Each time I meet Yusuf, my local Turkish grocer, he refers to my nationality. ‘Kuijt! Kuijt!’ he says, while pointing to his blue shirt, adding ‘Fenerbahçe!’, not realizing yet it seems that Kuijt is going to leave for Feijenoord . His colleague usually joins the conversation by challenging his workmate with a firm statement; ‘No. Sneijder. Galatasaray!’ Recently he looks very happy as Galatasaray just had become champion, earning its 4th star (each star stands for 5 championships).
Turks love soccer more than anything else, there is a fierce competition among the teams and often it is more about a way of life than of sport itself. Dutch soccer players are among the more popular players and can be considered successful ‘export products’ of our country. Forget the windmills, wooden shoes, tulips and innovation. Soccer is what counts; this was the case in Baghdad with my hairdresser, this is the case in Turkey with any grocer or taxi driver.
The other day I was attending a posh dinner that ended by 30 men glued around an Iphone, life streaming the match Besiktas – Liverpool (that Liverpool lost). If you do not talk soccer, do not come to Turkey.
Dutch soccer players successful in Turkey
Murat Yıldırım (Samsunspor), Diego Biseswar (Kayserispor), Marvin Zeegelaar (Elazığspor), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor) – just some of the over 20 players with the Dutch nationality playing in Turkey. Turkish exiting top division Spor Toto Süper Lig has the most loyal and enthusiastic supporters I ever met. Some are even active in politics, as happened during the Gezi park demonstrations when the collective supporters of some teams expressed their support.
Last weekend, Galatasaray claimed the Turkish Super Lig title. Beşiktaş was defeated thanks to goals from Yasin Oztekin and Wesley Sneijder, who especially this season made many decisive goals. This victory was celebrated with honking cars and songs of joy from Istanbul till Amsterdam. Of course we are proud of Sneijder’s crucial goal during this match – and of other Dutch players in Turkey. As Dutch Consul General I receive regular thank you’s each time Wesley makes a goal.
Ryan Babel for example. After a short and relatively unsuccessful stay in England, Babel moved to Turkey. In Kasımpaşa he was given the opportunities to become an essential player for his team. During 58 matches, he scored 14 goals.
His teammate, namesake and fellow Dutchman Ryan Donk is even thinking about (literally) becoming Turkish. He told ‘De Telegraaf’, a Dutch newspaper, about his ambitions of playing for the Turkish national team, if the possibilities are there. The coach of the Turkish national team, Fatih Terim, supports him fully in these considerations.
Diplomacy and soccer go hand in hand. We had great football match screenings at the Consulate General’s garden in Istanbul during World Cup ’14: soccer diplomacy; serving the Dutch interests abroad through public diplomacy and networking, using soccer as instrument.
My favorite team
And yes, I am regularly asked what my favorite team is. For a long time I said I supported any team with a Dutch player. Not a brave answer, just a diplomatic one. With Kuijt back to the Netherlands I decided to stick to one team. To Galatasaray with Sneijder. Or perhaps to Besiktas? Very nearby, with their beautiful new stadium. Or better Kasimpasa, with two Dutch players and the start of the career of the president of Turkey, Erdogan, who in his days was a good soccer player.
We will see. Next highlight will be the deciding qualifiying match Turkey against the Netherlands in the beginning of September in Konya. At least there the support is clear. 200% in favour of the Netherlands.