To speak honestly, no one can deny the fact that football is a big, maybe the greatest part of the daily life in Turkey. The famous quote of Bill Shankly – “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I do not like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that” – has the capability of explaining how serious the football topic is for Turkish. If Turkey is mentioned in any subject, Istanbul also ought to be. Istanbul is the capital of Turkish Football both socio-economically and historically. It is because Istanbul is the city of the “Three Bigs of Turkey” which are Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş. The Three Bigs have been the giants of Turkish Football since the earliest days of 20th century. These three bigs have been worthy of their names as they should be, and have added globally known superstars of football to their squad. Here are the top twenty football superstars played in Istanbul.
1- Alexsandro (Alex) de Souza
Alexsandro de Souza, simply known as Alex, is a Brazilian former football player and former captain of Brazilian National Team and Fenerbahçe. He respectively performed in Coritiba, Palmeiras, Parma, Flamengo, Cruzeiro, and Fenerbahçe. His Istanbul adventure began in 2004 when Cruzeiro sold him to Fenerbahçe for 5 Million Euros. His mind-blowing career statistics explains why he became a legend of Fenerbahçe. He found the net 172 times and assisted 139 times in 344 games during his Fenerbahçe career, between the years 2004 and 2012. He won 3 league championships; 1 Turkish Cup and 2 Turkish Super Cups with Fenerbahçe. In 2012, a fan-funded statue of him put up in Kadıköy Yoğurtçu Park when he was officially playing for Fenerbahçe. This incident exactly explains how important Alex is for Fenerbahçe Supporters. Upon a rift with coach, Alex’s contract was terminated in October of 2012. Upon the termination of his contract, he said; “Today, Fenerbahçe just lost a football player, but gained a great supporter. “
2- Ariel Ortega
Ariel Ortega is an Argentinean superstar whose Istanbul days started once he signed a 4-year contract with Fenerbahçe. He became one of the most beloved football players in the history of Fenerbahçe from his first days in Istanbul. He scored against Galatasaray, so he became “a real Fenerbahçe player”. According to Fenerbahçe fans, if a football player of Fenerbahçe scores against Galatasaray, he becomes “a real Fenerbahçe Player” in the eyes of Fenerbahçe fans. Ariel Ortega earned this title on 6th October 2002 in a legendary league match at Fenerbahçe Şükrü Saraçoğlu Stadium where Galatasaray was literally destroyed by Fenerbahçe. Ariel Ortega scored one of the six goals of Fenerbahçe. Although he was a real Fenerbahçe player in the eyes of Fenerbahçe fans, he didn’t come back to his duty in Istanbul from Argentina where he spends his mid-term break of 2002-2003 Season. After Ortega’s return failed, Fenerbahçe passed his file to FIFA in April of 2003. UEFA decided to ban Ortega from playing football for 1 year, and make him pay 11 Million USD to Fenerbahçe.
3- Cevad Prekazi
For a Galatasaray fan, Cevad Prekazi can only be described with one word; Legend. His Galatasaray career started in 1985 and ended in 1991. Before Galatasaray, he played football in the Astro Pitch league of United States. After a six-month adventure of Astro Pitch league, he ended up with a signed contract with Galatasaray. After a while, he became famous among Turkish football fans with his strong left foot and long-distance shoots. His deathless free kick goal from 37meter distance against Monaco was jogged to Galatasaray fans’ memory. He won 2 league championships with Galatasaray. In his Galatasaray career, he scored 40 times in 185 matches.
4- Cláudio Taffarel
Cláudio Taffarel is a former Brazilian goalkeeper. Taffarel’s Istanbul days began in 1998 after he transferred to Galatasaray from the Brazilian team Atletico Mineiro. He brought in numerous victories with Galatasaray including 1 UEFA Cup, 1 UEFA Super Cup, 2 League Championships and 2 Turkish Cups. He was chosen as the man of the match in the 2000 UEFA Cup Final as he didn’t concede a goal for 120 minutes. Nowadays, he is the goalkeeper coach of both Galatasaray, since 2011, and Brazilian National Team, since 2014.
5- Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba is an Ivorian striker who plays for Montreal Impact of Canadian Major League. He is a globally known soccer player due to his Chelsea career that includes 104 goals in 254 games. Moreover, he is one of the best foreign strikers played in Turkey. His Istanbul days started upon his transfer to Galatasaray on 28 January 2013. He signed a-one-and-a-half-year contract with Galatasaray. In his first season with Galatasaray, 2012-2013 Season, he scored 6 goals in 17 games. This season, Galatasaray won the title of league championship. In his second and last season, he scored 14 goals in 36 games. However, his 10 goals in league matches couldn’t help Galatasaray to become the champion. In 2013-2014 Season, Galatasaray lost championship to its rival Fenerbahçe and ranked number two. After the expiration of his contract he left Galatasaray in 2014. His physical strength, ability in air, free kick ability and the ability of retaining possession of the ball stuck in the minds of Turkish soccer lovers.
