Galatasaray Becoming the Most Exciting Champions League Team
By Nicholas Spiller
Although you probably missed it by watching Barcelona’s stunning 4-0 victory over AC Milan on Tuesday, Galatasaray of Turkey was also able to qualify for the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League by defeating Germany’s Shalke 04 in dramatic fashion, winning 3-2 away from home. With an eclectic mix of world-famous players and Turkish international stars, Galatasaray is quickly becoming the most interesting team of the Champions League and look set to potentially make a serious run at the final in Wembley.
Galatasaray made waves in January by signing superstars Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder to bolster their squad. These two players are past victors of the Champions League and bring an instant threat to the side.
Drogba won the trophy with Chelsea last year and is the prototypical physical striker. As a leader, he secured several dramatic goals in Chelsea’s run last year, including the equalizer in the 88th minute of the final against Bayern Munich. He also leads the Ivory Coast national team and has scored multiple times at World Cups, including a goal against Brazil in 2010. As a leader and veteran presence at age 35, Drogba is a great asset.
Wesley Sneijder experienced Champions League glory with Inter Milan in 2010. He went on that year to have a stellar World Cup as well, where he was a joint top scorer with 5 goals and led the Netherlands to a final appearance. A brilliant attacking midfielder in the prime of his career, Sneijder makes an impact all over the final third.
The team has added several other top Turkish stars to give them an element of homegrown talent too. Hamit Altintop was purchased from Real Madrid last summer and is another force in the midfield. His 30-yard rocket of a goal propelled Galatasaray to victory against Schalke.
Another exciting Turkish star recently brought to the side is forward Burak Yilmaz. At 27 years of age, he is just coming to his own as a soccer player though he has been a star in Turkey for years, playing for most the major clubs like Besiktas, Fenerbahce, and Trabzonspor in his young career. He was deemed the best player in the entire Champions League group stage this season with 6 goals, including a winner over Manchester United, and he scored twice in the tie against Schalke.
What makes Galatasaray so intriguing is several of the other “star” players at the club like Felipe Melo and Emmanuel Eboue. Felipe Melo is a tough midfielder who is on loan from Juventus. Never shying away from challenges, Melo became a heinous figure for Brazilian soccer when he was sent off in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup after stamping on Arjen Robben. Brazil would lose the game and a large amount of blame fell upon him.
Emmanuel Eboue was something of a cult hero figure at Arsenal. Although his right-wing play was often successful, he experienced some absolutely wretched performances, most notably a substitute appearance against Wigan in 2008 in which he repeatedly lost the ball and was booed off the pitch as Arsene Wenger subbed him out in fear of Eboue’s continued mistakes.
Also widely regarded as a diver, Eboue is often a controversial figure. He earned a free kick in the 2006 Champions League final with a dive for Arsenal, and Sol Campbell was able to put 10-man Arsenal a goal up in the game with a header, although they eventually lost to Barcelona. Nevertheless, Eboue is the type of impact player teams often need, and he is quite talented coming forward with the ball.
Galatasaray looks built around toughness. Altintop and Drogba cut rugged figures, while Felipe Melo knows how to get stuck in on a player. But there is a grace and class with the team around players like Yilmaz, Sneijder, and Eboue. This mix serves up a great recipe for success and I envision we may see a lot more of Galatasaray in the Champions League this year.
And so with this cast of rising stars, veteran leaders, and curious fellows who often raise the eyebrows, Galatasaray will be no easy task for Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals. The Schalke victory was great, but Galatasaray will now have to prove themselves amongst one of the “big boys” in Europe. Here’s to hoping for a glorious Champions League upset as the smug smile of Jose Mourinho is wiped clean off his face after his former player Drogba eliminates Real Madrid from the tournament!