Turkish football on the rise as Sneijder and Drogba attend Gala Opening


Let this transfer window finally put an end to the myth that good business is not possible in January. Galatasaray’s breathtaking moves for Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba may not be seen by all as either bargains or blockbusters, but they are two transfers that could have a profound bearing on the last half of the season. 

Firstly, the deals have certainly grabbed the attention. Supporters of the Turkish champions had to put up with the dismissive snorting of the rest of Europe when their bid to sign Sneijder emerged. Nobody believed it would happen, especially when the Netherlands midfielder kept Gala waiting as he negotiated an exit with Inter (as he said), or as he waited for a better option to come along (as the naysayers suspected).

The Sneijder deal broke down a barrier. When Drogba followed, it was a gentle surprise rather than a total shock. Galatasaray, and Turkish football in general, will hope that the pair will help the Super Lig improve its notorious inability to market itself internationally. That they are both available for the remainder of the Champions League campaign is a push in the right direction.

So how were Galatasaray able to make these deals happen? Much has been said and written about Turkey’s very competitive 15% higher tax rate, but the new signings’ deals have been carefully structured. Bonuses are included for each appearance made up to a pre-agreed limit (now a standard practice for high-profile Super Lig signings), while the payment of generous signing-on fees to both Sneijder and Drogba has been spread over the duration of their respective contracts. 

They are right to exercise caution. Galatasaray’s vintage of 1999-2001 - containing the likes of Gheoghe Hagi, Mário Jardel, Hasan Sas and Claudio Taffarel - was probably their greatest-ever side, and beat Arsenal to the 2000 UEFA Cup before losing out in a titanic Champions League quarter-final to Real Madrid in the following year. However, this side was assembled at heinous expense, and their parlous financial position was such shortly afterwards that not even coach Fatih Terim’s return for a second spell at the club (he’s now in his third) could turn things around. 

After the talk, having both on the pitch together will be a relief. Sneijder’s debut – as a substitute against city rivals Besiktas on Sunday – turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.

Given a generous chunk of time to make an instant impression after coming on with over half-an-hour left, the Dutchman’s game was turned on its head in an instant. Four minutes after Sneijder made his big entrance, Felipe Melo was sent off for allegedly spitting at former Arsenal man Oguzhan Ozyakup. After a reshuffle, poor old Wes spent the remainder of the game ploughing a lone furrow up front as Gala held their lead.

It’s clear he still needs to regain fitness and competitive rhythm, with Sunday’s match being his first since late September. It will be interesting to see what sort of nick Drogba arrives in, though the African Cup of Nations is handily placed in this sense to sharpen him up for service.

We won’t know the real success of the signings for a while yet. Yet in provoking such excitement, Galatasaray have won half the battle already.

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