Galatasaray adds Sneijder, Drogba and intrigue

Posted by Michael Cox

You have to feel sympathy for Schalke fans this week. As they gathered around televisions to watch the Champions League second-round draw in December, they would have been content with a meeting against Galatasaray. There was the problematic trip "to hell" to overcome, of course, but over two legs and looking at the two lineups, Schalke would have been confident of progression.

But in the same week that Lewis Holtby's transfer to Tottenham was brought forward, robbing Schalke of their inspirational attacking midfielder, Galatasaray completed one of the most remarkable double swoops in recent footballing history.

More: Drogba, Gala agree to 18-month deal

The arrival of Wesley Sneijder already made them headline news -- the Dutchman has been out of form for a couple of seasons yet still ranks as one of the biggest names in European football -- but the signing of Didier Drogba, eight months after he quite literally won the European Cup for Chelsea, makes them a fearsome prospect. "I am looking forward to playing in the Champions League again," said the Ivorian.

One bookmaker has slashed the odds of Galatasaray triumphing at Wembley in May from 250/1 to 150/1, illustrating the duo's anticipated impact. It's rare that a Champions League team is strengthened so significantly midway through the season. Now Galatasaray have a striker and playmaker with recent experience of Champions League success to add to a solid, hard-working defensive base.

Sneijder made his debut Sunday in the derby against Besiktas. Beginning the game on the bench, he was introduced at the start of the second half with Galatasaray up 2-1 and manager Fatih Terim wanting a more cautious alternative to his straightforward 4-4-2 system.

But it was hardly a dream debut. Minutes later, Felipe Melo -- the man who diverted Sneijder's cross into his own net during Holland's 2-1 triumph over Brazil at World Cup 2010, coincidentally -- was dismissed for spitting at an opponent, and Terim was forced to rejig. Sneijder had to play upfront alone as Galatasaray hung on to a 2-1 win.

Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty ImagesFatih Terim will be pleased to rotate the experienced pair into his squad, though it will require some reshuffling of both formation and personnel.


The victory in a fiercely contested derby became a footnote after Drogba's signing was confirmed. Sneijder might take time to adjust to life in Turkey and to integrate into the side. Meanwhile Drogba, one suspects, will make an instant impact. His sheer presence, combined with a fearless approach to centre-forward play and an ability to cope with any kind of service -- long or short, low or high -- means that he'll acclimate immediately upon return from the Africa Cup of Nations.

The double signing is an astonishing demonstration of Galatasaray's ambition when you consider they're already top of the Turkish league and are strong favourites to defend their title -- it would be their 19th, moving them ahead of Fenerbahce in terms of all-time league championships won. But this isn’t necessarily a "Faustino Asprilla" transfer -- a needless signing made by table-toppers that risks harming the cohesion across the rest of the squad -- as Galatasaray have rarely looked fluent this season. Their quality of football has dropped compared to 2011-12, and Terim is both a perfectionist and a tinkerman, happy to ditch one system if he feels the side isn’t performing.

Galatasaray have been playing a basic 4-4-2 system, and the three strikers already at the club might all fear for their position. Johan Elmander has been poor, and the recruitment of another target man supports the feeling that Terim is unhappy with the Swede. Umut Bulut is a hard-working but uninspiring centre-forward -- a guarantee for 15 domestic goals a season but consistently underwhelming outside Turkey -- in the Champions League, at international level and in Ligue 1 for Toulouse, who still own him.

Then there's Burak Yilmaz, who tops the Champions League goal-scoring charts alongside Cristiano Ronaldo with six goals and is a completely different type of player to Drogba. His game is based on pace, mobility and breaking quickly in the channels, whereas Drogba offers a more sturdy, permanent centre-forward option. A 4-4-1-1 seems likely, with Sneijder tucked behind Drogba. Yilmaz offers something different, Bulut is a reliable poacher, and Elmander will be relegated to fifth-choice for the front two positions.

But there's another obstacle to Gala's progression: Turkey’s laws prohibit sides playing more than six foreigners at once. This is problematic because Galatasaray’s first-choice lineup already features five -- Fernando Muslera, Emmanuel Eboue, Albert Riera, Dany Nounkeu and Felipe Melo. For all Yilmaz and Bulut's limitations, at least both were Turkish.

Getty ImagesOne player with much to fear is striker Johan Elmander, whose time at Galatasaray has been less than stellar.


Terim will presumably be forced to rotate in other positions. Moroccan Nordin Amrabat, who has dovetailed with Emre Colak on the left of midfield, will find it increasingly difficult to get a game, while Tomas Ujfalusi, a long-term injury victim, seems less likely to return to the starting XI.

Those problems aside, it’s difficult not to get excited about Galatasaray’s new look.

The last time Sneijder and Drogba appeared in a Champions League match together, Sneijder was the hero and Drogba was the villain. In the second round of the 2009-10 competition, Jose Mourinho returned to Chelsea with his Inter side that would eventually win the trophy and Sneijder turned in one of the finest performance of his career, drifting between the lines and constantly threading through-balls behind the Chelsea defence. Eventually, one was converted by Samuel Eto'o to confirm Chelsea's elimination. Later, Drogba -- for the third consecutive season -- ended his Champions League tournament in disgrace, sent off for stamping on Thiago Motta.

Next month, they'll be together once again, only this time they'll be fighting on the same side. Galatasaray aren't quite a potential winner, but they've added some extra spice to an intriguing Champions League second round.

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