If Champions League wasn’t already compelling enough, it took Galatasaray nothing more then one week to go from long shot to contender in a blink of an eye.
No matter how much spending money you have, life as a small market team is never easy, and no one knows this better then Galatasaray of the Turkish League. A league known little about world wide, surprisingly has laid claim to some of the best football in the world for quite some time, with sides such as Fenerbahce, Trabzonspor, Bursaspor and Besiktas frequently wreaking havoc in European competitions year after year. For the first time since 2006, Galatasaray found its way into the group stages this season where they held off Braga and CFR Cluj to finish second place in Group H behind Manchester United to move on to the knockout rounds.
Now the last time Galatasaray even managed to progress this far in the greatest club cup in the world was in 2001-02, when they qualified for what was known at that time as the second group stage. With the change in formats several years ago, Galatasaray looks ahead toward a two leg match up with Schalke FC of Germany (a good draw if you ask me) in just three weeks time.
Prior to 2012-13, and knowing full well that they would be competing in Champions League, the club went out and made a handful of moves this past summer to bolster their roster. After enjoying a wonderful season in 11-12 where he scored 12 goals in 35 appearances for Galatasaray on loan from Juventus, Felipe Melo’s loan spell was renewed. The side then went out and snagged Turkish star Burak Yilmaz from rival club Trabzonspor for 5 million euros, and he is currently tied for the lead in Champions League scoring with six goals. The side capped their summer spending by purchasing Morrocan international Nordin Amrabat and Real Madrid bust Hamit Altintop. The massive spending spree worked not only in Champions League thus far, but in league where the squad has sat at the top of the table since week three of the season.
If things hadn’t been going swimmingly already, club directors made the decision to make not one but two big splashes this week, when they purchased Wesley Sneijder from Inter for 7.5 million euros and Didier Drogba from Shanghai Shenshua on a free transfer.
Now a side that once looked to be a boy playing in a man’s competition looks ever more frightening for the big clubs of Europe. The side primarily comprised of unwanted, yet extremely experienced pieces from top European sides, with some young Turkish talent mixed in will look to make some noise in Champions League in the coming months.
As men such as Cris (Lyon), Reira (Liverpool), Emmanuel Eboue (Arsenal), Felipe Melo (Juventus), Hamit Altintop (Schalke, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid), and now Wesley Sneijder (Ajax, Real Madrid and Inter) and Dider Drogba (Chelsea), have all participated in the knockout rounds of the competition at least once before.
For a top team to claim they would be okay seeing this side in a two leg match up would be nothing short of a lie. First off, Turkey is known for their avid fan bases. For a team to have to not only travel a great distance across almost all of Europe to play one game, but to do it in the conditions the fans of Turkey will provide is nothing short of a nightmare. From the moment the squad steps off the plane to every throw in a player tries to take, the Galatasaray fans will be on the oppositions back for well over the 90+ minutes of game time. Secondly, no matter how old or “washed up” some people may think these players are, in the back of everyone’s mind, including the heads of coaches and players alike, is what if the strike gold for a half or game? We saw last year from Dider Drogba himself, just how little time is needed to turn dreams into miraculous realities. Now sporting the MVP’s from two of the last three champions league winners is a big deal no matter how you look at it.
Finally, bringing us to the third and final point and the point many are probably most overlooking: this side is full of hungry individuals looking to make their mark. From up and coming stars such as Emre Colak (compared to the great Hagi) and looking to get his named penciled down as an international starlet, to Didier Drogba hoping to prove all those who passed on him this transfer window, to Wesley Sneijder and Hamit Altintop wanting to prove they still have it.
This team is finally now as complete a side as any in the competition and it would be foolish for anyone to overlook them. From Uruguayan International Fernando Muslera stopping goals, to Didier Drogba and Burak Yilmaz scoring them, Galatasaray and their ‘united nations’ of soccer talents look to put Turkish Football back on the map this spring by posing a real threat to the clubs of “Top European Leagues”. If you didn’t believe a few weeks ago, believe it now. If last year taught us anything it is that everything is possible, and Galatasaray has emerged as a true contender for Champions League this spring. Stay tuned.