Arda Guler is Real Madrid’s ‘main attraction’ in the closing weeks of the season


When the final whistle blew in Real Madrid’s madcap 4-4 draw with Villarreal, Arda Guler only had the strength to lower his head and close his eyes in exhaustion.

Antonio Rudiger gave him a playful slap on his neck and the 19-year-old Turkish midfielder left the pitch, waving one by one to each team-mate and opponent. Guler had played a key role with two goals and his best performance since arriving at Madrid last summer.

“Arda has shown something special,” head coach Carlo Ancelotti said.

Guler’s brace against Villarreal means he has scored six goals for Madrid from six shots on target in La Liga and has the best goals-per-90-minutes ratio of anyone in the squad. It has come at the perfect time after speculation linking him with a loan move next season.

Not that Ancelotti had any doubts.

“He is going to be a very important player,” the Italian said three weeks ago after a game against Real Sociedad. “There is no doubt that he will be here next year.”

The start of Guler’s season could not have been more different. According to sources close to the initial €20million ($21.7m; £17.1m at current exchange rates) deal to bring him to Madrid from Fenerbahce, he joined nursing a meniscus injury.

He shone in his first few training sessions with his new club, but he suffered an injury during the pre-season tour of the United States and was forced to undergo surgery.

Guler spent 106 days out injured (Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

It delayed his debut and led to a frustrating period in which Guler suffered two subsequent muscle injuries. He was out for 106 days and missed 22 games. “We have to be patient — he’s just a kid,” coaching staff sources — who asked to remain anonymous to protect relationships — told The Athletic at the time.

Guler finally made his debut on January 6 in a Copa del Rey match against lower-league Arandina and showed his first glimpses of quality. But he had to wait until March 10 for his first goal, against Celta Vigo at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Since Madrid wrapped up the La Liga title this month, he has been given more minutes and become the team’s “main attraction” according to various team sources. At Villarreal, he was one of the players most cheered by children as he stepped off the team bus — perhaps because they see themselves reflected in the teenager.

This was another showcase of Guler’s talent. He opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a left-footed shot from inside the box and was a constant threat from the right wing. He completed four dribbles, made three successful long passes, provided a key pass and finished with 50 of 55 passes completed (a 91 per cent rate).

The coaching staff highlighted Guler’s decision-making under pressure, something that goes beyond the innate talent everyone admires.

“He has quality, but above all, he puts that quality at the service of the team,” one source said. “He is making the most of his moment.”

That was clear in his running back to help left-back Fran Garcia, winning seven duels and leading several counter-attacks. Guler’s second goal illustrated his fine close control as he cut in from the right-hand side and sent another left-footed shot past Villarreal goalkeeper Filip Jorgensen.

It was his sixth goal in just 287 minutes of La Liga action — his current rate of 1.43 goals per 90 minutes is the best of anyone in the Madrid squad, according to That those goals have come from six shots on target is proof he is looking to make up for lost time.

Guler showed his close control against Villarreal (Jose Jordan/AFP via Getty Images)

“I’ve completely adapted to the team, everyone is helping me,” Guler told Real Madrid TV. “I want to keep scoring goals to make my team-mates and the people who believe in me happy.”

After another goal he scored against Granada, Guler had tagged Madrid’s chief scout Juni Calafat in a photo on Instagram. Calafat, who played an important part in bringing him to the club and is one of his main supporters, reposted the photo.

And despite recent reports suggesting Guler could be moved back into midfield for next season, Ancelotti is clear where he sees him at his most effective. “He has a special talent that can naturally be used closer to goal rather than further away,” he said.

The game at Villarreal was not as serene as Madrid would have hoped — with Alexander Sorloth going clear as La Liga’s top scorer with four goals, rescuing a point for his side from 4-1 down.

But Guler’s comeback is providing plenty of excitement for Madrid fans in these closing weeks of the season, with La Liga done and the Champions League final on the horizon. After months of waiting, fans and coaching staff are enjoying his performances. The European Championship with Turkey will provide him with another chance to shine.

(Top photo: Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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