Elite-level footballers are rich, ripped and revered beyond our comprehension, but it’s rare to see a stylish one.
Most players, having dedicated their adolescence to one sporting profession as required to make it to the top, pay lip service to the tides of fashion and become unofficial ambassadors for ASOS or boohooMAN.
Some, like Michael Owen, become literal poster boys for Peacock upon retirement. Watching Owen model jumpers you’d wear to a carvery and bomber jackets for the Boxing Day hunt was to realise that not everybody can be David Beckham.
So we salute footballers who break away from convention, pursuing their own path and bringing fringe sub-cultures kicking and screaming into the sport’s hemisphere.
Which brings us nicely to Rustu Recber.
During the 2000s, Rustu was one of the best goalkeepers in world football. He was between the sticks as Turkey reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2002 and appeared as an elder, grizzled statesman during their madcap run to the semis of Euro 2008.
With 120 caps, he is the most capped Turkish player of all-time and was also chosen by Pele on the FIFA 100, a list of the 125 greatest living footballers, in 2004.
Oscillating between breath-taking saves and breath-stealing gaffes, Rustu was the personification of Turkish football; bonkers, barmy and nobody quite knowing what would happen next.
Happy Birthday Rustu Recber 🧤pic.twitter.com/rXhdDPWV3Y
— GOAL (@goal) May 10, 2020
Sharing the same erratic gene as Fabian Barthez, so much that you wondered the pair were related, Rustu could produce the lightening-quick reflexes of your family cat to prevent a goal before charging into the No Man’s Land of midfield with the ball and leaving his net unguarded.
And, with his long hair and anti-glare war paint, Rustu looked like he should’ve been in the Ministry of Darkness on WWF. You just didn’t get this with Paul Robinson or Chris Kirkland.
In another life, Rustu would’ve been a roadie for some obscure gothic rock band, just missing some heavy blackwork hand tattoos and a nose ring. The guy looked as if he was about to deliver the most devastating Punjabi Plunge ever seen during a game.
His club career was best remembered for spells with Fenerbahce and Barcelona, the former significantly more successful than the latter.
Whilst relations started amicably in Spain, with Frank Rijkaard titling Rustu “the best goalkeeper in the world”, things quickly deteriorated.
Due to his inability to speak Spanish or English, Rustu only made seven appearances in his sole season outside Turkey, three in UEFA Cup ties with Puchov and Panionios, and a further four in La Liga.
He had to wait until December 2003 to make his league debut, conceding a cheap header from Jordi Cruyff after eight minutes against Espanyol, was at fault in the next match against Celta Vigo, and then let in three against Racing Santander.
Bar an enforced change against Real Betis in April after Victor Valdes was sent off, Rustu never played for Barca again.
Perhaps Barcelona was just too mainstream for a man of Rustu’s eccentricity, a player that demanded the freedom to be himself in an identikit world and had the talent to back himself up.
Capable of head-scratching impulsivity, positional brain-farts and gorgeous flying saves in the same match, looking f*cking great while doing so, the goalkeeper was a player to be savoured.
By Michael Lee