LOSC Osimhen Celik Yazici André
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Turks à la mode

Publish on 03/06/2020 at 12:00

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Ligue 1 Conforama and Domino's Ligue 2 have never had so many Turkish players in their ranks - check out who's who and why the likes of LOSC's Zeki Celik and Yousouf Yazici are catching the eye of French clubs…

Lately, French clubs such as LOSC and Le Havre AC have been recruiting in Turkey - a goldmine of bargain talent - where young footballers are already used to the intense pressure of the fans and the media. Meanwhile, the economic and sporting windfalls are delighting Turkish directors.

For a long time, their representatives included only Mevlüt Erding, the striker whose parents had settled in France and who, in a top-flight career spanning over a decade, scored 92 Ligue 1 Conforama goals.

Last season there were four Turkish internationals based in France, but unlike Erding, none of them have French roots. That's because several French clubs have been prospecting in the Turkish Süper Lig, with 2018-19 Ligue 1 Conforama runners-up LOSC setting the trend by signing right-back Zeki Celik, who has since played his way into a starting berth with the Turkish in the national team.

The former Istanbulspor player, now 23, has impressed coach Christophe Galtier to the extent that the northern club brought in another Turkey international, 23-year-old attacking midfielder Yusuf Yazici, from Trabzonspor in the summer of 2019. The left-footed midfielder, who bagged a goal and four assists in three games in late October and early November, suffered a knee injury at the end of December and that ended his season with the Dogues.

WATCH: Yusuf Yazici scores, lays on two more as LOSC trump Bordeaux in Round 11

'More resilient than our youngsters'

"We found the profiles we were looking for for our team there," says Galtier, who was impressed by their ability to handle intense pressure despite their youth. "They're used to playing in hot and even hostile atmospheres, derbies with a lot of pressure, and they can be more resilient than our young players in that respect, which is precious. What's more, the youngsters are exposed to the media very quickly because football is very popular in Turkey."

Le Havre, who recruited Umut Meras and Ertugrul Ersoy, two starlets from Bursaspor - where current Le Havre boss Paul Le Guen was coach in the 2017-18 season - have found the same thing.

"They're used to playing matches in very tense environments," explained Pierre Wantiez, le Havre's general manager. "In Domino's Ligue 2, every match is a real battle, and we felt they would be a real boost."

Umut Meras, a 24-year-old left-back, is proving to be a good pick. He's even been a starter in five of Turkey's last six matches. Ersoy has two caps but has not been called up since the end of 2018. To get his career back on track, he has opted to join up with Le Guen rather than signing for Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, Anderlecht or Augsburg in Germany, where many of his compatriots have found a home base in the past.

So is France, the promised land for Turkish players? It's not so simple.

"They need to take the measure of our championship, which is much tougher athletically and much more competitive," warned Galtier. "We've got the image of Turkish derbies where there's a lot more intensity, but there's a big gap between the top, middle and bottom of the table, which is not the case in France."

Ambassadors

In any case, in Turkey, players who sign for French clubs are not making a leap into the unknown.

"Even though the French championship remains less well known than the German or English championships, it is growing in terms of its appeal and its following in Turkey," underlined an official of the Turkish Federation, according to whom the glitter of PSG has an undeniable allure in the country that straddles the Bosphorus.

"We have some very good youngsters and, for European clubs, Turkey has become a breeding ground where they can do good business," he continued, speaking on condition of anonymity.

All the more so as local clubs, who have spent lavishly in recent years to attract declining European stars - despite the debilitating collapse of the Turkish lira over the last three years - often have to part with their prodigies to escape financial fair play sanctions.

WATCH: Zeki Celik screamer as LOSC demolish Nîmes 5-0 in season 2018-19

The Turkish federation figure prefers to be satisfied with this exodus of talent: "For us, these players are ambassadors who allow everyone to see the quality of our football."

And Galtier agrees.

"They are ambassadors of character, who work hard and play by the rules," said the LOSC boss. "They want to succeed outside their home country because they are proud. And they give themselves the means to do so."