Football Features

How the 2019 transfer window turned Galatasaray into one of the Champions League’s most fun teams

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:16, 4 September 2019

Galatasaray had one hell of a summer transfer window in 2019.

The two-time defending Turkish champions are attempting to win three titles in a row for the first time this century. They’ve won the Super Lig eight times this millennium but they’ve never managed to “threepeat” – they’ve also not made it past the group stages of the Champions League since 2014 (and made it to the quarter-finals since 2013) and they’ll be out to set that straight too.

Their chances of achieving these massive feats have taken a huge jump thanks to the brilliance of their transfer activity.

With club legend Fatih Terim at the helm, Galatasaray will play a flexible 4-1-4-1 that could easily be listed as 4-2-3-1. Their shape will depend on the personnel selected, and it’s here where the window really shines. Not only did Galatasaray sign good players, but they signed interesting ones that go with the unique characters already at the club to form one of the most fascinating sides around.

Defence

In goal we have Fernando Muslera, a Galatasaray legend with over 300 games for the club. The Uruguayan joined from Lazio in 2011 off the back of Copa América success and has been an almost ever-present since then. Despite his relentless consistency he has never attracted any of Europe’s elite clubs, which seems to suit him just fine as he hoovers up titles in Turkey – he has 14.

Ahead of him is a central defensive duo that, by contrast, have spent less than a year in Istanbul. On January 15 of this year, Brazilian defender Marcão joined from Chaves in Portugal. Then just two weeks later Congolese stopper Christian Luyindama joined on loan from Standard Liege (with the deal becoming permanent in the summer).

Individually these two are unremarkable, but as a partnership they are a delight. Luyindama is a giant of a man who dominates in the air, and though the Congolese isn’t as strong on the ground  that’s alright because Marcão is a much better defender on the deck. The Brazilian stands just 185cm but thanks to Luyindama being a towering 191cm it doesn’t matter.

These kinds of co-dependent partnerships aren’t necessarily the best, and both of these centre-backs are far from rock solid, but they make for fantastically interesting viewing.

Out wide at full-back we have two unheralded players that nevertheless have each produced moments of magic in major finals. As the 2011 Asian Cup final went to extra time it was Yuto Nagatomo who provided the championship-winning cross for Japan (whom he has also represented at three separate World Cups) which shows a level of brilliance you could miss if you only looked at his years with Inter.

Meanwhile Mariano seems to be an unremarkable boilerplate Brazilian wing-back with a journeyman career, but with Sevilla 1-0 down in the 2016 Europa League final he produced a sublime dribble to dice up the Liverpool defence and create a massive equaliser for Kevin Gameiro. This handed Sevilla a momentum they would carry all the way to victory.

Midfield

At the base of midfield is another one of Sevilla’s 2016 Europa League heroes, Steven Nzonzi. The tall Frenchman is a really unique character in that he is surely the only player signed by Sam Allardyce who went on to win a World Cup. Nzonzi was a muscle man for Allardyce’s Blackburn and then later Stoke City too, but his greatest moment in the Premier League was tossing Lucas Leiva to the floor.

After flopping in the Premier League, however, he joined Sevilla and developed his game by such leaps and bounds during his time in Spain that he won his place in France’s World Cup squad and even had people suggesting that Barcelona should sign him. Getting a player as good as him is a huge coup for Galatasaray and he will anchor their midfield with consummate ease and control.

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Playing next to him (or just ahead on paper) is another Premier League flop who has been linked with Barcelona: Jean Michael Seri. The Ivorian really hit the heights playing for Nice and was briefly on the Blaugrana’s radar before that move fell through. A move to Fulham should have worked splendidly but he struggled to adapt and they got relegated. In this Galatasaray side, however, his fantastic vision and forward passing will unleash some tremendously potent attacking talent.

Chief among those talents is Younes Belhanda, the magical Moroccan who led Montpelier to their sensational 2012 Ligue 1 triumph. Belhanda is a player with a temper to match his talent, you never know what he’s going to do next which is probably why he never got a big move abroad like Olivier Giroud. Still, he joined Galatasaray in 2017 and has been superb since, leading them to two Super Lig wins. His set-piece mastery makes him a danger even when he isn’t playing well, which is about half the time really. Either way you can’t take your eyes off him – watching him against Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League should be a thrill, will he dominate of self-destruct?

Out wide Galatasaray have yet more Premier League flops with extraordinary talent. On the right they have Sofiane Feghouli, a dynamic Algerian winger who has been a danger everywhere he played except for that one season with West Ham where he turned into a dud. He’s coming off winning the Africa Cup of Nations in the summer and will be out to make a splash in attack.

Opposite him is Ryan Babel, signed just this summer after a pretty disastrous half-season with Fulham. The Oranje with the red hair was a tremendous flop during both of his spells in the Premier League, but his natural talent cannot be denied and now he’s wearing orange and red he will be looking to win his second Super Lig title (having captured his first with Besiktas back in 2017).

Behind Babel and Feghouli are the superbly bearded Swede Jimmy Durmaz and one-time future king of the world Emre Mor. The youngster failed to spark his career to life despite playing for talent factories like Borussia Dortmund and Celta Vigo. He joins the Turkish champions on loan from Celta in the hopes he can make something of himself. Meanwhile further back, Mario Lemina is on loan from Southampton, and will add dynamism and dribbling to midfield when he plays; and we can’t ignore Selcuk Inan: the Galatasaray captain is a legend and although he won’t play that much he’s definitely worthy of a mention.

Attack

The final piece of the puzzle is their star striker and yes, Premier League flop, Radamel Falcao. El Tigre has been one of the best strikers in the world for the last 10 years with the sole exception being his time in England (where, to be fair, he was still recovering from a cruciate ligament injury). It’s a shame that the Premier League never got to see him at his best because he really is something special; perhaps the most “90’s Serie A” style striker around (even moreso than Uruguayan heroes Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani).

Falcao is a relentless goalscorer and a supreme leader, having captained Monaco to their historic Ligue 1 triumph back in 2017. He arrives in Turkey with a record of 276 goals in 481 club games and will be looking to add to that as well as bulk out his trophy cabinet with the Super Lig and other trophies. He’s already been given a war hero’s welcome at Ataturk Airport, just what will things be like if he actually plays well and starts scoring??

Finally, just to finish things off on-brand; Falcao’s back-up should be yet another Premier League flop. Romanian striker Florin Andone scored 27 goals in 58 games for Cordoba and then 18 in 69 for Deportivo la Coruña – but managed just six goals in 30 appearances for Brighton & Hove Albion.

Andone isn’t the greatest talent in the world but he’s better than that and should prove to be a decent understudy to Radamel Falcao’s leading man as he tries to carry Galatasaray on one hell of a comeback tour around the Champions League.