Wesley Sneijder to Galatasaray - Power shifting East?
Wesley Sneijder's decision to join Galatasaray may have been met with an outpouring of joy, jubilation and delight in Turkey however, elsewhere it’s caused quite a stir.
In fact the very notion of the Dutch star choosing Turkey has caused a bit of an uproar and a genuine sense of disbelief.
Sneijder has a CV boasting league titles from the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. He's won the Champions League, Super Cup, Club World Cup, finished runner-up in the World Cup... it's more a case of not what he's won but what he hasn't won.
One of the most common reactions to the move from outside Turkey is that he went solely for the money, in other words it was down to personal greed.
Sneijder had also been linked with a Liverpool move and following news surfacing of him joining Galatasaray he suffered a torrent of criticism from some segments of the Reds faithful.
Former Liverpool player, John Aldridge summed up the general mood when he tweeted, "You'd a thought the lure of the prem [Premiership] woulda been a far greater move. Moneything."
Milan based businessman Ali Güven who played an important role during the negotiation process however, couldn't have disagreed more.
"Sneijder didn't come for the money," said Güven.
"Anzhi offered him a €12 million deal at the start of the season which he rejected."
Whether the figures are accurate or not, Güven does raise a key point, if Sneijder was solely motivated by money why not join a club from the Arab Gulf? China? or a club like Anzhi who could offer him an astronomical wage.
Galatasaray signed the 28-year-old midfielder from Inter for €7.5 million and will be paying him a maximum of €5 million per-season should he play 20 games or more in a single season.
Sneijder has agreed a 3.5 year deal so in total he will be costing the Istanbul club €22.5 million.
In other words, he will be on a €96,000 weekly wage which in the context of today's market is hardly breaking the bank.
From Galatasaray's perspective it's pretty good business, they are getting a world class player and perks ranging from great PR, boosting merchandise as well as shirt sales to increasing stadium attendance.
Another knee jerk reaction to Sneijder's move has been that he lacks ambition.
Sneijder dismissed the idea that he’s going into an early retirement at his signing ceremony.
"I think Galatasaray is a top club," said Sneijder.
"We are in the last 16 of the Champions League, we are competing for the league, it made my decision very easy, I had many offers but Galatasaray was number one."
A cynic would say he's bound to say that, which is true, you rarely hear a player criticizing a club he’s just signed for however, Sneijder wasn't alone.
Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal both advised him to make the move to Galatasaray.
Sneijder told De Telegraaf: "I've been very well briefed on all sides, very well briefed.
"I called Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal because they have been key figures in my football career and I think their opinion is important.
"They both said the same thing.
"They gave me the final push, knowing how Turkish football is on the rise."
Turkish football may not be considered among the worlds elite, in fact the league is 12th according to UEFA coefficient rankings so it does give some weight to the argument that Sneijder has taken a step down.
However, as Sneijder's new manager Fatih Terim recently said, "There is a saying, statistics are like a mini-skirts, they don't reveal everything."
Indeed looking solely at where Turkish football is at now doesn't paint the whole picture. The countries football has developed at an astonishing rate over the past 20 years and continues to do so.
The Turkish national team would suffer the kind of losses today associated with the likes of San Marino, Andorra and the Faroe Islands, for example Turkey lost 8-0 home and away to England in the late 80's.
The situation was such that losing by only a few goals was seen as a good result; "Yenildik ama ezilmedik" which translates to "We lost but we weren't crushed" was one of the popular phrases of the era.
However, despite being looked on as a footballing no man’s land to most outside the country, Turks still loved the beautiful game passionately and supported their teams just as fanatically as they do now.
To go from a country who had not won a single European competition trophy, who had not even qualified for the European Championship's before and who had absolutely no World Cup success in over 100 years of playing the sport to finishing 3rd in the 2002 World Cup, semi-finalists in Euro 2008, having a club win the UEFA Cup within the last 20 years shows how far Turkey has come within a short time period.
Rapid development brings with it teething problems. During the 90’s Turkey qualified for the European Championships for the first time in 1996, then Galatasaray became the first Turkish side to win the UEFA Cup in 2000, followed by the European Super Cup a season later.
In a short space of time Turkish football had gone from being a total unknown to establishing herself on the map. However, the countries football was caught unprepared for such growth, there was a lack of organisation and the financial crisis of 2001 which almost sent the country into economic ruin didn't help matters much.
Turkish clubs had to learn the hard way that they would need to become more organised, better run and increase their revenue streams if they were to really compete on a global stage. The 2000's marked a major restructuring in the way football was run. The league's broadcasting value has seen a 40 fold rise in 16 years and by 2014-15 is expected to rise €436 million.
Clubs have been expanding and building new modern stadiums, Fenerbahçe expanded the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium from a 25,000 seater to a 50,000 capacity venue right in the heart of the team’s historic neighbourhood.
