by Gautam Viswanathan Apr 3, 2013 18:52 IST
The Daily Mail calls him a man not even Lionel Messi can touch. Ivorian striking legend Didier Drogba says he is lucky to play alongside a man of his calibre, having praised his skills.
The Union of European Football Associations has named him their Player of the Group Stages in the UEFA Champions League. With good reason: he is the top scorer of the Group Stages in Europe’s premier club competition this year with six goals. His club had only scored seven in total.
Galatasaray only bought him for the very modest sum of £5 million. They have surely received enough bang for their buck considering the return one of their less high-profile investments have made.
He now has eight goals to his name, having found the net twice against Schalke 04 in the last 16 stage. Only Cristiano Ronaldo has as many, and Real Madrid shelled out a kingly sum of £80 million for him. Even Messi, four time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, has only scored seven (till the match against PSG).
Indeed, the Turkish side owe their existence in the Champions League to this man.
The club from the former Genoese colony of Galata had suffered two defeats in as many games in their opening Champions League encounters. After losing 1-0 away at Manchester United, they were upset 2-0 by Portuguese side Braga at home.
But then the 27-year-old struck, putting a dent in CFR Cluj’s hopes of progressing as he scored in Istanbul, 13 minutes from time to give his team the first point of their European season.
And once he found the back of the net, the floodgates opened.
He picked up where he left off with a scintillating hat-trick away in Romania before giving the Red Devils a taste of their own medicine when they came to a stadium the Turks affectionately call Hell.
Even then, Galatasaray were not guaranteed a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League, until their number 17, part of the side that was trailing 1-0 to Braga in Portugal struck in the second half to orchestrate a comeback to make it 1-1 before his namesake Aydin scored 12 minutes from time to send the Turks through at the expense of their opponents.
And his making headlines in papers throughout the world is completely justified.
While Ronaldo’s eight have come in 720 minutes, or on average one a game, Messi has scored eight in 707 minutes, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Robert Lewandowski have both scored five (the Pole in 643 minutes), but the Turkish international has scored his eight goals in 677 minutes.
That means that he has outscored Europe’s best attacking talent by scoring as many goals as Ronaldo has in far fewer minutes.
You can buy as much naan and kebab as you like, but in the end, it is the ghar ka khana that will always touch the right areas of your palate.
In a year that has seen both Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba swell the ranks at the Turk Telekom Arena, it is neither Felipe Melo nor Johan Elmander nor Hamit Altintop who has caught the attention of scouts from all over Europe, but the man who has scored 22 goals in all competitions for the 2000 UEFA Cup Champions.
The same attention that was once shown towards Fernando Llorente which saw several clubs circling for his signature before Italian giants Juventus decided to swoop for the Athletic Bilbao striker on a free this summer is now being shown to the Galatasaray frontman.
His critics and detractors argue that he will not be able to prove himself outside the cosseted confines of Asia Minor. But they are wrong.
In the past, he has played for Trabzonspor, Mansiaspor, Besiktas, Fenerbahce and Antalyaspor. I’m sure many of you have not heard of at least two of the three ‘spors’ on that list, but while many voices discuss the rivalries between Liverpool and Manchester United, Lyon and Marseille, Real Madrid and Barcelona, Juventus and Inter Milan and Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, few rivalries fan the flames of fervour and passion like games in the Turkish League.
To move from one club to another, therefore requires not just guts, but mental strength and composure as well. In addition, like Thierry Henry at Arsenal, who were interested in the man last summer, he had to undergo a reinvention from winger to striker before he found is true calling on the pitch.
Add to that the fact that all the goals he has scored this season in Europe have either come against big clubs (Manchester United, Schalke 04), crucial moments (such as Cluj at home, leading to Galatasaray’s Group Stage comeback) or in away games (Braga and Cluj), which shows signs of mental resilience, and you have on your hands a more threatening striker than that which meets the eye.
Truth be told, he knew he was not ready for a move abroad, deciding instead to move up the footballing ladder in a slower fashion as he moved to (arguably) Turkey’s biggest football club. It is a move that has repaid both parties.
The club have profited from his goals, while he gets to refine his talent under the tutelage of Didier Drogba and hone his anticipatory skills by forming a deadly partnership with Wesley Sneijder which will certainly keep him in good stead if and when he decides to ply his trade beyond his homeland.
On the third of April, around 85,000 people will fill the Santiago Bernabeu as Real Madrid welcome Galatasaray in the Champions League quarter-finals, with one of Hell’s more recently noticed ambassadors to surely walk onto the hallowed Merengues turf.
Seated there in the upper reaches of the stadium will be several scouts to watch — as Burak Yilmaz attempts to take on Europe’s most successful club.
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