A Millionaire In Shabby Pants


Fourteen year is a long time. In football it is an eternity. It is exactly how long Atletico Madrid had to wait since it’s last victory against local rival Real Madrid. But, they ended the long wait in the King’s Cup Final playing worthy of great praise. With exceptional performance the whole season, Atletico’s Turkish left winger Arda Turan, was surely one of the heros of that night and the whole season.

At the very early age of his childhood, he grew up dribbling the ball with his peers. But where he came from wasn’t the most ideal place for a soccer field. Bayrampasha, one of the outskirts of Istanbul with unpaved roads lacking green area has been always famous for its housing the city’s biggest prison, small factories, and its bullies. After all, it didn’t stop this young boy with agile and fervent manner to be noticed by one of the best football teams in Turkey, Galatasaray. First the star player, then captain of the team, finally one of the most favorite player of Atletico Madrid where he calls home. Now here he is sitting in his sloppy clothes, not taking the word ‘successful’ kindly for himself, instead describing himself more of a ‘well- intentioned daydreamer’.

Setting a date to interview Arda Turan wasn’t an easy feat. As expected, he has a hectic life with all trainings, team dinners and photo shoots. A busy life with an unpredictable schedule. Just like when I got a call from his assistant at 11 on a Thursday night to meet for the interview. They were waiting in a black Range Rover. Getting in his car was just as going through the portal of a different dimension. ‘‘Did you find the car easily?’’ said Arda in a friendly tone reaching out to shake my hand from the front seat.

We drove all the way down to the Alcala Gate and arrived Ramses Cafe, one of the top-notch bars of Madrid. With all due respect to fashion critics’ admiration for his fashion choices, that Thursday night, he wasn’t in his best shape or simply he is a millionaire, why need to impress? When asked if he is having a bad hair day, he made fun of himself saying that he is only growing his hair to see how much uglier he can get.

As we walked to the bar, I noticed that on the contrary to what the resources say about his height, he was barely 1.70 cm. His Turkishness was easily readable in his walk with a macho, proud posture as with his chest is thrown out. Under the curious eyes of customers, the staff arranged a table for us. ‘’This bar is just my cup of tea, for a man who came from a labor family’’ he said sarcastically. Drinks were ordered. He went for Margarita.

As a strong Muslim, Arda goes to mosque every Friday but finding a place to worship is not that of an issue for him. ‘’I can go and pray in the church too. Isn’t it also the house of God?’’ he asked rhetorically.

Meanwhile from the waiters to the security guard, he was in close touch with different human personalities. He was constantly showing his appreciation by saying ‘ muchas gracias‘ feeling under intense bashfulness. His 26 year-old Turkish assistant Filinta who studied in Spain and lived for 7 years is now organizing Arda’s daily activities and drives him around. They also live together. ‘‘ He works as a manager but we stick together like brothers since we both are away from home’’ Arda said patting him in the back. Another member of the household is their Turkish cook or ‘elder sister’ as he calls-. She is making Arda feel home cooking variety of Turkish dishes. ‘‘We have white bean stew with meat right now in the house if you missed the food ’’ he offered to me.

Arda’s departure for Atletico Madrid created controversy in Turkey. Some said he broke his ties with Galatasaray due to fiscal issues or seeing himself superior than his teammates. He disapproved all the comments made behind him and there is no resentment from his side either. ‘‘ It’s the press manipulates what I say. Galatasaray is my love. It will always stay that way. But now I’m here. I feel completely belong to Atletico Madrid’’ he said.

The more we talked, the more his hyperactive attitude left to a more humble and emotional manner. This is a guy who already made a name for himself when his peers whom he played football with were going to the school. Now when we talk about his success, he seems feeling of discomfort. ‘‘I have always been a dreamer. I dreamed pursuing my career abroad. I am also well intentioned person. I want to be called as the ‘well manner guy’ than successful player’’ he said.

‘‘Success comes with a collective work. Unlike Turkish teams, teamwork is important here. Individual whim and greed don’t bring any benefit.’’

In the midst of the heated conversation, we finished our drinks. Filinta took care of the bill in a trice. Arda offered me to continue the interview at his another assitant’s house who just had a surgery. We got up to leave. He was shaking hands of the stuff showing his appreciation of their service.

‘’The Spaniards and Spanish media are very good to me. I don’t feel the weight of being a famous figure as I feel in Turkey. ‘’

Turkish press is eagerly following every step of Arda makes. ‘Does Galatasaray want Arda back?’, ‘Chelsea joined the race to sign Arda’ are some headlines on the frontpage of the Turkish sports newspapers written every now and then. When asked if he considers going back home, the answer was sharp as a knife. ‘’Now? No. I always dreamed my career abroad’’ he said adding that: ‘‘The Spaniards and Spanish media are very good to me and I doesn’t feel the weight of being a famous figure as I felt in Turkey.’’

Finally we arrived to his other assistant, Ata’s house. There were 3 more Turkish friends of Arda: 2 of them were tour guides and other one is an owner of a Turkish restaurant in Madrid for long years. With Arda’s arrival, Turkish teas were prepared in the tea glasses and the conversation in the living room was dominated by his jokes and injury story. his assistant was whispering to me how generous Arda is. Apparently he helps hundreds of Turkish students in Spain whom he doesn’t even know their names. His masseurs too, receive a share from him generosity. But just like in all the guy talks, they ended up talking about women.

Time flew fast. I hit 2 o’clock in the morning. Now, there were tens of empty tea glasses sitting on the table accompanied with a box of Turkish lokum (delight). It was time to go. On our way he put a song from Ahmet Kaya, the Kurdish singer whose songs were once forbidden to play and sing, now Arda was singing along loud losing himself in it like no one is watching.


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