6- Frank de Boer
Frank de Boer is a Dutch former football player, defender, and currently the manager of Italian team Internazionale. He briefly transferred to Galatasaray from Barcelona in 2003. In his one and only season with Galatasaray, he could not perform well and met the expectations. He scored 1 time in 15 games. He spent most of his time in bench during the second half of the season. Galatasaray completed the league at the 6th rank and gave rein the championship to its archrival Fenerbahçe. While he was welcomed by thousands of Galatasaray fans in airport, he sent off to his country quiet and retiring.
7- Franck Ribéry
Franck Ribéry is a true superstar of football in recent history. His Galatasaray times started on 1st January of 2005 when he transferred to Istanbul’s team for 2.5Million euros. However, today’s superstars couldn’t show a great performance in their Istanbul adventure. In the 2005-2006 season of Turkish Super League, he found the net only once in 14 games during his Galatasaray times. Due to the poor financial condition of Galatasaray, he costlessly transferred to Marseille on 1st July of 2005. In the minds of Galatasaray fans, Franck Ribéry has remained as a mediocre transfer for Galatasaray. However, his performance dramatically curved upwards after his Galatasaray times. He won Champions League with his team Bayern Munich in 2013. He have been playing for Bayern Munich since 2007.
8- Gheorghe Hagi
Hagi is a Romanian former football player, and a soccer coach in our days. He was considered as one of the best attacking midfielders of Europe during 80s and 90s. Also, he is considered as the best Romanian football player of all the time. Therefore, he nicknamed “The Maradona of the Carpathians”. He also called “Commandante (The General) “by Galatasaray fans. He had the distinct honor of playing in both Barcelona and Real Madrid who are two of the greatest football teams of all time. In 1996, at 31, he signed for Galatasaray. After his joining, Galatasaray almost won all the trophies it competes in. During his Galatasaray career, he scored 73 times in 192 games, and won league championships for 4-year in a row from 1996 to 2000. Moreover, he won 2 Turkish Cups, 2 Turkish Super Cups, 1 UEFA Cup (1999-2000) and 1 UEFA Super Cup (2000). Hagi was cheered up by Galatasaray fans with a classic chant “I love you Hagi” since his arrival at Istanbul. His retirement in 2001 was not the end of his Istanbul adventure. In 2004 and in 2010, he became the coach of Galatasaray two times. However, he couldn’t be as successful as his football career on his career as coach in Galatasaray. Nevertheless, he remained as one of the most successful and loved people in Galatasaray community.
9- Gheorghe Popescu
Gheorghe Popescu is a Romanian retired defender. His Galatasaray times began in 1997 after he left Barcelona. In his Galatasaray Career, he won three league championships in a row, 1997-1998, 1998-1999, and 1999-2000, 2 Turkish Cups in a row, 1998-1999, and 1999-2000, 1 UEFA Cup in 1999-2000 and 1 UEFA Super Cup in 1999-2000 Season. He scored 6 times in his 111-game Turkish Super League career. He was a true legend of Galatasaray when he left Turkey in 2001.
10- Guti Hernández
The name Guti Hernández carries a lot of weight in the eyes of Real Madrid fans. He served the Spanish team for a quarter-century. After his 24-year service to Real Madrid, he left 60 goals in 425 games behind. In 2010, he made a deal with Beşiktaş and found himself in Turkey, a country whose people are sickly in love with football. Beşiktaş fans greet him with open arms and great expectations. The transfer had a broad repercussion on press and social media. However, Guti’s 7 goals in 23 league games in 2010-2011 Season didn’t satisfy the expectations of Beşiktaş fans and the administration of the football club. In the next season, the superstar was released by the club on November of 2011.
11- Harry Kewell
Harry Kewell is an Australian retired football player and currently a coach. His Istanbul adventure began upon his transfer from Liverpool to Galatasaray with a two-year contract in 2008. He was quite famous among Galatasaray fans, so he nicknamed as Harry the Wizard, inspired from Harry Potter, and the Wizard of Oz by Galatasaray fans. His transfer to Galatasaray encounters a downturn in the history of Galatasaray. In three seasons that he played with Galatasaray, the team just won a Turkish Cup in 2008. In this 3 year-period, Galatasaray gave rein the championships to Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş and Bursaspor. Despite the poor performance of the team, Kewell individually showed a great performance in his Galatasaray Career. He scored 22 times in his 66 games during his three seasons.
