9 ballers we can’t believe played in the Turkish Super Lig: Ribery, Van Persie…

The Turkish Super Lig might not make Europe’s top five leagues, but in our books, it’s the undisputed champion of club football when it comes to sheer entertainment value.

Occasional runs in the Champions League, washed-up Premier League stars (used loosely in some cases) and a domestic league littered with some of the game’s weirdest and most wonderful, desperate to ride off into the blazing Turkish sunset with a fake Louis Vuitton towel over their shoulder. What’s not to love?

But what about the genuinely world-class examples? We’ve picked out nine footballers you completely forgot played in the Super Lig.

Franck Ribery (Galatasaray)

You’d be forgiven for forgetting this or not knowing about it at all, but Ribery spent six months in Turkey with Galatasaray, signing from Metz in January 2005.

The French winger quickly made a name for himself and was instrumental in them beating Fenerbahce in the final of the Turkish Cup, scoring and assisting in a 5-1 thrashing.

However, his short stay ended in tears when he forced through a move to Marseille that summer, after just six months in Istanbul.

Ribery claimed he hadn’t been paid by the club and had also been threatened with a baseball bat by a former agent and a Gala director, thus requesting FIFA to cancel his contract, which they did.

One normal day of Super Lig is all we ask. Will never happen.

Robin van Persie (Fenerbahce)

Staying in Istanbul, after Van Persie was perhaps surprisingly ousted from Manchester United in 2015 by Louis van Gaal, he signed for Fenerbahce on a three-year deal.

Despite Van Persie being a Premier League star who was now over the hill, it still felt strange seeing such a big name in the Super Lig, in a role usually reserved for Premier League flops.

He bagged 22 goals in 48 appearances in his first season, but left the club in 2018 without having won a trophy.

He did link up with fellow ex-United man Nani in his first season, however, which feels incredibly weird to think about. Fever dream stuff.

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Roberto Carlos (Fenerbahce)

A man seemingly committed to having the most chaotic CV possible, a move to Fenerbahce in 2007 after over a decade of service to Real Madrid was merely the first step in a truly bizarre end to Carlos’ career.

He spent two years with the club, narrowly missing out on the Super Lig in his first season.

It felt weird seeing such a bonafide legend playing in Turkey, but considering he ended up playing for Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala shortly after and later the Delhi Dynamos, the move to Fenerbahce looks quite tame.

Guti (Besiktas)

Football Twitter’s favourite nostalgia pop, Guti also finished up a mammoth stint in Madrid with a swansong in Turkey, signing for Besiktas in 2010.

On one hand, it was a shame to see him lose one-club-man status after almost 25 years of service to Real, but on the other, he helped Besiktas to the Turkish Cup and in doing so lifted the first domestic cup of his career, before his release in November 2011.

He must’ve enjoyed his short but sweet stay, as he returned as an assistant coach in 2018-19.

Jay-Jay Okocha (Fenerbahce)

These days, Okocha feels like the kind of player who’d be an absolute shoo-in for the ‘universally loved mid-table Premier League player to Turkish Super Lig hero’ pipeline, but he did it the other way around.

Long before his iconic stint at Bolton, the tricky Nigerian spent two years at Fenerbahce from 1996 to 1998, developing a habit for banging in free-kicks while he was there and entertaining crowds with his skilful and prolific showings.

Okocha acquired Turkish citizenship during his time there and picked the name Muhammed Yavuz to be known by while over there, out of respect for the Muslim community. Bolton's Jay Jay Okocha celebrates scoring against Charlton in the Premiership at the Reebok Stadium, Bolton, Saturday August 14, 2004.

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Pepe (Besiktas)

As Pepe continues to defy science and age in reverse at the heart of Porto’s defence, it becomes incredibly easy to forget that he spent a season with Besiktas in 2017-18 after leaving Real Madrid.

For any normal player, that move to Turkey after a big spell at a major club is the first indicator of your career winding down. Not Pepe, though. He returned to Porto after one season and is still smashing through top strikers now, aged 41.

Shinji Kagawa (Besiktas)

Thankfully, Kagawa’s stint in Turkey didn’t align with Pepe’s or that would’ve seriously fried our brains.

The former Borussia Dortmund and United midfielder headed on loan to Besiktas in the second half of the 2018-19 season after falling out of favour in Germany, but didn’t stick around for long.

He made 14 appearances, scoring four times and assisting twice. A very easy one to forget.

Radamel Falcao (Galatasaray)

Having failed to make an impact on loan at both United and Chelsea and finally being deemed surplus to requirements at Monaco despite an unexpected revival, a move to Galatasaray felt like the final nail in the coffin for the once-great Falcao in 2019.

Injuries did their best to derail him (again) and he eventually succumbed to them when leaving by mutual consent in 2021, but between the spells on the sidelines, the Colombian was prolific for the Turkish giants and left with a healthy record of 20 goals and three assists from 43 games.

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Leonardo Bonucci (Fenerbahce)

Finishing off with a player still in the league at the time of writing, the later years of Bonucci’s otherwise stellar career have been bizarre to say the least.

A strange and disastrous season in Milan, a return to Juventus which ended in tears and a short spell with Union Berlin, Bonucci signed for Fenerbahce in January 2024 after just five months in Germany.

His move to Turkey went completely under the radar, but feels fitting as a way to summarise the chaotic end to the 36-year-old’s career.

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