskamp and that he was popular with the fans; for that much he had to go. Also, Hoefkens was Belgian, which could not help (Boskamp was Dutch, there was too much Low Country-conspiracy theory at play there for the Pulis psyche to cope with. Hoefkens was a good player, there was no doubt about that, better than we had in that position, but there was only one inevitable outcome, and Hoefkens went to West Brom).

The Stoke City squad is stronger than ever at the moment. The manager attracts a real respect from most quarters and grudging respect from almost all quarters now, for this, and for other matters, such as turning Stoke into a formidable side who are very hard to beat, such as arriving down at the touchline at half-time to inspire a win (Huth in the last minute) when we were in the bottom three on the day his mother died. You have to stand up and applaud that and I did. By now some fans love him, maybe; I don’t know.

But I do know that for situations like Tuncay Sanli I never will. Tuncay has never been genuinely integrated into or established in the side, In short, he has never had a chance and he has never stood a chance. He does not fit the system – he is a ‘licence to roam-type’ and Pulis has never accommodated one of these; it has become as much as the player can hope for these days to find a place reserved for him on the bench. Indeed, it was reported that having been left out of the squad entirely at Bolton the weekend before he ‘stormed’ back to Stoke-on-Trent in a cab. On Sunday against Manchester United, taxi or no taxi, Tuncay was reinstated to the bench because Ricardo Fuller is injured: even Pulis could not leave him out under this circumstance. As the second half developed it became clear to the proverbial ‘blind man on a charging horse’ of Oatcake fanzine myth (blind men on charging horses are always able to see what the manager/referee didn’t/couldn’t in the pages of the Oatcake) that we needed something extra in the way of wit, guile, pace & invention up front for us to have any hope of turning round the situation in which we found ourselves (one-nil down). The Boothen End let the gaffer into their way of thinking by chanting Tuncay’s name. This sort of pressure is likely to be, and can be, counter productive in the case of a man who as stubborn as Tony Pulis, but for some reason (he was coming on anyway? that would have to be the given reason) he relented and the crowd got what it was crying out for. Tuncay saw twenty-five minutes of action and in the fifteenth of those minutes he scored a goal I will never forget, that made my blood fizz; that is the whole point of dragging yourself along to what Old Stokie calls ‘the nogger’. He took the ball down on his chest out wide on the right wing, headed to the angle of the penalty box, cut inside the full back and curled it into the top corner with his left blue boot (he is nominally right-footed). Our seats are directly behind the flight-path the ball took; neither Edwin van der Sar nor any other goalkeeper in the world was going to stop it. Tuncay headed to the Boothen End with his arms raised in vindication, thanking and praising these people for bringing him on. He kicked the advertising hoardings a couple of times to vent his frustration: that the opportunities for him to express himself in this wonderful way are made so few, and then he bowed low as he had done two seasons earlier while wearing a Middlesboro shirt.

Pulis will never keep a player whose name is sung as a proxy for criticising him and his team selection. The Turk has always been on borrowed time and I expect the lease to expire in January. Less than we have seldom seen the best of him, we have seldom seen him at all; that is a criminal waste, but we will always have this goal. Twenty-five thousand people and more will never forget it; in twenty-five years time they will still talk about it. Tuncay Sanli should know that. It’s a shame they scored another one, because the draw would have been celebrated like a win, and the goal deserved that at the very least.

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33 Responses to Tuncay Sanli

  1. mum says:

    Brilliant !

  2. OS says:

    Too long! I would have summed it up thus: Tuncay (despite his forebears being troglodytical) was ace. And, Pulis is a wanker. 😉


  3. Stephen Foster says:

    Thanks Mum. At least somebody here understands litwerature.

    OS, do several dances over a set of swords : )

  4. Daftburger says:

    Gayer! 😉

    Dare you to post that on the oatcake or if not I’ll do it under my name!

    What’s plagiarism?

  5. Jane Davitt says:

    It was a sublime goal. We watched the match live here in Canada and when it went in, I clutched my Stoke mug tighter, yelled a primal howl and terrified the cat on my lap into doing a runner for the kitchen.

