It takes a very special player to draw the attention of Arsene Wenger. You need only look at the long list of stars who have played for him at Arsenal—one that includes Thierry Henry—to understand that the legendary French manager is an astute evaluator of talent. So when Wenger praised Atiba Hutchinson after the Canadian midfielder, playing for Turkish club Besiktas, terrorized Arsenal in a 2014 Champions League qualifying match, you knew he was the real deal.
Recently targeted by West Ham United during this summer’s transfer window, Hutchinson has turned out for big European clubs during his career, earned 75 caps for his country, and been named Canadian player of the year on five occasions. “Atiba is Atiba—he plays at a very, very high level, no matter what the situation is,” says Canadian teammate Will Johnson. “He’s one of the best Canadian players of all time.”
Technically proficient and dangerous on the dribble, Hutchinson has proved invaluable for both Istanbul-based Besiktas and his country. The Canadian national team has historically relied on grafters and physical players rather than skilled technicians, but Hutchinson is a notable exception—watch him run at full speed with the ball at his feet as he takes on opposing defenders and you’ll get a glimpse of how gracefully balletic he is on the field.
And yet Hutchinson, a 33-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., isn’t exactly a household name in Canadian sports. Heck, he’s more famous in Turkey than he is in Canada.
In part, this is because of Canada’s lack of success on the international stage—the Reds have only ever made it to one World Cup, in 1986 in Mexico. Success breeds stardom. But Hutchinson’s versatility—he can play a number of positions—and his workmanlike attitude have also prevented him from becoming a bigger star in his own country. “He’s a role player—he’s not the kind of guy who scores a lot of goals,” Johnson says. “He’s a guy you absolutely need on your team, but he doesn’t have a lot of star power. And he’s a pretty quiet and humble guy.”
Starting in September, Hutchinson will show off his considerable skills in the UEFA Champions League, the most prestigious club tournament in world soccer. Besiktas’s best showing in the competition came in 1987, when they reached the quarterfinals. Since then, the Turkish giants have either bowed out in the group stage or failed to qualify for the tournament altogether.
If Besiktas are to end their futility streak, Hutchinson will have to be at the top of his game—and maybe that will earn him the recognition he so richly deserves.
This article originally appeared in the October issue of Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.