Exclusive Interview: Socceroo And Genclerbirligi Striker Bruce Djite

Goal.com's Chris Paraskevas chats with the Turkey-based forward about his cultural and football challenges ahead of the World Cup.
There aren’t many football clubs around the world who start off their season by sacrificing an animal.

In this case, a goat was the specific species, taken down to the training ground ahead of the first home match of the campaign.

“I knew I was in Turkey when they sacrificed a goat before the start of the season. I didn’t watch it.

“We had our pre-match meal and I’m like ‘No, I’ll get ready for the game’.”

For Australian striker Bruce Djite, it’s one of the many cultural subtleties that have taken getting used to in Ankara, the capital of Turkey.

The Socceroo has been in the Islamic nation for almost two years, attempting to break into the first team at Genclerbirligi - a tough assignment given he has already played under three different managers.

Indeed, the man who initially brought Djite to the club lasted just eight weeks at the helm before his successor failed to last until the next season.

For Djite though, it is all part of a process of learning and development as a footballer that he believes can only benefit him in the future.

“You learn different tactics and a lot of changes happen with regard to how they want you to play, the positions, the way they want the team to defend as a whole and things like that,” Djite told Goal.com.

“You’ve got your attributes as a player whether you’re a dribbler, physical player or do a lot of running off the ball, or whether you’re skilful on the ball but I think here it’s important to play to your strengths, hide your weaknesses and then work on your weaknesses on the training pitch.

“Every player has got their own style but with different coaches you do have to adapt to a lot of situations in a short period of time.”

Now playing under former Hamburger and Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Doll, Djite has only managed a handful of appearances this season after a less than ideal start with an early injury.

“It’s been a little bit difficult to break in when the team’s doing well and the coach is always going to stick to those players that are doing the job for him. That’s been the story for the last four of five months [Genclerbirligi are in sixth place, just six points off the league leaders].”

Focus | Djite is desperate to go to South Africa

Despite the overall success of the squad, a lack of starts for the striker could not be worst timed with the World Cup barely six months away and plenty of competition for a place in Pim Verbeek’s Socceroos squad, particularly amongst forwards, given the Dutchman’s preference for a lone striker.

Showing maturity beyond his years though, Djite isn’t complaining and insists that panicking is the worst option for a footballer in his situation.

“I think if you can overcome this sort of hurdle it makes you stronger. It happens to everyone.

“You learn and work hard, keep improving. If you can do that, when another club comes calling and you do have to move somewhere, you’re in top shape to make an impact.

“You don’t panic. I think when you start to panic you’ve got big problems. You just have to concentrate on your own game; just because you’re not playing at one club it doesn’t mean you’re not a good player, it just means you’re not getting any opportunities.

“When you’re few and far between games, the team’s going well, sometimes there’s nothing you can do no matter what type of player you are.

“It’s not a matter of panicking but a matter of understanding the situation. You’ve got to realize what your situation is and there’s always a resolution.”

The former Adelaide United starlet admits that the January transfer window could present a very real solution, though refuses to give up on the possibility that he can break into the starting eleven under Doll.

“The January transfer window, obviously I’ll look there to find a solution. Six months I think is enough time to make an impact and start playing regularly in order to force your way into the World Cup squad.

“I think the most important thing is that I play. Whether I start doing that here or move on in January, I can sit down with the coach here and explain the situation with the World Cup and I’m sure he’ll be more than understanding. I think they’ll [the club] be open to the idea [of a transfer or a loan move].”

With limited time in which to work in the lead up to June, the 22 year-old explains the that it is a daily battle to keep himself in the right frame of mind and physical capacity so that he is ready to explode into life if a loan move eventuates.

Connected | The resident Aussies keep in touch

A fiercely competitive training environment is key to that process.

“I got kicked in the mouth yesterday! It’s always intense, you’ve got to be ready for the hard and heavy tackles.

“The players here understand how important every session is and are always going 110% whether it’s in the tackle, chasing the ball or just doing a finishing drill.

“They’re always trying to better themselves and it improves the competition within the team and makes it a very competitive atmosphere at training.”

The words inevitably allude to national team manager Pim Verbeek’s well-documented comments about training in Europe being more beneficial to playing first-team football in the A-League and the Dutchman is the next subject of discussion.