    Going on to lose the point we deserved took a bit of the gloss off but eh, I’m a Stoke fan; we learn to expect tragic endings like that.

    I’ve liked Tuncay from the start because my God, does that man work. You see him running everywhere, never giving up, totally committed and enthusiastic with flashes of genius.

    I wish we’d seen more of him but I can’t blame him for wanting to go somewhere that’ll give him time on the pitch to show what he can do.

  6. Stephen Foster says:

    Just say that budgie of yours wrote it.

  7. Stephen Foster says:

    Quite. It’s unusual to feel sorry for a footballer but on the pitch he’s done nothing other than try his best as far as I’ve seen.

  8. shep207 says:

    But does trying your best warrant a guaranteed place in the starting XI? He certainly works hard and often looks exceptional but how often has it ever resulted in anything? Not very often in my opinion and I was really excited by his signing, but to be honest I wasn’t overly impressed with his peformances when he had a reasonable run in the team last year.

    I think he should start on the bench and come on later in the game if we need something extra. He may fit in a lot better now we have two proper wingers especially as Pennant looks as immense as Etherington but I don’t think he has earnt a place in the starting lineup based on past performances.

    Maybe we will see more of the same against West Ham?

  9. calvininjax says:

    Great piece, Stephen. You have encapsulated many of my thoughts and feelings on the issue of Tuncay and Pulis.

    When he was first signed, in a moment of madness, I had a vision of Tuncay and Fuller up front for Stoke ripping open opposition defences. What was I thinking? With a footballing dunderhead like Pulis in charge, it was never going to happen.

    For a side that Pulis has reputedly made “hard to beat”, we seem to lose an awful lot of games — five out of the nine played so far this season.

    I noticed on The Oatcake that Tuncay was being blamed by some for Man Utd’s late equalizer. I would imagine they are probably fully-paid up members of the BNP who will back Pulis to the hilt because, like them, he seems to enjoy vindictive victimization.

    As a manager, Pulis is marginal. As a man, his personality and conduct leave much to be desired, lacking honesty, integrity and common decency. Those deficiencies, combined with his footballing philosophy, will never endear him to me.

    I still hope Pulis will finally see sense or be made to see sense and keep hold of Tuncay. But if he wants rid, as seems more likely, let it be to Wolfsburg. I fear if Tuncay goes to another Premier League team, he will wreak his revenge with goals that will cost Stoke dear.

    There is no substitute for skill and talent on a football pitch, despite the Delaps, Walters and Sidibes of this world. Only a fool, and Tony Pulis, would think otherwise.

  10. markelt says:

    My views entirely winger. I have always held the view that Pulis fits players into tiers, as you suggest. The A-listers play if at all possible. The B-listers play if he really has to. The performance, fitness and form of As and Bs are judged on different criteria.

    The C-listers may get a game but also get the Volvic treatment.

    I think Tuncay is a C+. He may be a B, but never an A. The workmanlike Jon walters has that badge.

    I’ve always wondered whether Pulis even signed Tuncay in the first place.

  11. Stephen Foster says:

    Did he actually get a reasonable run in the team, Shep? What was his starting position and how many games was it for?

    (nb this is a genuine Q, I can’t remember & I haven’t got the programmes for easy reference)

  12. Stephen Foster says:

    nb. I might substitute “Volvic treatment” into my piece. Sounds more pro hack : )

  13. Daftburger says:

    Shall I is that a dare. Or I could post it under my usual name as half the people on there think I’m Old Stokie! 😀

  14. Daftburger says:


    Did you see the Fulham game?

  15. Stephen Foster says:

    If you posted it over there they would say GAVE UP READING ONCE HE AD A GO AT PEWLIS.

  16. markelt says:

    It is.

    But then a pro hack may have also explored the homoeroticism that underlies this stuff.

  17. shep207 says:

    He had an 8 game run in the starting line up where he usually played as a forward alongside Kitson or Fuller. He played as a winger in a couple. They were Arsenal away through to Sunderland away. He then had another 5 games spread out over the rest of the season and made sub appearances throughout the year when he was not starting.

