Robin van Persie, Samuel Eto’o, Nani and Lukas Podolski - these are just a few names of internationally renowned footballers who are making the move out eastward to the Eurasian nation of Turkey. Whilst these are not the first well known players who are making the move to Anatolia, for example Wesley Sneijder has been at Galatasaray for two years now and the controversial Nicolas Anelka made the move to Fenerbahçe from Manchester City in 2005.
Both these players, Sneijder in particular, were not over the hill as players, but rather still performing week in and week out, which goes against the concept that the Turkish Süper Lig was merely a retirement home for players who had been deemed ‘past it’ and just wished to earn a decent wage before retiring.
However this summer's current transfers are echoing the transfers of Sneijder and co. Recent transfers are pointing more and more to the growing pulling power of the Turkish Süper Lig as a continental strong league that has the capacity and the ability to attract some truly exceptional players, some of whom are definitely still in their prime, perhaps not prime form but definite prime age thus can easily succeed in Turkey.
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The biggest name to have moved to Turkey, or is very close to moving to Turkey is current record top goal scorer for the Netherlands, Robin van Persie.
Of course this move would probably have not happened after Van Persie’s first season at Manchester United in 2012/13 where he scored 26 league goals, compared to his measly combined 22 for the following two seasons. However I believe that his form matters little, ultimately there can be little doubt that the signing of Van Persie is a great piece of business for Fener.
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In van Persie they have formally one of the world's best strikers, who is only not regarded as such nowadays due to lack of form, and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of time for Robin to gain his previous form.
Not to be outdone by their fiercest Istanbulite neighbours, Galatasaray announced the signing of German international Lukas Podolski from Arsenal a few weeks ago. This signing is very similar to that of Van Persie; a former world class striker out of form but still with age on their side.
Podolski was once one of the most naturally gifted finishers of the modern era, his international record in particular shows what sort of calibre of player he is, with 48 goals in 125 caps, that’s a goal every 2.6 games.
Podolski’s case as mentioned was similar to Van Persie’s, however at Arsenal Podolski never really showed the ability that he used to have; this can however be attributed somewhat to constant injury and an inconsistent and unsuccessful Arsenal team. But similarly to former Arsenal favourite Van Persie, I can see this being an astute signing, especially for just £1.75m, Gala look to do nothing but gain from this signing.
Fenerbahçe have also signed Portuguese international Nani from Manchester United for £4.2m. This I believe will be one of the better signings made this season in the Turkish league. Whilst Nani never hit the dizzying heights of Van Persie (who can forget that diving header against Spain in the 2014 World Cup?) or that of Podolski (Third most capped German and a FIFA World Cup winner with Die Mannschaft), Nani is still only 28 and off the back of a successful loan spell at Sporting CP, scoring 12 in 35 games.
Nani may have only joined Fener due to Manchester United deeming him surplus to requirements, yet he is still a player that on his day can perform incredibly, offering sublime skill and intelligence on the pitch. Nani is a testament to the growing stature of the Turkish Süper Lig; an established international player (86 caps and 15 goals) moving from a continental power house to Anatolia.
The Turkish Süper Lig is currently ranked 11th in UEFA coefficients for the best league in Europe, having experienced a lull in rankings since their high of 7th in the 12/13 season. However with these big names signing for Turkish teams I am predicting a rise in the rankings, perhaps not a meteoric one, but I estimate a break in to the top 10 by the end of the season.
As one can see looking at their current rankings, Turkey’s Süper Lig is not that highly esteemed in Europe at the current moment in time, being below Belgium, Ukraine and Russia; so one would beg the question, why are these players joining these teams? One can imagine that due to the fact that Podolski and Van Persie have been struggling with injuries, clubs like Galatasaray and Fener, which offer a pretty much guarantee of Champions League football (due to the duo dominance of the Istanbul clubs) are clubs that readily suit this temporary ailing ilk of player.
That combined with financial strength of these clubs mean that in the Turkish league you have numerous teams more than willing to pay high wages and gamble upon apparent ‘has beens’ (Van Persie) and ones that never hit their potential (Nani). As mentioned this works out well for the teams as they get experienced, top quality players for a discount and the players get the chance to re-ignite their careers whilst not missing out on continental games.
You might be questioning that prediction due to the fact I have only mentioned the two Istanbul-based clubs having strengthened, which if they were to become dominant it would weaken the rest of the league. However fear not, other clubs have also been exerting financial power and influence across the continent.
Beşiktaş have made the signing of Hoffenheim captain Andreas Beck, not a global name by any means but a very capable defender and highly experienced, having made 216 Bundesliga appearances for Hoffenheim and nine caps for the German national team. Trabzonspor similarly have signed Stephané M’Bia from Sevilla, whilst he was far from a revelation for QPR in the 12/13 season, his performances for Sevilla have been, of late, rather impressive, winning the Europa League tournament with them and playing in the final against Ukrainian side Dnipro.
Perhaps most shocking would be Antalyaspor’s signing of fellow Cameroonian and third placed FIFA’s Player of the Year in 2005, Samuel Eto’o. Obviously a force to be reckoned with in his prime, the signing of Eto’o is perhaps one that counters the point of this article, one that is most likely an economic move, gaining more fans buying shirts and tickets due to him playing, much rather than his performances.
Do you think that Turkish football is emerging as a major force in European football?
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