Tosun Wedded To His Work Ethic

This interview was first published in Everton's official matchday programme for last weekend's 2-0 win over Chelsea. Order your copy - and more exclusive interviews from this season - here.

It is a curious thing but as Cenk Tosun glows and talks about loving his baby son “more than anything”, the Everton striker is unwittingly opening a window into his own childhood bedroom.

Tosun’s wife Ece gave birth to Arden, the couple’s first child, in October last year.

“It is a great feeling and sometimes I think I should have done it earlier,” says Tosun.

“If you have a bad game, or poor result, but then go home and see your family and baby boy, it motivates you even more.

“We are a real family now and I love my son more than anything.”

It suddenly feels very appropriate that Tosun is being interviewed in the family area of Everton’s USM Finch Farm headquarters. It is a well-appointed room, created for relatives of the school-age Academy hopefuls who hurry through the gates of this vast complex every evening.

Tosun is fresh from the sodden training pitches visible over his right shoulder as he talks. He is smart in his Everton gear nonetheless. And punctual.

Always punctual.

“I had the German discipline instilled in me at school and at my football club,” says Tosun.

“If you have a meeting, you arrive 10 minutes early. Germans are never late. Never.”

Tosun’s dad Senol was 15 when he followed his father from Turkey to Germany. Mum Selma made the same move – also because of her dad’s work – when she was four.

Cenk is the couple’s second child, raised in the west German state of Hesse.

“We had a big house, a garden, I practised out there a lot,” says Tosun.

“Team training was not enough.

“I had to train more than others to get somewhere – even on my days off, my dad took me to the training pitches and we worked, just the two of us.

“My dad was always pushing me. But if the child does not have the determination and ambition, you cannot do anything.

“I was really excited to play football all the time.

“I would play in the house, too, and broke a lot of stuff.

“My mum wasn’t so happy with that.”


Is it right, then, that Tosun’s boyhood football obsession extended to positioning his boots by his bed while he slept?

He laughs at the story but confirms its veracity. When Tosun replies, smiling, it is clear those boots were the apple of his eye, treasured in the same way he dotes on Arden today.

“It is true,” he says. “With my first boots, I liked them so much, I slept with them near my pillow.

“Even at home, I was wearing them all the time.”

In the house, watching television?

His smile is sheepish now.

"Yeah, sometimes,” Tosun concedes.

It was Besiktas that was very much part of Tosun’s family growing up, the young Cenk decked out in the Turkish club’s black and white colours and glued to a TV set to restlessly urge on his favourites.

It night in the family home, though, he would switch off his light and imagine himself starring for Eintracht Frankfurt.

“It was my biggest dream to play in the Commerzbank-Arena [Eintracht’s home ground],” says Tosun.

“Before I went to sleep every night, I was thinking about it.

“I spent more time in the club’s changing rooms than in my house.

“I couldn’t go out with my friends on Friday and Saturday nights because I was playing football the next day.”

Tosun’s self-restraint and persistence would ultimately lead him to Besiktas, the team he admits he “could not even think about playing for” as a child, so remote was the possibility when one of dad’s friends would come from Istanbul bearing gifts – kits, footballs and assorted brick-a-brack – to convert Cenk into a Besiktas loyalist.

In his third full season with the club, Tosun was the talismanic striker whose 20 goals were critical in Besiktas retaining their league title by a hair’s breadth from Istanbul Basaksehir.

“Playing in this team was a different feeling,” says Tosun. “I was a fan, so I could feel what they felt.

“The supporters loved me – and I loved them.

“When we lost, I could not sleep.

“But it is always like that for me. If I lose, I cannot sleep for two or three nights: ‘What could I do better, or what do I have to change to help my club’?”

As a boy, Tosun would sometimes have cause to reflect along similar lines. If Cenk wasn’t putting it in at school, then dad refused to drive the 80km round trip to Eintracht Frankfurt’s training ground of an afternoon.

Equally, if he acted up at home, Tosun’s football would be housed under lock and key while he endured a period of introspection.

“If I misbehaved,” explains Tosun, “my parents gave me a break from football to be a good child again.

“I was good in school, my parents were really careful with that.

“If I was doing badly, my dad would say I could not go to training, I had to fix my schoolwork, then I could train again.”