    He scored 2 goals in his 8 match run and 2 goals in the other 5 which is better than I remember to be fair but still not what you could call prolific.

    I think he works better coming on in the last 30 mins. I always remember his endless running and chasing down of the ball gradually ceasing half way through the second half if he had been on from the start.

    I like Tuncay and wouldn’t want to see him leave but I don’t think he should start for us. I think Pennant and Etherington on the wings and Jones and Fuller would be much more effective.
    I was impressed with Walters when he first arrived but seems to have dropped off a bit in the last couple of matches.

    Do you think Tuncay should be starting matches every week?

  18. shep207 says:

    I didn’t see the Fulham game.
    I hear he had a very good pre-season also.

    If he starts against West Ham tonight and does well, maybe he should get a couple of starts in the league and see how he does.

  19. Stephen Foster says:

    Yes I remember his chasing down at Arsenal, and his slowing down as the game went on. This is how I see it: he was trying too hard to impress so as to try and establish himself on the A-List. It’s actually not that good a run (of matches) in my view and I think his goals scored would be one less than Ricardo over that season (?) or thereabouts; his percentage-to-time on the pitch would probably be higher.

    It’s not that I think he should start every game, it’s more that I think the manager has never really helped him much; you don’t see Huth getting the Volvic treatment when, as so frequently happens, he gets caught out of position when playing (out of position) as a right back.

  20. shep207 says:

    I think you are probably right about the goals to time on pitch ratio but I think Fuller had a particularly poor season in terms of goals scored. (I realise you could say the same about Tuncay!)

    I would still be far more confident watching Ric taking on defenders and getting into scoring opportunities than Tuncay though.
    Hopefully he will continue to prove me wrong tonight!

    As for the Pulis thing, I can’t answer that. I guess he does just have his favourites. However I do feel more confident with Huth at right back than Wilkinson despite the errors. There is something about Wilko that puts me on edge any time he is involved in play.

  21. OS says:

    >But then a pro hack may have also explored the homoeroticism that underlies this stuff.



  22. markelt says:

    You as well. I saw the way you looked at Denis Smith.

  23. OS says:

    Denis is my all-time hero and he can have his manly way with me any time he wants. 😉

  24. OS says:

    Oi, I’m not Daftbugger’s budgie! 😦

  25. AndyP says:

    Superb piece Winger.

    I have an idea for your next work. Remember that book of football lists you wrote? How about something similar which is a list of every incident / feature / involvement of Pulis that has left you frustrated / infuriated / loathing the man? It could run to several volumes and maybe have a cathartic effect! 😉

    “Forgive me Delilah, I just couldn’t take anymore” is a possible working title, although for some reason “I slapped my d1ck in her hand” seems to spring to mind! 😉

    Pulis out!

  26. AndyP says:

    Or on second thoughts given it’s Pulis, maybe revert to the proper line… “I felt the knife in my hand”. 😮

  27. Stephen Foster says:

    On third thoughts, perhaps this is one for you to write : )

  28. OS says:

    Or, alternatively, Andy. “I got that look as I passed by his window (and I knew Walters was playing)” 😉


  29. OS says:

    You’re no good at novels (leave that to me) so just pull your finger out and do as you’re told! 😉


  30. Stephen Foster says:

    I like Walters; he’s Cresser with bells on. & he’s already scored a Premiership goal.

  31. Stephen Foster says:

    My novels are ace.

  32. Daftburger says:

    Here’s an idea for a novel. When you go to heaven your pets judge you! All the pets you’ve ever had will be on the panel as they see most of your best and worst moments and they’re sikick!. It’s got film potential as well in one of them 3D animation type thingy’s.

    Obviously no cats would be allowed on the panel as they’re just evil. Bet TeePee has cats and is not s dog lover, especially spaniel type Turkish ones! 😀

  33. AndyP says:

    Don’t you now have the legal rights to using all Delilah lyrics in book titles?! 😉

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