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The Canadian Press

At 38, Canada’s Atiba Hutchinson shows he still has plenty left in the tank

Atiba Hutchinson turned 38 Monday, one day after setting up Besiktas’ winner in a 1-0 decision over against Konyaspor. Beloved by fans after 275 appearances in all competitions for the Istanbul team knows as the Black Eagles, the veteran Canadian midfielder is helping Besiktas jostle for position atop the Turkish Super Lig. Hutchinson, one of Canada’s greatest soccer exports, is still enjoying his football. And it shows. “I’m at a point in my career where obviously I’m getting up there in age but I’m still feeling good,” he said in an interview. “I always said if I’m not playing with pain then I’m enjoying my football and that’s how it is now.” “And it’s easier when the team’s playing well,” he added. Besiktas and local rivals Galatasaray and Fenerbahce all sport 15-3-5 records and 48 points, with Galatasaray ahead of Besiktas and Fenerbahce on goal difference. Sunday’s 1-0 victory snapped a two-game winless streak (0-1-1) for Besiktas after a nine-game unbeaten run (8-0-1) in league play, Fellow Canadian Cyle Larin is turning heads in the Besiktas attack. The 25-year-old from Brampton, Ont., is tied with teammate Vincent Aboubakar for second in Super Lig scoring ranks with 12 goals apiece. Hatayspor’s Aaron Boupendza leads with 17. “He’s being doing very well. Very well,” Hutchinson, also from Brampton. said of Larin. “He’s just improving a lot. Every week just learning things and adding things to his game. He’s been a very important piece to the team. He’s very effective in the attacking zone.” That success comes despite Larin moving to the flank, mostly on the left, with Cameroon’s Aboubakar manning the middle up front. “He’s playing a bit of a different position that he would be used to playing in but for us, it’s helped us a lot,” Hutchinson said of his countryman. “He does a lot of work both ways. He’s attacking a lot and helps out a lot defensively. which has been important for us. “His form is good. The confidence is high. It’s been great to see his development, especially from the start of the season to where we are now. I’ve known him for a few years now. Just to watch him grow as a player, it’s been nice to see.” Larin returns the praise. `He was a big help to me,” Larin said of Hutchinson helping him settle in Turkey. “I thank him for that.” The six-foot-one Hutchinson, who has captained both Canada and Besiktas, has a style of his own. Besiktas fans call him Octopus for his long legs and long reach. A pair of spindly pipe-cleaner legs deceive at first notice. He is hard to dispossess with the ball and tough to fend off when he’s looking for it. Hutchinson, who was 19 when he debuted for Canada under Holger Osieck, worked his way up the ranks and through Europe, building his career carefully starting in Scandinavia with Osters and Helsingborg in Sweden and FC Copenhagen in Denmark. He joined Dutch side PSV Eindhoven in 2010 before moving to Turkey in 2013. Istanbul feels like home these days “I’ve been here a long time,” said Hutchinson, whose three kids were born in Turkey. “And it was pretty early on that I felt like this could be a place I could call home … We’re very comfortable here. “The people here, they take us in well. They show their appreciation to me as a person, even outside of football. Just great people.” His Turkish is still dodgy, however. “It’s a problem for me,” he said with a laugh. Language lessons may be needed, he concedes. While Hutchinson is in the last year of his contract, he does not see retirement on the horizon yet. He remains an important part of the Canadian national team setup, just five caps away from tying Julian de Guzman’s record of 89. Asked about the record, he first cites his admiration and respect for de Guzman. “If it happens, it’s great. There’s some time left,” he said of the record. “But we’ll see how it goes over the next little bit. It’s not something I’m going to kill myself over trying to get that accomplishment. But it would be nice if it did happen.” His longevity is remarkable. Hutchinson, who made his Canadian senior debut in 2003 in a 4-0 loss to the U.S. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has seen 10 Canadian managers. In recent years, Hutchinson has been involved in most Canada games that matter. Of his last 15 national team appearances dating back to 2015, eight were World Cup qualifying matches, three were Nations League qualifying play and three were at the 2019 Gold Cup. The other was a September 2017 friendly against Jamaica at BMO Field — in his backyard. Hutchinson remains in regular contact with Canada coach John Herdman. He is happy to help, if healthy, during a crowded 2021 schedule, “It’s just about listening to my body and finding out if I’m able to go through with the travel and that,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve spoken to him and I said ‘Look, if I’m still feeling good, I want to try and continue and help out as much as I can, be involved whenever I can.’ “It’s definitely a possibility I have in my mind that I could possibly come in for the next one. But we’ll see.” The Canadian men, currently ranked 72nd in the world, are scheduled to face Aruba, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Suriname in World Cup qualifying play in March and June. “Atiba’s always available for Canada if his body’s right,” said Herdman. When he is nursing something, he needs the international windows to recover in, the coach added. And Herdman knows Besiktas keeps him busy, “He’s a key player. He plays every week. They don’t rest or rotate him,” said Herdman. “He gets put in because of the quality. He’s still a top-level player.” Hutchinson likes what he sees in the Canadian ranks these days, with players like Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) and Jonathan David (Lille) bringing back experience from top clubs when they return to the national team. “It’s so important to be getting minutes at a high level and that’s exactly what’s happening now,” said Hutchinson. “It goes a long way with building confidence and that. It looks good, it looks bright. The talent is there,” he added. Due to the pandemic, Hutchinson is leading the life of a homebody. On the plus side, he has been able to spend more time with his wife and three boys, aged three, four and five. Besiktas has managed to stay clear of COVID-19 for the most part. There was a rash of cases at one point but they got through it. He is tested every couple of days. While he may be in the twilight of his playing career, Hutchinson doesn’t see himself leaving the sport when he calls it quits. His current contact is up this year, “You never know but I feel like I can give a lot back to the game,” he said. “It’s just finding out the right ways and how to do it and exactly what suits me best. “I have a lot of love for the game. I’m very passionate about it and I just enjoy being around it.” While Hutchinson dealt with injuries to his left knee earlier in his career and had to work through a groin issue several years ago, he is healthy these days — thanks to his routine before and after training and games. “I still think I’ve got something left in me,” he said. Music to the ears of Canadian — and Besiktas — supporters. — Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2021 Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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