Senol and Selma plainly knew what they were doing. Cenk did well in his studies and would have pursued further qualifications had his football not started paying the bills when he was 17.

“I was good at maths, so I would probably have worked in a bank,” says Tosun.

A worthy career move, unquestionably, but he must be grateful for the striking genes inherited from dad and Uncle Taner, both good amateur footballers in Germany, not to mention Senol’s insistence he worked on his heading and naturally weaker left foot?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” laughs Tosun.

“I always say, my dad was good, my uncle was better, and I was the guy who stepped over them and played professionally.”

Tosun made a jump start on his peers, joining his village team, SV 07 Raunheim aged three-and-a-half.

He was six when he enrolled in Eintracht Frankfurt’s academy.

“In Germany, they usually start playing football at five or six,” says Tosun.

“When I started, the others were older and bigger, but you could see straightaway I was at the same level, there was no difference in ability.

“From when I started in a club, I was always training with my dad.

“His influence is a big part of why I am here now.

“I could not drive until I was 18, so he took me to Frankfurt and back every day.

“We would go from school, then after training I came home, did my homework and went to sleep.

“Then I would have the same day again. I did not have much of a social life!

“But it needed to be that way because I had to be dedicated to get to where I am now.”

Tosun remains wedded to his work ethic. He regularly reports for after-hours practise with Everton first-team coach Duncan Ferguson, a routine established when Tosun was adapting to Premier League football.

“We are always working on finishing and other things I can improve, like holding up the ball,” says Tosun.

“He has helped me a lot and is a legend in this club. We can all learn from him. He was a very good striker.”

Tosun would communicate through an interpreter in the months directly following his move to Everton.

He converses in English today and owns a very good command of the language. As he talks, a few Club workers are stationed to his right, peering at laptops and chatting quietly.

A large image of Tom Davies gazes down from the wall directly in Tosun’s eyeline, the 20-year-old Everton Academy graduate pictured playing football with overjoyed youngsters whose dreams are no different from those once harboured by Tosun, save for Everton and Goodison Park replacing Eintracht Frankfurt and Commerzbank-Arena.

Tosun shuts out his surroundings and considers his 19 years living in a Turkish household situated in Germany, the country he represented at football from Under-16 to Under-21 level – before declaring for Turkey and winning the first of his 35 full caps in October 2013.

Older sister Aysen remains in Frankfurt but visits with Cenk’s niece as often as her job in a pharmacy allows.

“I miss my niece and we have a good relationship,” says Tosun.

“And my sister misses my baby boy, so she comes to see him.

“I always had a close relationship with my sister, we were always together. She helped me a lot during the bad times.

“She is very proud of what I have done until now.”

Tosun answers unequivocally on whether he identified as German or Turkish growing up.

“Both,” he says. “I did not want to lose either culture.”

“In my heart, I was Turkish. But I felt German as well, my friends were German.

“At home, we spoke Turkish, my dad wanted us to be strong in both languages, so when we visited Turkey in the summer break we could speak with our relatives.

“In Turkey, we think more from the heart. We are more emotional than Germans.

“They play really hard football in Turkey as well.

“I think my fighting spirit comes from the Turkish culture.”

Tosun scored stacks of goals for Frankfurt’s youth teams, hinting towards the footballer who would strike 64 times in 142 matches for Besiktas, a return which reads even more impressively when viewed in the context of him starting only 73 of those games over four years.

He struck four Champions League goals to help Besiktas reach the competition’s knockout rounds before completing his transfer to Everton in January 2018.

But if his feats in Istanbul earned him iconic status, then Tosun’s efforts for his first club got him only so far.

“I always played in the teams two or three years older than me… I trained well and scored a lot of goals,” says Tosun.

“I played for Germany in the youth teams and was always scoring for them, too.

“But I was with Frankfurt at the wrong time.

“We had a lot of international strikers and it was difficult for the coach [Michael Skibbe] to let me play.

“But I needed to play.”

One gentleman who agreed with Tosun’s assertion was Tolunay Kafkas, who was managing Turkish Super Lig team Gaziantepspor.

