The presence of sizeable contingents of Portuguese internationals at major European clubs is nothing new. Barcelona boasted Vitor Baia, Fernando Couto and Luis Figo in the 1990s, Chelsea featured Jose Bosingwa, Paulo Ferreira, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho just last season, and the current Real Madrid side includes Pepe, Carvalho and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The latest club to follow this enviable trend is Turkish heavyweights Besiktas, whose activity in the January transfer window means they now have four Portugal stars in their first-team squad – the highest number currently appearing for a non-Portuguese outfit.
First to feel the allure of Turkish football was flying winger Ricardo Quaresma, who joined from Inter Milan in summer 2010. The player’s arrival in Istanbul typified the passion for the beautiful game in these climes, with thousands of supporters making for the airport to welcome their new idol. The 27-year-old has wasted no time in repaying their faith via moments of dazzling skill and incredible goals. A firm fans' favourite, shirts bearing Quaresma’s name are selling faster than those of any other Besiktas player.
Buoyed by the impact made by the former Sporting, Barcelona and Porto winger, the Black Eagles’ directors decided to bet heavily on Portuguese talent in the latest transfer window. Thus arrived another wide-man in Simao Sabrosa from Atletico Madrid, Werder Bremen forward Hugo Almeida and Valencia playmaker Manuel Fernandes, the latter on loan, with the trio also receiving a similarly enthusiastic reception to the one afforded Quaresma a few months earlier.
“The welcome I got here was fantastic," Almeida told FIFA.com. "I’ve never experienced anything like it, with such a show of euphoria from so many fans, and it was fantastic. Now I’ve got to work really hard to give these supporters plenty to celebrate and repay all the faith they’ve shown in me.
“After four-and-a-half years in Germany, everything seems really strange when you come to a new country, with a new culture and a very different language. But, despite all that, everybody here has treated me wonderfully, doing their best to help and encourage me,” continued the powerfully built player, who hit nine goals in 13 Bundesliga appearances for Werder this season.
“I’ll give my all every chance I get. I want to do just as well for Besiktas as I did for Werder Bremen, helping the team by scoring goals and showing plenty of commitment,” added Almeida, whose new club are in fifth spot, a hefty 14 points behind Super Lig leaders Trabzonspor after just 17 rounds.
“It’ll be tough to claim top spot but it’s not impossible, and there are still a lot of matches left to play. That said, the most important thing is to finish in the Champions League qualifying places, at the very least.”
The 26-year-old forward also had a kind word for his former club. “I had four-and-a-half fantastic years at Werder and I’d love to send a big thank you to all their fans, who always stuck with me, supported me and believed in my ability. I was very happy in Germany and I’ll always have a lot of affection for Werder Bremen, thanks to the way I was treated there and everything I achieved.”
Yet the Portuguese expat contingent will have little time for nostalgia during a hectic second half of the campaign with Besiktas, given the pressure on the Black Eagles to improve their league position and continue to progress in the UEFA Europa League. Up against Ukraine’s Dinamo Kiev in the competition’s Round of 32, UEFA regulations mean that coach Bernd Schuster will only be able to use either Almeida or Fernandes of his new Portuguese trio, all whom have already appeared in European competition this season.