Arda Turan returns to his home city as Club Atlético de Madrid visit Beşiktaş JK, with the 25-year-old warning: "Istanbul has always been a tough trip for European teams."
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Arda Turan knows better than most what Club Atlético de Madrid are in for as they attempt to protect a 3-1 first-leg lead at Beşiktaş JK in their UEFA Europa League round of 16 decider.
The 25-year-old was born and raised in Istanbul and, until moving to Spain last summer, had spent his entire career with the Black Eagles' local rivals Galatasaray AŞ. Capped 51 times by Turkey, the left-sided midfielder is anxious that his first game against Turkish opponents since leaving his home country does not end in defeat.
"We are ahead in the tie but you have to be serious in football," he said. "Istanbul has always been a tough trip for European teams. This makes our task very difficult. We must start the match as if the first-leg score was 0-0. Beşiktaş have turned the tables in similar circumstances before and could do so again. We must be careful."
Injured for last week's opening leg, Arda has been included in Diego Simeone’s 19-man travelling party and his arrival will cause a stir. This, after all, is a player who once captained Galatasaray and left for a fee believed to be in the region of €12m, making him the most expensive Turkish footballer of all time.
Justifying that price tag was not too much of a struggle until recent months, when concerns have been raised over his match fitness. Both Gregorio Manzano and his replacement as coach, Simeone, have had their doubts about Arda's physical condition. Tellingly, he has not played a full 90 minutes since a 3-2 Liga win against Levante UD on 20 November.
The hope is that these are just teething troubles for Arda, who has had to readjust to his first foreign assignment. Regular meetings with compatriots Hamit Altıntop and Nuri Şahin – both with Real Madrid CF – have helped stave off homesickness, and he feels that Spain is not so hugely different from Turkey anyway.
"The Spanish are very good people and have treated me great," he said. "Madrid is now my home. Turkish and Spanish people are very similar – you always get a smile and that is something I love. I knew before I came here that they have dinner very late and that doesn't bother me. There is also a similar thing in Turkey that at every meal you eat a lot of bread."
That diet may have left Arda carrying a bit of weight yet Turkish national team fans were happy to see him looking lean and mean when he came back for a February friendly against Slovakia. He recognises what lies in store for Atlético but if he takes the pitch on Thursday, a good number of his countrymen will be wishing him well.