Fenerbahce playing for high stakes in transfer market with Nani deal
Rarely has a footballer looked so small. As Fenerbahce's new signee Nani exited the arrivals hall at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport (the city's landing point on its Asian side), clutching a jumbo bouquet of flowers and wearing a scarf in his new club's colours around his neck, he was greeted with more than mere enthusiasm.
As swarms of fans flooded the walkways, stood on makeshift vantage points and even on the vehicle chartered to take the Portuguese winger back to his hotel as flares burned in the darkness, this was genuine fervour.
The difference with this new arrival in Turkey was that this time, it wasn't Darius Vassell. The former England forward's flummoxed face when he was mobbed arriving to sign for Ankaragucu in 2009 remains both the stuff of legend and the source of widespread amusement back home.
If that surreal scene goes some way to reflecting the level of fanaticism among Turkish football fans, this was on another level. Even if Nani's stock at Manchester United fell considerably, his arrival means something. It's important to Fenerbahce fans, of course, but it is also writing new international headlines for a league whose reputation has taken something of a battering in recent years, against a backdrop of violence and corruption.
For now, Fenerbahce's transfer moves in particular are a resoundingly strong start to life under their new management structure, with sporting director Giuliano Terraneo making a big first impression. The experienced former Inter recruiter has been brought in to work in tandem with new coach Vitor Pereira -- formerly of Porto and Olympiakos -- and since convincing Lille's Denmark defender Simon Kjaer to become his first signing a few weeks back, he has been extremely busy.
There's clearly more to come from Terraneo, with the capture of Robin van Persie widely thought to be close (despite Man United's denials), with a four-year contract on the table. Even Schalke's ostracised midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng has been suggested as a potential target, though talk of Bayern Munich forward Arjen Robben coming onto the radar of possibility seems altogether more fanciful.
What makes Terraneo's job a lot easier is the financial backing provided by the Koc Group, and the electricals giant might have the feeling their money is being spent with greater expertise than in previous years. Nevertheless, the figures being spent are considerable.
Aided by Turkey's tax rules, Nani's annual salary is estimated to clock in around €5 million, including bonuses. Kjaer was initially cool on the prospect of moving to the Super Lig but, much like striker Moussa Sow (who made the same move from Lille to Fenerbahce), was eventually swayed by the club's plan and extremely generous personal terms, reportedly in the region of €4 million per year.
This is nothing new. Defender Bruno Alves' father, Washington, recently ended speculation of a return to Portugal (prospectively with Sporting Lisbon) for his son, acknowledging in comments to A Bola that his €2.5 million annual net salary was way beyond the means of any club in his homeland.
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It's not just big names, though. Goalkeeper Luis Fabiano and central defender Abdoulaye Ba have joined the Lusophone contingent, having both been brought in on a year's loan from Porto, and are sensible choices.
Fabiano's reputation took a hit after his poor performance in Porto's heavy Champions League quarterfinal loss at Bayern Munich, but he was generally solid, while the towering Ba is coming to Istanbul on the back of a year's La Liga experience with Rayo Vallecano.
The most astute signing of the lot could be Fernandao, the Super Lig's top scorer while on loan at Bursaspor last season, who has been brought in on a permanent deal from Atletico Paranaense.
The message is clear. Having recently completed a two-year ban from UEFA club competition for match-fixing, Fenerbahce want to come back with a bang. In one sense, it's a laudable sentiment. In another, it's an extremely high-risk policy. The Yellow Canaries will enter the Champions League at the third qualifying round in two weeks, meaning they must successfully negotiate four matches to reach the group stage.
Pereira's side are not seeded, and thus have a 40 percent chance of drawing either Shakhtar Donetsk or Monaco (Ajax, CSKA Moscow and Club Brugge are the other seeds). If Fenerbahce should get through to the final playoff, they could face Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen or -- wait for it -- Manchester United. Their wage bill will look even bigger if they miss out.
Success or failure in making the group stage will initially condition how Fenerbahce's nascent season is viewed, though the Super Lig title might be seen as a bare minimum after this sort of investment, even if Galatasaray are the reigning champions. The latter have made their own moves and if they haven't been quite as extravagant as their cross-city rivals, they have picked up Lukas Podolski from Arsenal.
The World Cup-winning forward, snared for a modest transfer fee, is thought of as a palatable risk, though he will also receive a basic wage of €3 million per year, topped up by a generous bonus structure, as is common for marquee players in Turkey. The Lions' model is a slightly different one to Fenerbahce's, with coach Hamza Hamzaoglu one of the lowest-paid in the league last season, before signing a contract extension this summer.
It seems unlikely that there will be a repeat of last season's three-horse title race. Slaven Bilic's departure from Besiktas has been followed by the losses of Demba Ba (to Shanghai Shenhua) and defender Atinc Nukan (to ambitious 2. Bundesliga side RB Leipzig), while the livewire Gokhan Tore has also been linked with a move away.
Domestic football in Turkey certainly needs a boost, after international shock at the attack on Fenerbahce's team bus on the way back from a match at Caykur Rizespor. It gave wider exposure to themes that have beset the Super Lig of late, with falling attendances after the introduction of the Passolig -- an ID card system similar to the reviled proposals of Margaret Thatcher in England in the 1980s -- and a key sponsor, food giant Ulker, pulling out.
All this means that big signings offer the prospect of a boost, but are a real gamble. Turkey's big boys, and Fenerbahce in particular, are playing for high stakes.