Galatasaray is one of Europe’s aristocratic institutions, a football club steeped in prestige and a history of medal hoarding.
A 1999/2000 Uefa Cup win over Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal arguably marked the apotheosis of Galatasaray’s 116-year existence as they became the first club from Turkey to win a Uefa competition — a feat that has not yet been matched over two decades later.
Inspired by Gheorghe Hagi and aided by the likes of Gheorghe Popescu, Claudio Taffarel and captain Bulent Korkmaz, Fatih Terim’s men made history in Copenhagen at the turn of the millennium, with a squad padded out by star quality and a few household names.
Indeed bragging rights are proudly upheld by the red and yellow half of Istanbul following that triumph. Hagi, Popescu and Co have been immortalised in Cimbom folklore. But, of course, they are not the only recognisable names who have turned out for Galatasaray since the club’s inception in 1905.
Over the years, plenty of notable players have donned the famous jersey, from has-beens, to cult heroes and difference-makers. A conveyor belt of talent has passed through Galatasaray, so naturally a few names may have slipped your mind. We’ll attempt to jog your memory down below…
El Tigre has enjoyed a stellar, globe-trotting career that has taken him from River Plate in Buenos Aires to Manchester United, Porto and Monaco. Following a less-than-successful stint in the Premier League, the Colombian sharp-shooter found himself turning out for Galatasaray between 2019 and 2021. At that point Falcao’s career was on a downward trajectory, but he looked the part in the Turkish Super Lig (when fit). A series of injury problems kept him on the shelf longer than he would have liked, but when his legs were in good nick, he looked as prolific as ever, bagging 20 goals in 43 games.
A World Cup winner with France, the towering Parisian had a spell at Galatasaray to truly forget. Having joined the club on loan from Roma in 2019, the physically-imposing midfielder caused outrage at the club after reportedly walking out of a training session, and he ultimately returned to the Eternal City under a cloud. He was suspended by the club in December 2019, with then-manager Terim accusing him of ‘disrespecting’ the club. “It’s probably best for everyone involved, perhaps, that this loan ends and I find a new place,” Nzonzi stated shortly after the controversy filtered out. That is exactly what happened.
The American speedster spent six years on Tyne and Wear as one of the few, brave players to turn out for both Newcastle and Sunderland. Having fallen down the pecking order at St James’ Park and seemingly fed up of the biting River Tyne winds, Yedlin upped sticks for Galatasaray last year. His sojourn proved short lived, though, and the USMNT international has since crossed back across the Atlantic to more familiar pastures, now turning out for Inter Miami.
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Much to (probably) everyone’s surprise, Alex Telles didn’t join Porto directly from a Brazilian club. The buccaneering left-back clearly didn’t get the memo, and instead he joined Galatasaray from Gremio during his formative years. He spent two trophy-laden years at the club, mopping up the 2014/15 Super Lig and successive Turkish Cups before eventually moving across to Porto, and then securing a move to Man Utd to play second fiddle to Luke Shaw.
For a player whose career is insulated by success at one of the biggest clubs in football, Bayern Munich, his career path to the Allianz Arena was hardly conventional. Having turned out for a string of lower league French clubs during the embryonic stages of his career, Ribery eventually wound up at Galatasaray in 2005 under the great Hagi. He would stick around for just half a season, but in that time he earned the moniker “Ferraribery”, owing to his breakneck speed (obviously) and was key in the club’s 5-1 demolition job of fierce rivals Fenerbahce in the 2005 Turkish Cup Final.
Frank de Boer
By the time Frank de Boer rocked up at Galatasaray in 2003 he had done it all, appearing over 600 times for Ajax and Barcelona combined, accumulating over a century of caps with the Netherlands and winning the 1995 Champions League. His time in Istanbul was short-lived, though he did famously keep a clean sheet in the 2003/04 Champions League groups against Marcello Lippi’s Juventus in a 2-0 win, so he certainly had his moments.
Brad Friedel is a household Premier League name. He currently holds the record for most consecutive appearances in the division (310), is part of an exclusive six-man group of ‘keepers to have scored, and was part of the 2002/03 ‘Team of the Year’. But before his highly-fruitful stint on these shores, the 82-capped United States international turned out for Galatasaray in 1995/96, a season in which Graeme Souness’ men beat age-old adversaries Fenerbahce in the 1996 Turkish Cup Final — a double-header that is shrouded by infamy.
Following a 1-0 win in the first leg at home to Galatasaray, Friedel and Co travelled to the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium for the return fixture. What happened next has entered football folklore after Souness sparked a riot by planting a flag adorned with the colours of Galatasaray in the centre circle of Fenerbahce’s ground.
Galatasaray won on aggregate as Dean Saunders struck late into extra-time, and Friedel has now recaptured the memory of that drama-fuelled evening in Istanbul.
“It goes down as folklore,” Friedel explained to Squawka via bet365. “It’s incredible, they still sell t-shirts and do tifos in the stands of it. They even have an anniversary.
“I remember they were getting the podium ready for us to go up and lift the trophy. It took a little while and we had around 3,500 supporters. We were applauding them but the Fenerbahce fans were not happy, and they started to throw some things on the pitch.
“I believe someone associated with Fenerbahce had previously given Graeme [Souness] a bit of stick, so he went up to the Galatasaray fans and someone just handed him this enormous flag.
“He lifted it up then the next thing, we just turned around and saw him running down the pitch. We weren’t able to lift the trophy. Well, we did for a second or two then missiles started coming down on the podium and we had to get escorted off the pitch by the police.”
Following his move to the Far East in 2012 after a glittering eight years at Chelsea it would not be long before the Ivory Coast centurion got itchy feet and returned for another crack at the Champions League, joining Galatasaray a year later from Shanghai Shenhua. His time in Istanbul is remembered best for the club’s 3-2 win over Real Madrid in the second leg of the 2012/13 Champions League quarter-finals, in which he scored the winner. Terim’s men ultimately went out on aggregate, but it’s a win forever remembered in Istanbul.
Wesley Sneijder was also a part of that triumph, and he too got on the scoresheet. The Inter treble-winner stayed at Galatasaray longer than most on this list, turning out for the club across four years having reached the pinnacle of the game in Amsterdam, Madrid and Milan. It was an illustrious, medal-spangled existence at Galatasaray for the Dutch legend, who is now revered on the Nef Stadium terraces for his exploits.
After spells in the Premier League with both Liverpool and West Ham, Rigobert Song moved back to France with Lens for two seasons before ending his career in Turkey. The centre-back became an instant fan favourite at Galatasaray, earning himself the nickname “Big Chief”, winning two Süper Lig titles and the Turkish Cup during his time with the club, before leaving for Trabzonspor in 2008.
Claudio Taffarel’s time in Turkey was an incredibly successful one, winning two Süper Lig titles, two Turkish Cups, as well as the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup. The Brazilian was named MOTM in the 1999/00 UEFA Cup final as Galatasaray beat Arsenal 4-1 on penalties, making some huge saves during extra-time to force the penalty shootout. The goalkeeper joined the club during the 1998 World Cup, signing his contract at Disneyland Paris just three days before Brazil’s round of 16 tie with Chile.
Honourable mentions: Harry Kewell, Goran Pandev, Lukas Podolski, Nigel de Jong, Jason Denayer, Giovani dos Santos, Lucas Neill, Dean Saunders, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, Jo, Elano, Jean Michael Seri, Mario Lemina, Yuto Nagatomo, Konstantinos Mitroglou, Giovani dos Santos.