Galatasaray recently moved to their state of the art 50,000 seater Türk Telekom Arena stadium. Bursaspor are close to completing a 45,000 capacity stadium project. Beşiktaş have given the go ahead to expand their stadium and Trabzonspor, Eskişehirspor, Antalyaspor are all in the process of moving developing new sports arenas.
There have been major improvements in the distribution and sales of merchandising with clubs establishing stores around the country and even venturing abroad.
Fenerbahçe highlighted the growing financial muscle of Turkish clubs when in 2008 they became the 19th most wealthiest club. The growth hasn't relied on billionaire oil barons and Sheiks. Turkish clubs are not allowed private owners, the fans own the clubs and can become members. Clubs are organised through a hierarchy of members who can elect presidents.
The likes of Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş boast having a supporter base in the tens of millions.
The signing of Sneijder may have come as a total surprise if you haven't followed Turkish football over the last decade however, there has been a trend of developments leading to where we are today.
Attracting players of Sneijder's caliber wasn’t an overnight process. Turkish clubs began signing big name players who were either past it or reaching the end of their career.
Gheorghe Hagi was in his 30's when he joined Galatasaray, as was Roberto Carlos when he signed for Fenerbahçe and Guti when he joined Beşiktaş.
While it drew attention to the league having a reputation as a retirement home wasn’t going to attract top level players either.
The next trend was being able to bring in players who could have played for mid-top tier teams in England, Germany and Spain. Fenerbahçe managed to sign 26-year-old Moussa Sow, a striker who was coming off the back of lifting the Ligue 1 title and being crowned Goal King with Lille despite Premier League interest.
The Yellow Canaries have also brought in the likes of Raul Meireles and Milos Krasic. Galatasaray recently signed Fernando Muslera, Felipe Melo and Emmanuel Eboue. Ricardo Quaresma, Manuel Fernandes and Simao Sabrossa also signed for Beşiktaş.
There is potential for Turkish football to keep growing especially considering the emergence of the country as a growing economic power, bordering Europe and literally bridging East and West.
The country is currently the 16th largest economy in the world and is on course to enter the top 10 within the next few years. The population of Turkey is the youngest in Europe (UEFA zone) 40 per-cent of the 75 million population under the age of 22 and other than Basketball and the traditional national sports of Wresting as well as a horse riding game similar to Polo called Cirit the most popular sport in the country by quite some distance is football.
In contrast to the current Eurozone crisis and bleak economic outlook being experienced in many regions of the world, it's no surprise to see a lot of investment being pumped in to the country.
Footballing wise it's a similar story, clubs are becoming more professional and there is now a lot more money in Turkish football to help develop infrastructure, coaching standards and youth facilities. Football is the country's major team sport and with the improvements at grassroots level and a large, young, urban working class population there is a lot of scope for development.
The large population of Turkey in addition to the 8-10 million diaspora population scattered across Europe and the support Turkish teams have in the middle east as well as Eurasia bodes well for the future of Turkish football. There is an argument to be made that Mourinho and van Gaal were right in their assessment of Turkish football being on the rise.
As for ambition, Sneijder is joining a side which have won the Turkish Super League an incredible 18 times. Galatasaray are competing in the Champions League Round of 16 and currently first in the domestic title race. The Lions are ranked among the 30 most valuable clubs in the world according to the Deloitte Football Money League, have 40,000 season ticket holders and sponsorship deals ranging from the Far East to Europe.
During his signing ceremony Sneijder said something which was totally overlooked, he stated: "I want to become a legend like Hagi."
Sneijder has won everything there is to win and would be considered a star player wherever he went but at Galatasaray he has the chance to become a living legend.
The 28-year-old midfielder looked taken aback by the show of support for him upon joining the Istanbul club. Thousands turned up at the airport and even though he was whisked away in a private vehicle he couldn't help but poke his head through the sun roof and throw a few fist pumps in the air to the cheer of all who turned up.
Turkish football is not without its problems, inconsistency has been a prime concern, going from 3rd in the World Cup to not being able to qualify is just one of many examples haunting the game.
Then there was the notorious match-fixing scandal last season. There is still a long way to go, Turkish football needs consistency, clubs need to do well in European competition regularly, the national team needs to qualify for international competitions more often.
The signing of Sneijder marks a new juncture in Turkish football, the league as a whole stands to benefit. Clubs participating in the league will hold more sway in trying to bring new transfers from abroad to the league. A player is more likely to move to Turkey knowing some of the worlds most highly rated players ply their trade there. It raises the profile of the league abroad, creates a buzz, the benefits that signing players of Sneijder's stature have on the countries football cannot be underestimated.
In conclusion Sneijder joining Galatasaray probably benefits the club and the league more than it does Dutch international. But Sneijder has the chance to make history, become a legend and be the driving force taking Turkish football to the next level.