Walsall's Erhun Oztumer on his 'Turkish Messi' nickname and being the smallest in the Football League
By Nick Lustig
Last Updated: 20/03/18 4:51pm
Walsall midfielder Erhun Oztumer speaks to Sky Sports News about the club's fans labelling him the ‘Turkish Messi' and being the smallest player in the Football League…
For the fans at the Banks's Stadium, Erhun Oztumer is the talisman.
He is the creative spark they look to when Walsall are in need of inspiration or a moment of magic.
So much is their adoration of Oztumer, they are all too willing to say he is their own answer to a certain Barcelona and Argentina superstar.
To them, he is simply the 'Turkish Messi'.
It is a nickname that Oztumer - the smallest player in the Football League at 5ft 3in - is certainly attempting to take in his stride.
The 26-year-old for the second successive season has been a shining light in Sky Bet League One, with a campaign-best 16 goals already to his name and more than a keen eye for a spectacular strike.
Although his height and style of play may have similarities with the four-time Ballon d'Or winner, Oztumer can still see the funny side of the comparison.
"I just laugh about it. For me, he's the world's best player and I try to look at his game, watch his matches," he said.
"I think the comparison is that we are both short and left-footed, but he is someone I admire and look up to.
"It does make me feel good about myself, but I am just trying to be me, do what I know I can do and just try and win games.
"I don't think there's much comparisons between the pair of us in terms of the standard."
Released by Charlton at the age of 16 after being deemed too small by the academy directors, Oztumer considered giving up on his dream of becoming a professional footballer following a visit to the hospital.
"I went to many clubs on trial and they said the same thing, that I was too small. It's always been a battle," he said.
"I remember times when I cried after being released, it was upsetting.
"My dad took me to the hospital to see if I could get injections to stimulate growth. I had a scan and was told that if you have capsules in your bones that are shut, you can't grow anymore.
"We discovered mine were shut and since the age of 16, I have not grown.
"My parents helped me a lot during that time. I was on the brink of giving up, but they kept supporting me and never stopped believing in me."
After his release from Charlton, Oztumer joined Sivasspor before moving to Anadolu Bagcilar where he played in the lower reaches of Turkish football.
Following three years away, he returned to England and was picked up by non-league Dulwich Hamlet where he scored 60 goals in 96 appearances.
It was a grounding and experience that stood him in good stead when making his first move into the professional game with Peterborough in 2014.
"When I was given my chance at Dulwich Hamlet, it became the platform for me to show what I could do," Oztumer said.
"I now try to use my size as an advantage, I am going to be quicker, more agile and more skilful than other players.
"I am so glad I am here now, proving people wrong, I like doing that.
"I think the game is definitely changing, players like Messi, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla have shown that. You don't always have to be the biggest player to have the biggest impact."
Oztumer, who has netted 31 times during his two seasons at Walsall, is out of contract in the summer and has previously rejected two deals to extend his stay at the club.
Sky sources understand a number of Championship sides and clubs from abroad have shown interest in signing Oztumer and he concedes the opportunity to play at a higher level may prove too enticing.
"Every player wants to play higher, it's the ambition," Oztumer said.
"Money doesn't motivate me. For me, it's playing at the highest ability, playing in front of bigger crowds and being the best that you can be.
"In the summer, I'll sit down with my agent and see what the options are, but I am excited about the future."
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