“He’s a manager who will call you and if there’s a situation you can call him and he’s always there to help,” Djite explains.

“He’s open to ideas, always giving good advice, whether it’s one of our star players or players just coming through in the younger brigade.

“He gives ample time to each and every player and understand each individual’s different circumstances.”

Djite’s circumstances also encompass a lifestyle that presents a number of obstacles for a young man living alone overseas.

“It’s a massive cultural change. Here it’s a bit difficult, not too many of the players speak English but there are two Swedish and Croatian-born players here who I spend a lot of time with – I’m actually having coffee with them right now!”

The duo he refers to includes Labinot Harbuzi and Ivan Radeljic (a Bosnia and Herzegovina international) and Djite cannot overstate enough the importance of their friendship.

“We all take care of each other and being foreigners here we all understand each other’s situation and it’s very good to have that kind of network.

Fanatical | Besiktas away was a highlight

“So if you’re not playing you can discuss it with them, maybe do a bit of extra training with them or bounce ideas, suggestions and positive criticism off each other to try and help ourselves.”

Slowly beginning to break down a language barrier that he describes as crucial to the way he goes about his daily life in Ankara, Djite stays in contact with resident Socceroos Harry Kewell (Galatasaray), Michael Petkovic (Sivasspor), James Troisi (Kayserispor) and Mile Jedinak (Antalyaspor).

The latter duo had in fact started their Turkish sojourns with Djite at Genclerbirligi, Troisi moving on permanently and Jedinak loaned out, since finding goals and regular game time at his new club, perhaps a signal of the advantages of such an option to Djite.

In the meantime though he is in Ankara, where the life of a professional footballer is a stark contrast to the glitz and glamour one might associate with that of the sports star in Europe.

“There’s no houses here, everything’s apartments; I haven’t seen one house in Ankara. The traffic is crazy, people run red lights all the time.

“You see a crash at least three or four times a week. It’s ridiculous; you go to training and then go home!”

Describing Ankara as “Canberra” and Istanbul – Turkey’s most cosmopolitan city – as “Sydney”, Djite begins to paint a picture of a simple environment and lifestyle that ironically reminds him of his time at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

“I remember speaking to Mile Sterjovski and Nick Carle when they were living here before and they said that they came here for the football, not to socialize or anything like that.

“The football is very strong but outside of it there’s not much. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t need a lot to do, the more simple, the better.

“But that’s good as well because you’ve got to take a lot of positives from that, like being able to concentrate on your football.

“I remember when I was at the AIS there’s really nothing to do in Canberra and that was a good thing!”

Having also had to get used to the sound of mosques ringing out five times a day, Djite warns that it takes a strong character to survive as a foreigner in Turkey.

Daily life includes going into the club for breakfast at 8:45 am, training at 10:00 am, having lunch at the club, returning back to the club in the afternoon and perhaps in-between and afterwards spending time at the local shops, a cafe or simply relaxing at home (though that itinerary becomes more limited during a particularly cold winter).

“Nothing too interesting,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone, though not with a sense of regret or frustration.

And while he also admits that the standard of living could be “better” Djite again shows his maturity in appreciating the experience both for its football and cultural merits, making sure he’s “keeping an open mind and enjoying the ride”.

And what of the Turkish people?

“They’re very open people, very kind people, their tradition obviously means they have things like Ramadan but they don’t force it on you.

“They do have traditions and moral values but they’re very peaceful so I think it wouldn’t be right to generalize about Turkey as an Islamic country and put that stigma on them. They’re nothing like that.

“They all follow their religion and that’s a very good and positive thing.”

Listing his favourite dishes as Baklava and Iskender Kebab and his favourite restaurant as ‘Paper Moon’ – which has an Italian feel and crucially for the Australian sells Prosciutto – his most memorable moment remains an away trip to Besiktas.

“I think playing away at Besiktas was the most crazy thing ever. The fans are just fanatic; some clubs have the little fanatic sections behind the goals but the whole stadium was fanatical.

“Sometimes I think [they are] a bit too passionate, throwing things on the field like chairs, if things aren’t going well they become a bit violent. But it shows how much they love the sport.”

It’s a long way from Hindmarsh Stadium.

Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com

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