Emre Belözoğlu is determined to put years of injury trouble behind him as his new club Fenerbahçe SK prepare for their UEFA Champions League campaign.
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While the Spanish connection of new coach Luis Aragonés and star signing Daniel Güiza will be to the fore when Fenerbahçe SK enter the UEFA Champions League this week, there is one locally-bred player keen to make an impression. Having risen to face with arch-rivals Galatasaray AS, Emre Belözoğlu is back in Istanbul determined to bounce back after an injury-hit spell in England.
Emre arrived last week on a four-year contract after a €3.5m move from Newcastle United FC, having left Turkey in 2001 for FC Internazionale Milano, quickly winning the nickname 'Maradona of the Bosphorus' and helping them to the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League semi-finals. However, injuries marred the latter part of his stay in Italy and continued after his €4.8m switch to Newcastle in 2005. He was in Turkey's UEFA EURO 2008™ squad as captain but watched their incredible run from the sidelines after tearing a hamstring in training following the opening loss to Portugal.
Fenerbahçe beat Galatasaray to his signature this summer and after a troubled time on and off the pitch over the last few seasons, the 27-year-old is keen to prove himself with his new club. His first chance to do so will be on Wednesday when the Istanbul side take on MTK Budapest in the home leg of their second qualifying round tie with their 2007/08 quarter-final run still fresh in the memory. Emre said: "While playing for Newcastle, I had received several offers from European clubs but at that time I didn't want to leave. Later, Fenerbahçe made a serious offer to me and they showed a sincere interest in me. In the meantime, my family had talked to me a lot about returning to Turkey. Without thinking much I chose Fenerbahçe."
Despite his recent fitness problems, he is in no doubt he is fit to play on Wednesday. "Due to my hamstring injury I was out for three weeks but now I have no problems at all," he said. "All the required checks have been made and I insisted on a scan to avoid any question marks. It was a very small injury. I'm not even thinking about the return leg, I feel ready for the first game. Our coach will be the one who decides but I will do my best if I'm on the pitch."