By Enis Koylu
If you took a brief glance at the Galatasaray team sheet for Friday's 2-1 win over Akhisar Belediyespor on Friday, two names would immediately jump off the page - those of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder.
The duo's respective decisions to move to Istanbul in January shed a global light on the Turk Telekom Arena, but the Super Lig champions owe their place in the last 16 of the Champions League to to a far less-known name, Burak Yilmaz.
In truth, his rise to the top of the Turkish game has been a long, drawn-out one. He first burst onto the scene almost a decade ago with Antalyaspor, his hometown club.
His direct, quick running and keen eye for goal were enough to convince Besiktas of his quality in 2006, even if he was still a little raw. The ability was there, but he was still far from the finished product, despite his talent.
|THE ROAD TO THE TOP
BURAK'S CAREER STATS
(Jul 06 - Jan 08)
(Jan 08 - Jul 08)
(Jul 08 - Jul 09)
(Jul 09 - Feb 10)
(Feb 10 - Jul 12)
(Jul 12 - present)
His spell at Inonu was far from successful, though. Less than two years later, he was sold to Manisaspor, a perfectly average club. He was able to discover a semblance of his best form on the west coast, and six months later, he was back off to Istanbul, this time with Fenerbahce.
Yet again, though, he failed to take his opportunity at the top, making a paltry six league appearances before going on loan to Eskisehirspor. He failed to shine at the Ataturk Stadyumu, but seemingly did enough to earn a move to Trabzonspor.
Burak took time to get into his stride on the Black Sea coast, but when he hit top form, there was no doubting his value to the team. He notched 19 goals as Senol Gunes' side missed out on the Super Lig title on goal difference, but he had a golden opportunity to announce himself on the world stage the next season in the Champions League.
It was not to be. Trabzon performed admirably, even notching a surprise victory over Inter at San Siro and finishing third in their group, but their star man was missing, drifting in and out of games, failing to make an impact.
All the while, his Super Lig displays never waned. His team failed to replicate their title charge of the previous season, but Burak was something else, scoring goal after goal after goal. Little wonder, then, that a host of teams were linked with his signature across Europe.
Perhaps wisely, he decided to snub reported interest from the likes of AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal to stay in his homeland, and he has been making a real impact at Galatasaray.
While his international form had always been shaky (both for club and country), he has come on leaps and bounds at the Turk Telekom Arena. When Gala needed a goal in Europe, he has been the one to provide it. He was the hero both home and away to Cluj and at Braga.
He thoroughly deserved to be named Best Player of the group stage, having helped the Istanbul outfit overcome a difficult start to their campaign to qualify from their pool.
Fatih Terim's side have been dealt a favourable draw in the form of a distinctly beatable Schalke, who have collapsed since their fantastic opening two months of the season. And with the arrival of two huge names at the club, he will be particularly eager to assert himself as the top dog in Istanbul.
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