Ufuk Talay: Harry Kewell, Bruce Djite can succeed in Turkey
It's taken over 13 years for Galatasaray to sign their second ever Australian, but Ufuk Talay is confident that his successor Harry Kewell can blaze a trail for more local talent to attract the interest of Turkish clubs. Back in 1995, Talay was snapped up by Gala as a raw 19 year-old and over a seven-year period he worked with some of the greats of the game, including Gheorge Hagi and coaching legend Fatih Terim.
For Kewell, Talay says his fellow Aussie's courage in taking a plunge no-one saw coming will benefit him on and off the pitch.
"First of all, the move did surprise me," Talay told tribalfootball.com. "I thought he would've made the move to another English club (after Liverpool), but good on him.
"Harry is a great player, he has moved to a big club and so far has been on fire."
Kewell's arrival in Istanbul has been likened to the great days of Hagi and Mario Jardel - and Talay is confident he can handle the expectation of some of the most passionate support in the game.
"Gala is a big club and there is constant attention from the media and fans on the players," said Talay, currently in Japan with Avispa Fukuoka.
"Expectations are very high and they expect results straight away.
"Harry is a great player and I think he will have no trouble at all. You can see that now, he is doing really well."
On comparisons between former teammate Hagi and Kewell, Talay adds: "Gala is always in European competitions - and with Hagi they won four titles and the UEFA Cup.
"I still think its too early to say (if he can match Hagi), but so far Harry has been doing well so we will see in the future."
Some pundits claim Kewell will use Gala as a launching pad back into the Premiership. A year of regular first team football, free from injury, would certainly convince managers to gamble on taking Kewell back to England.
But Talay believes the culture at Gala will rub off on Kewell and may lead to him to sticking around long-term.
"I feel that as long as Harry is enjoying his football and happy with the lifestyle, he might stay on," he said. "Football is like a religion in Turkey.
"He will be recognised everywhere and have constant attention from people on the street. But I guess that he knows that comes with the job."
Kewell isn't the only Australian this season attempting to establish himself in Turkey's top-flight. His Australia teammates, Bruce Djite and James Troisi, both signed with Genclerbirligi in the summer - and like Kewell, their deals did raise eyebrows back in Australia.
It was questioned how centre-forward Djite would cope with moving from the relative comforts of life at Adelaide United to Ankara, while former Newcastle United winger Troisi was expected to stay in England.
But both players have managed to see regular action at Gencler - despite the early season dismissal of coach Mesut Bakkal.
Talay, who joined Gala from Sydney club Marconi, acknowledges Djite may need time to settle into his new surrounds, but has no doubts he can thrive in Turkish football.
"For me, being brought up with a Turkish background made things easier, speaking the language, understanding the culture and traditions," recalled Talay. "The biggest shock for me was the amount of attention I was getting from fans.
"I think for Bruce, it would have been hard moving to new environment with a different culture. But once he settles in, he should have no problems at all.
"I feel its (the Turkish Super Lig) one step away from the top leagues in Europe. The Turkish League is a quality competition, but obviously doesn't have the media recognition of the Premier League or Serie A."
During his seven years at Gala, Talay spent time away on-loan with no less than five clubs and says the spread of talent in Turkey is good enough for both Troisi and Djite to develop their game if they feel the need to move out on a temporary basis.
"As I was younger when I was there, all I wanted to do was to play football and if I wasn't playing I would make a move," shrugged Talay.
"I feel that's the only way of gaining experience and keeping yourself out there for people to see."
Along with the expectation of Gencler fans, for Djite particularly, there's also pressure from home to make a good fist of his move to Ankara. Indeed, Talay is sure that success for Djite will convince more Turkish clubs to take a chance on A-League talent.
"If the current Aussie players are doing well there, then clubs in Turkey will turn to A-League players," he said. "I feel we will see a lot more Australian players making that move to Turkey."
A move that Ufuk Talay blazed a trail for over 13 years ago.