He may have had a "lost year in the desert" but veteran midfielder Hakan Yakin has made amends since returning to Switzerland from Qatar, inspiring FC Luzern to an unexpected resurgence in the Super League and reminding national coach Ottmar Hitzfeld of his worth.
When Yakin left for Qatar in 2008 – after a season where his 24 goals and 16 assists had helped BSC Young Boys finish as league runners-up – the memories of his three previous spells abroad did not augur well for his prospects. Neither at Paris Saint-Germain FC, where his contract was annulled after only a couple of weeks, nor at VfB Stuttgart, where he made nine Bundesliga appearances, did he manage to settle. A subsequent spell at Galatasaray AŞ featured just two league outings.
'Heat and homesickness'
Yet those experiences did not stop the left-footed playmaker flying off to Qatar after UEFA EURO 2008. Things went well at Al-Gharafa SC at first. He said he felt "well integrated" in the club, despite the the difficulty of dealing with the "cultural conditions, the great heat and homesickness". But the longer the season lasted, the unhappier he became. Losing his starting place only strengthened his desire to return home. "I wanted to get back to Switzerland to play regular first-team football," he said.
Lived up to billing
Hence last summer's move to Luzern. His new club had barely scraped survival in 2008/09, beating FC Lugano in a nerve-wrecking play-off encounter, but they seized the opportunity to sign Switzerland's 2003 Footballer of the Year. Yakin described the move as "a dream come true" and so far he has lived up to his billing, providing four goals and seven assists from 15 appearances and, moreover, putting his stamp on the team's attacking play. Luzern went into the winter break third in the Super League and Yakin is grateful for the restorative "family atmosphere" he has found at the club. "The atmosphere within the team is outstanding," he added. "We are also supported by some fantastic fans."
World Cup prospects
Yakin's return home has helped his FIFA World Cup prospects too. The gifted 32-year-old may no longer warrant a place in coach Hitzfeld's first XI but he can still make an impact coming off the bench. His free-kick set up Stéphane Grichting's breakthrough goal in the decisive home win against Greece last September and lends weight to his assertion that "there is so much left I can give". Looking forward to South Africa in June, he added: "It is fantastic to be able to play in another World Cup after the one in Germany." He may be a home bird but taking flight with his country is another thing altogether.
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