A Place in the Sun: Englishmen who took on Turkey
As rumours of a Premier League return rumble on for Trabzonspor’s Daniel Sturridge, we take a look at the other Englishmen who made the trip to Turkey.
Taking off to spend your twilight years in warmer climes is nothing new. Hundreds of thousands of Britons choose to live out their days on the Costa del Sol or the Dordogne. Footballers are no different.
But while well-known leagues such as the USA’s Major League Soccer (and before it, the glamorous North American Soccer League) or the A-League Down Under have remained the tipple of choice for most – think Rooney, Fowler, Beckham, Heskey – a select few have chosen to ply their trade off the beaten track.
When Daniel Sturridge signed for Turkish Super Lig side Trabzonspor last August, just two months on from becoming the first Englishman to win the Champions League with two different clubs, he joins an elite club of journeymen who have crossed into Anatolia, mixing it up on the bridge between East and West.
To find the origins of this trans-European trend we must cast our eyes back more than 30 years. One trailblazing pioneer set sail from the English capital to add some British flair to the Turkish game. His name: Les Ferdinand.
A youngster on the fringes of the Queens Park Rangers team, the Paddington-born striker was sent out on loan to third-tier Brentford with just a handful of senior appearances to his name. His next secondment would take him much further.
With Istanbul the destination, Ferdinand embarked on a season-long journey with Besiktas. Sending an inexperienced, unproven forward to the other side of the continent was a gamble, but it proved to be one that paid off; 14 goals in 24 league games and a Turkish Cup winning medal brought Les back to Blighty a new man. On his return to Loftus Road he found himself propelled into first-team action, going on to score 168 top-flight goals in an illustrious career.
But unfortunately, for every lucky Les Ferdinand, there is a less-fortunate Darius Vassell. The former Manchester City and England forward spent an ill-fated season at capital side Ankaragucu in 2009 and 2010, but a tumultuous spell that saw a two-month winless run, endless contract issues and a repossessed team bus led to just four goals in 25 appearances. Vassell, now 30, returned to England, but his career was blighted by injuries from then on and he retired in 2016 without a club.
The season after Vassell’s foray into Turkish football saw another seasoned English professional try his luck on the banks of the Bosporus. A fee of £2m was enough for Bursaspor to prise Scott Carson from West Bromwich Albion, the Cumbian-born goalkeeper going on to enjoy a vastly successful period with the Green Crocodiles. An ever-present in the 2011/12 campaign, Carson conceded a respectable 35 goals in 35 games as his side finished eighth and, like Ferdinand years before him, was part of a Turkish Cup final-reaching side (though Bursaspor lost out to Fenerbahce).
So contented was the former Leeds United trainee with his lot in Turkey, he stayed on for a second year and fared even better, shepherding the side to fourth place and Europa League qualification. He moved to Wigan in 2015 and went on to rack up over 200 further senior appearances before signing for champions Manchester City. Cushty.
And an article on Brits in Turkey would be incomplete without reference to the curious case of Colin Kazim-Richards. Born in Leytonstone, the frontman played for QPR and Arsenal as a youngster, before breaking into senior football with Bury in 2004. A £250,000 move to Brighton was a promising step for the 18-year-old, but his burgeoning career stalled after a £150,000 move to Sheffield United brought just one goal in 27 games.
In 2007, Kazim-Richards, who has Turkish ancestry on his mother’s side, made the switch to giants Fenerbahce and never looked back. Scoring in the Champions League quarter final against Chelsea in April 2008, he changed his international allegiance that same season and went on to win 37 caps for the Crescent-Stars.
Back in the present day, ex-Chelsea man Sturridge’s spell at Trabzonspor looks set to end as the links to his homeland spring up all around. But for Cameron Jerome, twice on the scoresheet for Goztepe this season, the adventure lives on…