In the wee hours of January 22, Turkish football club Galatasaray AS announced the acquisition of Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder from Italian giants Internazionale Milano.
The Dutch midfielder has signed a three-and-a-half-year deal at the Turk Telekom Arena, but surely, the thought of him moving to Turkey was remote to begin with.
Here was a player, at the peak of his powers, an excellent set-piece specialist, a midfield maestro of renown, the mainstay of the Netherlands National Football Team with a plethora of trophies to his name.
That he comes for a price in the region of £8.5 million makes him an absolute steal.
But why Turkey when there were so many others wrangling for his signature, if the red tops of the British and Italian presses are to be believed? While certainly not one that was simmering at the surface of Europe’s transfer activity, Sneijder’s situation at Inter Milan ran strong undercurrents in the transfer window.
His contract situation has been well documented the world over. Having initially signed a five-year extension to keep him with the Nerazzuri till 2015, he was offered a year’s extension to tie him down at the San Siro for yet another year, meaning he would be playing in the black and blue until the year 2016.
But the intricacies of the deal included a pay-cut… something Sneijder was absolutely against. And Inter were no less stubborn than the player. They refused to pay his rather high wages in the current economic climate, and were happy to sell him for a cut-price or let him rot on the sidelines.
Having not played since September of last year, Galatasaray swooped for his signature.
Turkey is certainly not one of Europe’s best leagues. That being said, it is one that is on the rise and its fans are some of the most passionate and vocal the world over. Matches between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce are overshadowed by the frenzied behaviour of their fans.
Not for nothing is a visiting team at the Turk Telekom Arena given a ‘welcome to Hell’. Just ask Manchester United when they visited the Turkish side for a Champions League fixture way back in 1993. Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville remember it well.
“There were so many flares and so much smoke, it seemed the entire stadium was on fire,” said former right-back Neville, in an article published in The Independent.
While Welshman Giggs, who was 19 at the time, told the Daily Mail, “Prior to the game, the manager told us to go on the pitch and sample the atmosphere. The fans had been in the ground for hours and hours. The atmosphere was buzzing 90 minutes before kick-off. We were stood in the middle of the pitch watching the fans chant. It was one stand to another.”
For Galatasaray, Sneijder represents a step in taking their game to the next level. They’ve won the Turkish Super Lig 18 times and will continue to be the dominating force in Turkey.
But their fans attach a high importance to European games. Their UEFA Cup victory against Arsenal in 2000 and their Super Cup triumph against Real Madrid the same year is considered the crowning glory of the team so far.
Sneijder represents the potential to eclipse that achievement. This season, they have already finishing second behind Manchester United in their Champions League Group after beating the already qualified Red Devils at home and made it to the knockout stages ahead of more favoured sides like Manchester City and current European Champions Chelsea.
Although cup-tied for his new side, the Dutch playmaker’s presence will help in attracting more quality to Anatolia. Of late, several known players have made the move to Turkey as part of their careers.
French duo Nicolas Anelka and Franck Ribery, Australian defender Lucas Neill and Spanish striker Dani Guiza all have plied their trade in Asia Minor in the past.
Uruguay goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, Czech Republic internationals Tomas Ujfalusi and Milos Krasic, Moroccan midfielder Nordin Amrabat, versatile Ivorien Emmanuel Eboue, Portuguese playmaker Raul Meireles and Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo all play in Turkey.
Fans will question Sneijder’s decision to move to Turkey, but in retrospect, it seems to be a combination of reasons that have brought him to Istanbul. Not a lot of clubs were willing to pay his wages and for all we know, he might have gotten disillusioned with the idea of football among the elite — which can take its toll on players.
At Galatasaray, he can run the show in midfield. That he will have excellent support is without doubt. Albert Riera, Milan Baros and Burak Yilmaz are all skilled players, but it is obvious that play will flow through him. He will surely retain his place for the Dutch National Team as well given his unquestionable quality.
Let’s hope he hasn’t gone to Galatasaray to just gorge on the shawarmas, because he has a chance to write his name into the history books of Turkey’s most popular club.