As Galatasaray spurned numerous chances to spoil the party at Old Trafford last Wednesday night, it was clear what the Turkish giants were missing. Their inability to capitalise on a wobbly defence and culpability to hit the frame of the goal or the body of David De Gea meant that they left Manchester with nothing to show for their nights work. What Galatasaray were missing was a natural goal scorer, someone capable of putting a shaky looking Manchester United side to the sword. They could certainly have done with some assistance from ‘Taçsız Kral’ (the uncrowned king).
Only the elder members of the Galatasararay fan base will have had the pleasure of watching this Turkish star. Metin Oktay, was perhaps one of the finest footballers to come out of Turkey. With a record of 538 goals in just 497 appearances for Galatasararay between 1955 and 1969, it is certain that Oktay would have ruffled more than a few feathers in Sir Alex Ferguson’s backline.
Oktay’s story is a compelling one and highlights the disparity between football fifty years ago and now. Oktay alone played a leading role in putting bums on seats in the Inonu Stadium, and later the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, which at the time held a capacity of 35,000. Whilst increasing the stadium revenue, Oktay helped put Galatasaray on the footballing map.
The Izmir born goal machine signed for the Lions in 1955 at the age of 19. Rather than a hefty signing on fee that would be added on as a sweetener to seal the deal nowadays, Galatasaray gave Oktay a Chevrolet in return for signing up for 5 years at the club. The striker replicated his incredible goal to game ratio from the amateur leagues and became Galatasaray’s first ever goal scorer in Europe in their first appearance in 1956. He had the ability to score with both feet from the tightest of angles and was very useful in the air – a complete striker. Against CS Dinamo Bucureşti, Oktay scored both of the goals in a 2-1 victory in Istanbul. This was a victory of extreme significance as it meant that Galatasaray became the first Turkish club to win a game in European competition. Yet perhaps his most important goal, and the one he will be remembered for most fondly, came in 1959.
1959 was the year in which the top flight Turkish league was formed, now known as the Süper Lig. Before this, Galatasaray had been competing in the Istanbul League, where their rivalry with Fenerbahçe was really born, with both sides winning the trophy fifteen times each. It was only right that the two were to meet in the two-legged season final of 1959, where the first Turkish league champions would be crowned. In the first leg, Oktay hit the winner in a 1-0 victory which pierced the net with the sheer velocity of the shot. What a way it was to seal a victory over their bitter neighbours! The uncrowned king became adored and renowned for scoring goals in the biggest of games. He had a knack of putting goals past their long-time enemies, managing 18 goals in total against the Sarı Kanaryalar.
Although Galatasaray failed to land the crown (losing the second leg 4-0), Oktay picked up the Gol Krali (Goal King) award. This was a feat he would manage a further 5 times. His awarding of the Golden Boot in his final season only seek to underline the respect he earned from not only fans around Turkey, but more impressively, his fellow professionals. It was the 1968-69 season, in which Galatasaray took the league title from Fenerbahçe, to pick up the Super Lig trophy for the first time in six years. Oktay was joint on 17 goals with his Turkish international teammate Fevzi Zemzem, yet Zemzem requested for ‘Taçsız Kral’ to be given the crown of Gol Krali. It was a superb end to a colourful and highly successful career. That is in addition to the four top scorer awards he won in his first four years at Galatasaray in the Istanbul League. He is a Turkish legend. If you look carefully, whenever Galatasaray play at their home ground, the Türk Telekom Arena, you’ll see a giant number 10 jersey present at every game to honour one of the greatest players in the club’s history.
He featured in 36 games for the Turkish national side, bagging 19 goals. It is of great shame that the star was never able to showcase his talents on the world stage, as Turkey narrowly missed out on qualification for the 1962 World Cup. They needed to beat the Soviet Union in their final qualifying match, but Otkay’s consolation was not enough as they lost the game 2-1. Metin Oktay will surely be regarded as one of the finest players never to have played in the world’s biggest tournament.
In his prime, Metin Otkay really was the talk of the town. In fact such was his popularity in the game that he took time out of the game in 1965 to star as himself in the movie about his life suitably titled, ‘The Uncrowned King’. Yet perhaps the quirkiest anecdote to pick out from Oktay’s fabulous career regards the record breaking contract he signed for the Red and Yellows which had serious implications for his life off the pitch. It was 1960, and the King had already become a huge favourite with the fans and a really hot property, so Galatasaray were looking to secure his future at the club. However, his wife, Oya Sari, wanted him to return to his former club in his home town of Izmirspor. He signed the contract which resulted in the breakup of his marriage!
The Uncrowned King was a loyal servant to Galatasaray but he did spend one year away Istanbul. This was during the 1961-1962 season, when he made the move to Italy to play for Palermo. Palermo recorded their best campaign, finishing eighth in Serie A. However, Oktay only featured in 12 games for the Rosenaro, scoring 3 goals. He returned to Galatasaray to regain his cult status at the club and see out his career.
In 1991, Metin Oktay was tragically killed in a car accident in Istanbul. His death rocked the nation. He is still fondly remembered to this day and every year the players and fans alike pay their respects to Otkay at his grave in Kozlu Cemetary. On his tomb it reads ‘Taçsız Kral’, the Uncrowned King. As the Galatasaray website reads,“Always honoured, Never Forgotten”.
By James Savundra
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona