In recent years, Turkey has become a popular destination for former Premier League footballers. High profile players including Dirk Kuyt, Didier Drogba, Demba Ba, Samuel Eto’o, Nani and Nigel de Jong all had spells in the Turkish SüperLig. This season, there is a sizable Arsenal contingent in Turkey, with five former Gunners starring abroad.
Each of the top four sides in the SüperLig have been influenced by an ex-Arsenal player this season. In the TFF First League (the second division), André Santos has Boluspor challenging for a promotion playoff spot. Here is a look at the ex-Arsenal players lighting up Turkey this season.
A member of the Arsenal youth team for four seasons, Özyakup made just two appearances in the League Cup before signing with Besiktas in the summer of 2012. Since then, Özyakup has made nearly 200 appearances for the Turkish giants, won the SüperLig and made 25 appearances for Turkey. This season, Özyakup has been a crucial member of the Besiktas side that sits five points clear at the top of the league and face Lyon in the Europa League Quarter-Finals. Still just 24, Özyakup has emerged as a leader this season, captaining Senol Günes’ side 22 times already and even captaining Turkey for the first time last month.
A controversial figure at many clubs, Adebayor joined Istanbul Basaksehir on January 31 in an attempt to aid their title challenge. Six goals in his first eight matches, including a hat-trick against Istanbul rivals Galatasaray, have kept the club in contention to win their first ever league title as well as their first Turkish Cup. While his antics have dented his reputation in England, Adebayor is showing that even at 33, he hasn’t forgotten where the goal is.
Robin van Persie
In eight seasons in North London, Robin van Persie became an Arsenal legend (at least until he f***ed off to United). Now, the elegant striker is plying his trade in Istanbul with Fenerbahçe. After leading Fenerbahçe in league goals in his first season at the club, van Persie has found it difficult to nail down a regular place in the starting lineup under compatriot Dick Advocaat this season. Although he has made only 16 starts in all competitions so far this season, van Persie has scored an impressive 11 goals as the club attempts to catch Istanbul Basaksehir and qualify for next season’s Champions League.
After losing his place at Arsenal, Podolski moved to Turkish giants Galatasaray in the summer of 2015. Podolski’s goals have helped Galatasaray to three trophies during his short spell at the club. The German has enjoyed the most prolific spell in his career in Turkey, averaging a goal or assist every 109 minutes. Despite this success, Podolski will be moving on from Galatasaray in the summer having already agreed to join Japanese club Vissel Kobe.
While Özyakup, Adebayor, van Persie and Podolski are battling each other at the top of the SüperLig, André Santos, a source of much frustration for Arsenal fans during his two years at the club, is leading Boluspor to the promotion playoffs in the second division. Although mostly a left-back at Arsenal, Boluspor manager Fuat Capa, realising his offensive strengths and defensive weaknesses, has employed Santos as an attacking midfielder this season. Often captaining the side, Santos has managed nine goals so far as Boluspor seek promotion to the SüperLig for the first time since they were relegated in 1992.
Previously thought of as a league for stars to collect one last paycheck as they wound down their careers, Turkish football has provided a platform for these ex-Arsenal players to show their ability while playing regularly and challenge for trophies.