Kafkas’ three-year sales pitch bore fruit in January 2011 when Tosun moved to the mid-ranking club in south-east Turkey after playing once for Eintracht Frankfurt, as a substitute in a game at Wolfsburg.

“He [Kafkas] rang me all the time,” says Tosun. “He would say, ‘Come, I have watched all your national team games, you are a very talented footballer and I will let you play. I will bring you to a better place’.

“These words gave me the confidence to go. It was a big risk, if you don’t play well at a smaller club, you can be lost so quickly.

“But I started playing and scoring goals straightaway and my career took off.”

Tosun lodged for six months in academy buildings attached to Gaziantepspor’s training complex, while his parents completed arrangements to join their son and move the family into an apartment.

Settling in Turkey, says Tosun, presented few problems. Senol was there to watch his son score six times in his first six professional starts, Cenk’s explosive burst vindicating his dad’s counsel when Tosun reluctantly called it a day in Frankfurt.

“It was a big frustration and my dad helped me a lot in that period,” says Tosun. “He said, ‘Keep working, you will get your chance’.

“Finally, we decided to change club and thank God we did, we opened a new page and it went well.”

Senol’s instinct is razor sharp in more than one respect. Stoke City’s bet365 Stadium is not the most obvious port of call for your first Everton away game – less so with this country cowering from the Beast from the East at the time – but Tosun’s dad chose his debut road trip very wisely indeed.

His son ignored the Arctic conditions 12 months ago this weekend and scored both Everton goals in a 2-1 victory. Senol found himself among more than 3,000 Evertonians enthusiastically airing their Cenk Tosun tribute on a loop.

“The fans really helped me,” says Tosun. “Even when I did not score in the first few games, they supported me all the time.

“When I saw them in the street, they would say, ‘Keep going, we love you’. They gave me a lot of confidence.

“My dad is a crazy football fan, he was in the crowd at Stoke and when they were singing my song, he felt so honoured and proud.

“He told me all about it afterwards.

“He lives in Germany, in Turkey and here! He is at a lot of the games and we always talk about what I could do better.

“He understands football and teaches me a lot.”

Tosun’s introduction to Gaziantepspor’s team midway through 2010-11 – specifically his 10 goals in 14 matches – spurred the club to a top-four finish and Europa League football.

The enormity of that achievement is best understood by observing Gaziantepspor’s predicament today, labouring under a punitive 36-point deduction at the foot of Turkey’s third tier.

“They are struggling because of financial problems, they changed chairman a few times and there has been a lack of care for the club,” says Tosun.

“I had a great time at Gaziantepspor and I am really upset by the club’s situation.

“It was always my aim to be an ‘XI player’, to play every week.

“I did that at Gaziantepspor and scored a lot of goals. Then I had a new dream: to play for a big club in Turkey.

“And when I started scoring in the Champions League for Besiktas, my dream was to play in the Premier League.

“When I had the chance with Everton, straightaway I said, ‘Yes’.

“I knew Everton was a big club with a big culture and about Goodison Park and the supporters.

“But when I came here, I saw how big the Everton family was, and how warmly they embraced me.”

Tosun came to Everton off the back of a winter break and grimaces at the memory of his first game, away at Tottenham Hotspur last January.

“After 60 or 70 minutes I was nearly dead,” he laughs. “I was not fit enough. The tempo and speed of the Premier League is really tough and the game never stops but I wanted to give everything.”

He has the same objective now, resolved to dealing in the currency which will buy him a regular spot in Marco Silva’s team.

“As a striker, you need to score,” says Tosun. “Even if you do not play well, everybody counts the goals.

“Last season I scored five in 12 starts. This season… I could do better.

“When I played well, I still could have scored more goals.

“You gain confidence when you score, then it starts to come every week.

“I am trying to score that goal now – and then add more.”

The final two months of Ece’s pregnancy coincided with the outset of this season and, Tosun admits, “were not easy,” with his wife back in Turkey preparing to give birth.

“But I was lucky,” says Tosun, “because the baby came during the international break and I could be with her. It was a great feeling.

“I was never a guy for going out often but with the baby we spend more time at home.

“I have more responsibilities now and my life has changed a lot, in a positive way.”

When that young boy in Germany fell asleep, precious boots resting by his side and imagination switched onto overdrive, he never dared dream things could be so good.