It happens every transfer window. A young foreigner signs for a nouveau riche club and claims in his introductory press conference that it was his childhood dream to play for them, even though they were playing in the lower leagues, or maybe didn’t even exist, until a few years previously. Yet with up-and-coming Turkish striker Enes Ünal, he was genuinely a Manchester City fan when he signed for the club for £2 million in 2015. Three years previously he’d tweeted “my whole house, including my mother, supports Manchester City” just moments after the Agüero moment. Now 20 years old, Ünal is hoping to become the new Agüero – or the new Zlatan Ibrahimović, his other idol, both in a footballing and hairstyling sense – and he’s currently taking the next step in that journey in Spain.
Given that he isn’t yet 21 and given that he hadn’t played the sufficient number of matches for the Turkey senior side – he has ‘just’ six caps – to qualify for a loophole, he wasn’t able to obtain a UK work permit and had to move abroad last summer, even if he had been taking English lessons in anticipation of a stay in northern England. Villarreal were impressed by his potential and paid £12 million for his signature, but with City inserting a buy-back clause into the contract. Three months into the 2017/18 season, neighbouring club Levante came calling when LaLiga permitted them the chance to make an emergency loan signing, given their injury crisis. So off Ünal went to the Ciutat de Valencia Stadium, the perfect spot for his development.
It’s perfect because Ünal is far more likely to play immediately at the newly promoted club than at Villarreal, where he had the quality strikers Carlos Bacca and Cédric Bakambu ahead of him in the pecking order. There is also reportedly a clause in his loan contract which states that he has to play at least 70 minutes for Levante whenever he is available. His agent Batur Altiparmak could hardly have designed a better scenario himself.
Now it’s up to the 20-year-old to perform on the pitch and that’s exactly what he did in his debut for the club, causing havoc for the opposition defence throughout Levante’s 2-1 loss to Girona and scoring his team’s only goal. That was his second of the season, after netting another in the 255 LaLiga minutes given to him while at Villarreal, and it means that he has now hit the target with three of his four shots this season, scoring twice.
Scoring is exactly what Ünal does. He’s not particularly quick, he doesn’t lead the line like a traditional No.9 and his passing isn’t the best, but Ünal knows how to put the ball in the back of the net and can do it with his head, his left foot or his right foot and from inside and outside the box. He scores cannonballs, he can place it, he bends it like Beckham and he can acrobatically position himself for a tap-in too.
So where did he learn how to do this? Well, Ünal comes from the youth academy of his hometown Bursaspor, where he bagged 182 goals in 110 appearances for the reserve side and then scored for the senior side at 16 to become the Turkish Süper Lig’s youngest ever scorer. The talent has always been there and has been little by little squeezed out of him and perfected. The fact he was able to test himself against veteran French goalkeeper Sébastien Frey at Bursaspor training surely helped his finishing, as will the fact that he was an attacking disciple to future Villarreal teammate Bakambu at the Turkish club.
Ünal has done it at international level too, scoring 24 times in 25 Turkey Under-16s games, before he went out on loan to FC Twente for the 2016/17 season. There, he showed that he can mix it up with the big boys, tucking away 18 Eredivisie goals in 32 appearances, making him the club’s player of the season and the highest-scoring Turk in the league’s history.
That form was what encouraged Villarreal to splash out for him during the last transfer window, but those performances also persuaded those in the offices at the Etihad to keep a contractual lasso handy, just in case he reaches the heights some expect of him. That’s what Villarreal vice-president José Manuel Llaneza clearly expects, saying “I think Manchester City will sign him back, as he will prove himself on the pitch”.
It wouldn’t even be too costly for City to activate that option. According to Turkish-Football, he can be brought back to England for £28 million next summer, then for £29.7 million a year later and then for £31.4 million 12 months after that.