The Weird World of Arda Turan as Five-Year Barcelona Deal Finally Ends

Turkish Spor Toto Super Lig"Medipol Basaksehir FK v Caykur Rizespor AS"
Arda Turan is now a free agent after his Barcelona contract expired | VI-Images/Getty Images

At midnight on Tuesday night, just moments after Barcelona had suffered yet another frustrating draw – this time at home to Atletico Madrid – the contract of 33-year-old Arda Turan finally expired.

Such is the madness of this season – as pointed out on Twitter by Spanish football writer Euan McTear – Turan could’ve come on in the match and seen his contract expire while playing had time run over. Only, he isn’t actually registered to play.

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The 100-cap Turkey international hasn’t played a second of football since January, when his loan deal with Istanbul Basaksehir was cut short by mutual consent.

It’s been a bizarre five years and quite the fall from grace for Turan, who arrived at Barcelona in 2015 for big money as one of Europe’s top midfielders.

Brought to Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2011, Turan had gone from ballboy to captain at Galatasaray by the age of 21 and was key during Turkey’s run to the semi-finals of Euro 2008, scoring twice as Fatih Terim’s unfancied side produced remarkable comebacks against Switzerland, Czech Republic and Croatia.

Though signed under Gregorio Manzano – his €12m transfer fee the most ever paid for a Turkish player – Turan went on to fit incoming manager Diego Simeone’s team like a glove.

At his best, Turan’s hard-running, yet somehow remarkably in-control style on the pitch provided perfect balance for Simeone’s new world. He earned a reputation in his new home as the big-bearded cool kid of Atleti. Journalist Iñako Diaz Guerra even described Turan as ‘a hipster’s Jesus Christ’.

Diego Costa, Arda TuranDiego Costa, Arda Turan
Arda Turan celebrates with Atletico Madrid teammates in 2014 | Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The Turkish assist king (he boasts an impressive 125 in his career) was more aloof than later hot-headed Simeone favourites like Diego Costa, but had the mean streak and selfless work rate to shine for La Liga’s disrupters.

However, Turan’s image in his home country was already becoming quite different to that in Spain. In his book Welcome to Hell?” In Search of the Real Turkish Football, John McManus writes, “In Turkey most people do not view Turan as an enlightened hipster.

“Rather he is seen as an egotistical bully, a symbol of all that is increasingly wrong with ‘Turkish attitude’. Even Galatasaray fans, who should be proud of him, frequently make the same complaint.”

Turan’s outspoken support of controversial president Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who was a witness at the footballer’s wedding – is equally divisive.

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Arda Turan was booed by his own fans at Euro 2016 | David Ramos/Getty Images

Yet by 2014, with Atleti at their peak under Simeone, Turan had developed into one of the best wingers in world football, scoring nine times as Madrid’s second club reached the Champions League final and won La Liga for the first time in 18 years.

Turan actually missed the Champions League final with a hip injury – crying as he departed the title-winning 1-1 draw with Barcelona on the last day of the league season a week prior. However, come September of the same year, he scored the winner in the Madrid derby, with Simeone hailing his impact.

However, the warning signs were there.

In 2015, Turan launched a boot in the direction of the assistant referee after being denied a free kick in a Copa del Rey clash with Barcelona but avoided punishment, much to the annoyance of the Barça players. Later the same year, he was sent off for going in high on Sergio Ramos as Atleti were eliminated from the Champions League.

Incidentally, the same year he was pictured celebrating with a football boot-adorned birthday cake.

Nevertheless, treble winners Barcelona paid €34m plus add-ons to bring the temperamental winger to Camp Nou, in a move that has gone down as one of the worst transfers in recent times for player and club.

Due to a long-postponed player registration ban, Turan and fellow arrival Aleix Vidal were made to wait five months to make their Barcelona debuts.

When he finally did, it seems Turan – a key cog in Simeone’s Atleti machine – was not particularly suited to Barça’s superstar-laden dream team focussed around the MSN attacking trident.

90min Turkey’s Semih Kastoryano questions Barça’s motivation for the signing: “Most Turkish people believed that he signed for Barcelona because of the club’s Turkish sponsors such as Turkish Airlines and Beko… We never saw him as one of our superstars like Hakan Sukur, Hasan Sas, Rustu Recber etc.”

A Champions League hat-trick in just 20 minutes against Borussia Monchengladbach was a rare high point as his involvement was largely restricted to cameos.

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Turan celebrates with Luis Suarez in 2016 | Power Sport Images/Getty Images

By the time Ernesto Valverde arrived in 2017, it was made clear that Turan – who had been booed by his own fans during Euro 2016 over a bonuses dispute the summer before and later retired from international duty after refusing to apologise for allegedly assaulting a journalist on a flight – was no longer wanted around.

Turan left for Istanbul Basaksehir on a two-and-a-half-season loan deal that was supposed to run until the summer of 2020.

The bad and the ugly continued to weigh out the good for Turan, however.

Istanbul Basaksehir saw their star signing receive a record 16-match ban (later reduced to 10) for pushing a linesman during a league encounter with Sivasspor. While his on-pitch contribution remained unremarkable, with two goals and three assists in 42 appearances, the off-pitch incidents were anything but.

The pièce de résistance of Turan’s activities came in October 2018 as news went viral that the still-Barcelona employee had fired a gun in a hospital after a nightclub brawl with a famous Turkish pop star. It was tabloid headline perfection.

Turan received a two year and eight month suspended jail sentence for ‘firing a gun to cause panic, illegal possession of weapons and intentional injury’ over the incident that left singer Berkay Sahin with a broken nose.

it is alleged that the pair had got into an altercation after Sahin accused Turan of harassing his wife. After the fight, Turan supposedly arrived at the hospital where Sahin was being treated with the intention of apologising but ended up firing his weapon at the ground – a moment which was caught on CCTV.

Istanbul Basaksehir reacted by handing their loan star a fine of around £350,000 – ironically a similar amount the club were reported to pay Barça had they won the Super Lig during Turan’s deal.

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Turan has scored just twice during his time at Istanbul Basaksehir | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

It is a truly mad story that will likely come to define the legacy of one of Turkey’s most successful and high-profile modern players; a UEFA Team of the Year nominee and La Liga winner. ‘Hipster Jesus’ had become a volcanic, gun-slinging liability.

The end of his contract draws a line under a terrible piece of business for Barcelona, but certainly not their last significant transfer failure.

For Turan, there had been links to former club Galatasaray in January, with manager Fatih Terim – his former Turkey boss – saying: “I think the club has to put their arms around him because he is from Galatasaray and he deserves a second chance. Galatasaray never abandons its sons.”

However, the gossip around such a potentially toxic arrival was enough to spark an internal war at the club between president, fans and manager with Turan himself eventually writing a letter ruling himself out of a move home for the sake of club harmony.

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Arda Turan celebrating La Liga title win with Turkish flag in 2014 | Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Boca Juniors have also been mentioned in passing, while Besiktas fans have written to their club to protest a potential deal. It’s a tragic epilogue for a once top footballer.

Wherever Turan does end up next it will surely make headlines but those including the word ‘Jesus’ are probably long gone. Barring, perhaps, the phrase ‘Jesus Christ, what’s he done now?’