VIDEO: Turkish PM Erdoğan scores hat trick in 15 minutes
Turkish PM Erdoğan, a former footballer, wore the number 12 jersey for the Orange Team, reportedly in reference to his aspirations to becoming Turkey's 12th president next month.Former Kasımpaşa amateur player-made-good Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rolled back the years on July 27, scoring a hat trick during an exhibition to open Istanbul's newest stadium.
Surprising most of the crowd, Erdoğan – better known in his current incarnation as the prime minister of Turkey – announced in the ceremony before the match that the stadium in Başakşehir neighborhood would be named after Fatih Terim, the current director of Turkey's national football team.
The Turkish PM wore number 12 for the Orange Team, reportedly in reference to his aspirations to become Turkey's 12th president next month.
Coached by Terim, the Orange Team lineup included Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Istanbul chair Aziz Babuşçu, Turkish Football Federation Chair Yıldırım Demirören, former football star Rıdvan Dilmen, former NBA star Hidayet Türkoğlu, television entrepreneur Acun Ilıcalı, as well as the Turkish PM's son, Bilal Erdoğan, who was implicated in the massive corruption investigations late last year.
The White Team included professional goalkeeper Volkan Babacan, former football star Mehmet Özdilek and Erdoğan's son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, as well as several officials from the TFF.
After the White Team scored three goals, thanks to an inspiring performance from retired playmaker Özdilek, the Orange Team bounced back quickly.
Erdoğan scored his team's first goal with his second touch of the ball. His second goal was the product of a fantastic lob with his left foot. Erdoğan then went on to complete his hat trick within a quarter of an hour.
The teams went into the break knotted at four apiece, but although Erdoğan was substituted at the interval, his orange side went on to trounce their opponents 9-4.
Turkish social media was abuzz in the early hours of July 27, as "football is not just a game," particularly in Turkey where political polarization has worsened the chronic problems that the country's football industry has been facing for decades.
Several Turkish social media users with critical views of the government claimed that the pitch was full of "pro-Erdoğan" people, whether from the football world or not, all letting him bend and score easily. Some of them slammed Turkey's public broadcaster TRT for televising the match live. The TRT speaker's "biased" comments, like "The wind that Erdoğan created is still continuing even after he left the pitch," were also criticized.
Others defended that it was just an exhibition match, organized for entertainment, as well as for the promotion of Başakşehir football club, which will be in the top league next season after promoted Istanbul BB was rebranded in an effort to gain more supporters. Erdoğan's second goal, on the other hand, was praised by both pro- and anti-government tweeps.
Of course, despite his goal-scoring prowess, Erdoğan still has some work to do to catch up to another world leader known for his skill on the pitch, Bolivia's Evo Morales. In May, the 54-year-old president signed a professional deal to appear for first-division side Sport Boys, starting in August.
One of the most interesting tweets that marked the football night came from Yusuf Yerkel, Erdoğan's advisor who had kicked a mourning protester in the mining disaster-struck Turkish town of Soma in May:
Wearing number 12,PM Erdoğan kicks his third goal at the Fatih Terim stadium's opening ceremony match pic.twitter.com/hcODHlcvl6— YusufYerkel (@YusufYerkel) July 26, 2014