Arda Turan will watch on on Saturday afternoon as two of his former sides face off in a clash that could have a huge impact on the LaLiga Santander title race.
The Turkish midfielder played a huge role in Atletico Madrid‘s last league win, before later joining Barcelona where he also tasted success before he eventually fell out of favour and was loaned to Istanbul Basaksehir.
MARCA caught up with the player, who is now enjoying being back at his childhood club Galatasaray, to look back on his spell in Spanish football.
Will you be watching Barcelona vs Atletico?
“I will try to catch some of it, [Galatasaray] have an important match and we’ll be at the stadium. Both teams are very special to me, Barcelona is the highest level a footballer can play at and Atleti is my second home. They opened the doors to Europe for me and there I gained a completely new perspective to the one I had as a 24-year-old who thought he had seen a lot. I think both will play to win and I hope it will be a good match. I hope that the winner will be whoever plays better and deserves it.”
What do you remember about winning LaLiga Santander with Atletico?
“What we achieved with Atletico in 2014 is the biggest shock in a European league in recent years, including Leicester’s Premier League win. That might seem an exaggeration, especially when you look back on it now, but think about it. On one side, you have a Barcelona team that might be considered as one of the greatest of all time, with Messi, Neymar, Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Busquets, Dani Alves, Jordi Alba… Then on the other, you’ve got Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale, Ramos…two teams who barely lost a game all season.”
What was it like competing with Barcelona and Real Madrid?
“We managed to win a lot of games and reached 90 points, but they had to lose points as well. It wasn’t easy going into a game after Real Madrid or Barcelona had won theirs, it was difficult to focus but we were a great team and Diego Simeone made us a big family and in the end we did it.
How was your relationship with Simeone?
“He’s the best foreign coach I’ve worked with. He keeps an incredible discipline and work routine before games, with a big emphasis on analysing the opposition. He makes you believe in yourself with everything he says about the opponent before the game. Seeing his words become reality on the pitch lets you enjoy yourself as a player. He makes you believe you are the best when you play against the biggest teams. There’s something I’ve never forgotten. We were going to play against Chelsea in the semi-final of the Champions League and his pre-game analysis was incredible. He showed us through multiple examples that [Eden] Hazard never tracked his opponent on defence. That day we had a lot of joy with Juanfran down the right and we managed to reach the final – and I scored as well!”
What was it like playing for the LaLiga Santander title at the Camp Nou?
“If you want to make history in football, one of the hardest ways to do it is playing away to Barcelona in the last game of the season knowing that if you win you become champions. Before going to the Camp Nou we thought we would be champions by beating Malaga, but although we played well we didn’t win and I remember there was a lot of anger in the dressing room. People thought Barcelona would have the advantage, but sometimes you have to face bigger challenges in order for the story to mean more. Winning it at the Camp Nou made our success even more special.”
How do you remember the Atleti fans?
“If you are in the same country as two clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona, who have millions of fans all over the world, but you support Atletico, that means you have loyalty. I’ll never forget the atmosphere the Ateltico fans made at the Vicente Calderon, I felt the love and devotion that felt for their club when I was on the pitch. We knew that with their support and the team we had, we could beat any team in the world at our old stadium. That’s a great feeling.”
Do you regret leaving Atletico for Barcelona?
“No, I think we parted on good terms and at the right time, nothing more, nothing less. We won titles and my aims had been fulfilled, I began a new chapter in my career with good memories. Everything was good under Luis Enrique at Barcelona, I was the top scorer after Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Even when they started, I had the chance to play, but then [Ernesto] Valverde came in and didn’t give me a chance, it didn’t make sense. I also thought I shouldn’t be at a team where I wasn’t valued and couldn’t contribute to their successes, even if they were one of the best in the world. That’s why I left Barcelona.”
What was it like playing with Messi?
“When I look back on my career I believe I have been very lucky, I had the chance to play with the best. I think Messi is the best player of all time. When I was still at Galatasaray, before going to Spain, I said back then that he was not of this world and, over the years, he has shown his greatness and I still think he’s from another planet.”
Do you miss Spanish football?
“Of course, I had great times in Spain and I think it is still the best league in the world. I try to follow LaLiga Santander as much as I can, the title race this season has been unbelievable. I’m excited to see how it plays out, you’ve got Atletico, Real Madrid and Barcelona, but we can’t forget about Sevilla.”
How has the return to your boyhood club Galatasaray been?
“Is there anything better than being at home? Galatasaray is my family, where I spent my early years and my loyalty to them is, naturally, very different. It’s the story of the ball boy who later captains the team. Here I experience the highs and lows in a different way. If I wasn’t on the pitch, I’d be in the stand as a fan, that’s why every second I’m here is a privilege.”