Earlier this season, leading Italian sports paper Tuttosport described Galatasaray’s little midfield maestro Emre Belozoglu as the most sought-after player in Europe. It is fair comment.
Over the past year or so, Emre has attracted interest from the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Milan and Internazionale.
The latter now appear to be ahead of the pack, having reportedly struck a œ10million deal for the 20-year-old.
The Turkish press claim Emre and his best friend, Gala midfielder Okan Buruk, have signed pre-contract agreements to move to the San Siro in the summer. Inter’s Turkish striker, Hakan Sukur, has claimed he will be joined by no fewer than four compatriots next season: coach Fatih Terim – who recently quit as Fiorentina boss – and yet another Gala midfielder, Umit Davala, as well as Emre and Okan.
Emre refuses to confirm the Inter connection, saying: ‘I won’t talk of transfers until the end of the season. I haven’t signed for Inter. Before talking with other clubs, I will ask Galatasaray first. However, if I leave, I will go to Italy.’
He is right to concentrate on the final weeks of the season. Gala were defeated Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals and must concentrate on keeping pace with Fenerbahce in their bid for a fifth consecutive Turkish League title.
‘We have won a lot of trophies in recent years, but you can never be satisfied at a club as big as Galatasaray,’ says Emre. ‘It’s very important that we retain our national championship and naturally it’s our dream to make history and win the Champions League.’
Emre is the prodigy who lived up to all the hype. Forever the centre of attention while rising through the Galayouth ranks, his magical left foot and irrepressible creativity brought him no fewer than 43 caps for Turkey’s Under-18 team. Once pitched into the Gala first-team squad in 1996-97, he flourished under the tutelage of Fatih Terim and role model Gheorghe Hagi. ‘I have had two fathers in my football career,’ says Emre. ‘Fatih Terim knows how to get the best out of players. I owe him so much. Hagi, too, is always ready to advise and show me the tricks which made him such a star.’
A sending-off against Leeds United in last season’s UEFA Cup semi-finals forced Emre to sit out his club’s victory over Arsenal in the Final, and injury ruled him out of Euro 2000.
He will be hoping to avoid another anti-climax this season before setting off for a new life in Italy.
Born September 7, 1980, in Zeytinburnu
International debut February 2000, v Norway
International caps 5 (1 goal)
Honours European Supercup 2000; Turkish League 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000; Turkish Cup 1999, 2000