12- John Carew
John Carew’s Istanbul adventure started in 2004 after he transferred to Beşiktaş from Rome where he plays as a rental player of Valencia. After his transfer to Beşiktaş, he became the most beloved foreign of Beşiktaş Squad in 2004-2005 Season. Although he scored 13 times in 24 games, he faced heavy criticism by the media. Despite the Beşiktaş fans’ deep love for John Carew, the administration of Beşiktaş decided to sell him to Lyon for 8 Million euros. Still, he is legendary in the eyes of Beşiktaş fans.
13- Mário Jardel
Mário Jardel is a Brazilian retired soccer player. He is literally a legend in the eyes of Galatasaray fans. Before the 2000-2001 Season, he was sold to Galatasaray from Porto. Galatasaray was the winner of UEFA Cup in 2000, and the community was in doubt whether Jardel is going to adapt the team or not. He showed that there won’t be an issue concerning adaptation by scoring five times in his debut game. In 2000 UEFA Super Cup, Galatasaray was challenging with Real Madrid in Monaco. In the first half of the game, Mario Jardel found the net in a penalty kick. In response to the goal of Galatasaray, Real Madrid gained a penalty kick in the second half of the game and Raul converted the penalty kick into goal. As the score was made even, extra time was played. In the extra time, Mário Jardel scored again and paved the way going to the trophy. That’s why he became a legend of Galatasaray. After winning the UEFA Super Cup, in his first and only season with Galatasaray, Mário Jardel’s performance got down to a fine art and he scored 22 times in 24 games. Before the beginning of 2001-2002 Season, he transferred back to Portugal. He left behind an unbelievable statistics and millions of Galatasaray fans who sickly love him.
14- Nicolas Anelka
Anelka is a French former soccer player. He came to Istanbul upon he signed a contract with Fenerbahçe in January 2005. Fenerbahçe paid £ 7 Million for the transfer of Nicolas Anelka. The transfer had a broad repercussion in both written and visual media. He scored 4 times in 14 league games in 2004-2005 Season. Especially in the second half of the season, Fenerbahçe showed a great performance with the participation of Anelka and became the league champion. In 2005-2006 Season, he scored 10 goals in 25 games. That performance was not sufficient for Fenerbahçe to become the champion, and the team finished the league at the second rank. In August 2016, Anelka sold to Bolton Wanderers for a £ 8 Million transfer fee. He left behind a big disappointment in the eyes of Fenerbahçe fans as he couldn’t perform well with Fenerbahçe like he did with Manchester City.
15- Pascal Nouma
Pascal Nouma is not just a football star, he is also a public figure in the eyes of Turkish people. His Turkey adventure started in 2000 when he signed for Beşiktaş. In his first season, he scored 18 times in 24 games. Besides his great performance in Beşiktaş, his behaviors made him one of the most beloved foreign football player in Turkish Football Community. After his first season in Beşiktaş, he transferred to Marseille. After he spend a year in France, he came back to the fold. 20 April 2003 was a turning point of his football career. On that day, he put his hands down his short, a gesture known as “Tombala Çekmek” which literally means drawing a number from pouch in a Turkish play game, as a goal celebration after he scored against Fenerbahçe in Beşiktaş İnönü Stadium. After this gesture, Beşiktaş was forced to cancel Nouma’s contract. Still, the cancellation of his contract didn’t diminish Beşiktaş fans’ love for him. Beside Beşiktaş fans, he has a great number of fans at all levels of society. After his jubilee, he attended to a famous TV Show; Survivor in 2012. In this show, he fought with Nihat Doğan who was another competitor. After the fight, he disqualified from Survivor. Still, he is a well-known and beloved celebrity of Turkey despite his bizarre behaviors. In an interview, he claimed to be a Turk and stated that Turkey was his homeland.
16- Pierre van Hooijdonk
Van Hooijdonk is retired Dutch striker who played for Turkish giant Fenerbahçe between the years 2003 and 2005. Once he signed for the Turkish giant in the beginning of 2003-2004 Football Season, he found himself in Istanbul, playing for one of the two biggest football communities; Fenerbahçe, the other one is Galatasaray. In his first year with Fenerbahçe, he showed an amazing performance and adaptation with his teammates and carried the team to the League Championship. In that season, he found the net 24 times and ranked as 2nd top scorer. The 2003-2004 Turkish Super League Championship was the first league championship of his career. When the time showed 2004-2005 Football Season, he again showed an impressive performance and scored 8 times during the league schedule. With the big efforts of Fenerbahçe’s super trio, Pierre van Hooijdonk, Alex de Souza and Mert Nobre, the team made history and again became the champion. After that season, Pierre left Fenerbahçe and signed for his former club NAC Breda. Although he spent just two seasons with Fenerbahçe, he became one of the most beloved soccer players of Fenerbahçe. Fans nicknamed him as “Aziz Pierre” which literally means Saint Pierre. So to speak, he became a legend of Fenerbahçe. No Fenerbahçe fan can forget his rocket-like long-range shoots, free kicks and bellicosity.
17- Roberto Carlos
Roberto Carlos is a Brazilian retired soccer player. He is considered one of the best left backs of all time. He can easily be remembered with his free kick goal from 35-meter distance against France in the opening match of Tournoi de France in 1997. Lately, the type of goals like he scored against France are termed as a “banana shot” by soccer lovers. After a 11-year service for Real Madrid, he signed a two-year contract with one year optional for Fenerbahçe, which was the league champion of 2006-2007 Turkish Football Season, in 2007 when he was 34. In his first match with Fenerbahçe, he played against Beşiktaş in the Final of Turkish Super Cup, and he paved the way for the cup. He scored his first goal of Fenerbahçe Career against Sivasspor from a diving header. Interestingly, he coached to Sivasspor, which he found the net for the first time in his Fenerbahçe Career, during 2013-2014 Season. In 2007, he left Fenerbahçe as his contract expired. He left 10 goals in 103 matches and those who love him behind in Turkey. However, leaving Fenerbahçe was not the end of his Turkey Adventure. He coached to Sivasspor, 2013-2014, and Akhisar Belediyespor, 2014-2015.
18- Robin van Persie
Robin van Persie, simply known as RVP, is a globally known Dutch striker. After an 11-years England adventure filled with 144 goals in 280 league games, he became an Istanbul Resident on 14th July of 2015 after he joined the Fenerbahçe Squad. He signed a three-year contract with Fenerbahçe for a 3.8 Million British pound fee. Although he found the net 16 times in 31 league matches in his first season with Fenerbahçe, he couldn’t meet the expectations of Fenerbahçe fans. By the decision of Vitor Pereira, former coach of Fenerbahçe, he spent most of his time on the bench during the 2015-2016 Football Season. As Vitor Pereira was replaced with Dutch Coach Dick Advocaat, Fenerbahçe fans are pretty optimistic about his future performance in the 2016-2017 Season.
19- Toni Schumacher
Harald Anton Schumacher, commonly known as Toni Schumacher, is a former German goalkeeper. His first and the last abroad adventure was about to start when he signed a 2-year contract with Fenerbahçe. He became an irreplaceable member of the starting eleven in his first year in Istanbul. He didn’t concede any goal in 14 games of the whole league marathon and he kept the goal of the Fenerbahçe team in the whole league competitions by playing 90 minutes in every match. Therefore, he led his team to the championships in the 1988-1989 season. In this season, Fenerbahçe became the second among the least goal-conceding teams. His great performance in 1988-1989 season made him a legend in Fenerbahçe. He got Hepatitis B in his second year in Fenerbahçe, and took a break from football. After his comeback, he couldn’t perform as adequately in the 1990-1991 season. In the June of 1991, he decided to retire from football with a jubilee match in Inönü Stadium against Atletico Madrid. Afterwards, he decided to make his jubilee in another match against Bayern München in Izmir Stadium where Fenerbahçe defeated Bayern München by 3-2. After his jubilee, he intervally played in Bayern München, in 1991-1992 Season, and in Borussia Dortmund, in the 1995-1996 Season.
20- Wesley Sneijder
Wesley Sneijder is a Dutch midfielder who currently plays for Turkish team Galatasaray. He transferred to Galatasaray in 2013 for a fee of 7.5 Million Euros from Internazionale. Since his first hours in Istanbul, he greatly being welcomed by Galatasaray fans, and he is staying the course to become a legend of Galatasaray. In his first season, 2012-2013 Season, he won the league championship with Galatasaray by scoring 3 goals in 15 games. In his second year, 2013-2014 Season, he showed a great performance with Galatasaray form by scoring 12 times in 28 games. However, Galatasaray lost the league championship to Fenerbahçe that destroyed its archrival Galatasaray in home but got destroyed in away. In 2014-2015 Season, Galatasaray won the league trophy as a result of impressive performance of Sneijder who scored 10 times in 31 games. In 2015-2016 Season, Galatasaray couldn’t perform well and complete the league at 6th rank. In this season, Sneijder did not perform well too; he scored 5 times in 25 games. Galatasaray extended the duration of Sneijder’s contract for three years on 3 October 2015. Since his arrival, Sneijder have been a very efficient midfielder of Galatasaray against its archrival Fenerbahçe. He scored 3 times against Fenerbahçe in league matches, which is completely sufficient for a Galatasaray player to be called as a legend, or a true Galatasaray Player, since he scored against Fenerbahçe.
* Players are listed alphabetically by name.