Zeki Celik: Lille's Turkish delight
It's never easy to leave your homeland, but Zeki Celik has taken to France like a fish to water. The 22-year-old Turkish international has established himself as one of the best right-backs in the league at LOSC.
"I honestly don't know how I've adapted so quickly!," said the youngster, who signed from Istanbulspor on a five-year deal in the summer of 2018. "It's been like a dream. I've really settled in well. I've been given a great welcome, so I feel I've been really lucky."
Perhaps LOSC boss Christophe Galtier knows the reason why.
"He has integrated quickly," said the man who has a turned the northern club's fortunes around after narrowly avoid ing relegation last season. "He's a reserved guy but he listens and observes everything. And he is already a mature person for his age."
Celik's quick acclimatisation could also have some root in his having followed Ligue 1 Conforama for many years.
"I've been following Ligue 1 from Turkey for years now," he told the Ligue 1 Show. "I remember when Lyon used to win every season. The French league is more about tactics and speed. But it's also technical and there are some excellent players. In Turkey the game is more direct, and we're more aggressive on the pitch."
So what, if anything, has the dynamic defender struggled with?
"The hardest thing for me has been the language," he admitted."But I'm starting to understand and get used to it now. I know the important football terms like 'man on, give... (I'm on the) outside or inside."
Celik grew up in the province of Bursa in northwest Turkey, and despite being 3000 km away, he remains in touch with his origins. Indeed, the Lille star often travels to the nearby town of Roubaix to spend time with the Turkish community of northern France.
"It's very important for us to welcome people into the association. It's like a brotherhood," said the association's president. "Today we're fortunate to have Zeki with us, it's a real pleasure for us, and the other people are also happy to have him here. You can tell Zeki is down to earth. He is a humble person and we're lucky to have him here."
And the feeling is mutual.
"It's a great support for me, because they know that I'm a long way from my family. They often invite me here to share some traditional Turkish food," said Celik. "I always feel welcome here. I meet lots of compatriots here who come and talk to me. They're proud that I'm here and I really want to thank them for the meal tonight."
Celik made his Turkey debut in June last year, and the dynamic Lille defender is now setting his sights on playing in Europe's elite club competition next term.
"Everything's going well," he beamed. "We're second in the league and we can get in to the Champions League. That would be fantastic for me because I've never played in it. I really want to be here at Lille next season."