The Turkish Super Lig is renowned for its passion - both in the commitment shown by the players and for the fervour exhibited by the fans. It was into this simmering Turkish cauldron that freescoring front man Moussa Sow decided to immerse himself in January, and since his arrival at Fenerbahce from Lille, it has seemed at times that the Senegal international can do no wrong.
“That’s maybe going a bit far,” said the player in question to FIFA.com, despite boasting a remarkable recent record of seven goals in 11 matches. “But I must admit that since I got here, everything’s gone really well. I just hope that it continues to do so. I should point out that I’ve been welcomed particularly warmly, which has been a great help.”
The friendly reception was there for all to see at Istanbul airport, the day Sow landed on Turkish soil to put pen to paper on a four-and-a-half year deal. The native of Mantes-La-Jolie, near Paris, was met by fans bearing bunches of flowers and messages of goodwill, convincing him that his decision to put long-held ambitions of playing in the English Premier League on hold had been the correct one.
“England’s just not an issue any more. I’m a Fenerbahce player now, and delighted to be one,” he explained in a relaxed manner.
A product of Rennes’ youth system, the forward turned out for the Breton club until his move to Lille in 2010. He still refers to his former clubs in glowing terms, in spite of the troubled departures he endured.
Frederic Antonetti, Sow’s coach at Rennes, was reluctant to let him leave for northern France. “I did everything I could to hold on to him, but contract problems meant that it just didn’t work out in the end,” he said. "It doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s been an instant success. He’s a great player,” he added.
Asked to play on the right wing for the majority of his time in Brittany, Sow developed slowly but surely from a promising young player, who prior to making himself available for Senegal, played a key role in France’s UEFA European U-19 Championship triumph in 2005, into a first-team regular.
He ended the 2008/09 season as Rennes’ leading scorer with nine goals, but the contract extension offered by the club did not live up to his expectations. Nevertheless, he remains positive about the entire experience. "I’ve got nothing but great memories of my time in Rennes. It’s where I learned my football. The club will always have a place in my heart because it’s where I began my professional career,” he said.
It was a similar story for Sow at Lille. Moved into the centre of the attack, and ably supported by Eden Hazard and Gervinho, he found the net 25 times in his first season, a total that saw him finish top goalscorer in Ligue 1. But after a protracted transfer saga, the striker was eventually sold to Fenerbahce in January of this year.
“I spent two great years in northern France. The 2010/11 season was just perfect because we won the league and cup double that year. We had a tremendous squad, with players of real quality who have continued to perform well. Overall, it was a successful stay,” he recalled magnanimously.
Moreover, it did not take him long to realise that joining the Sari Kanaryalar (Yellow Canaries) was in no way a step backwards. A generally easy-going character, he was initially taken aback by the impressive atmosphere generated within Turkish stadiums.
“I wasn’t aware of how intense it is – nobody had ever told me anything about it. But during my very first match against Besiktas, the passion and noise from the crowd was the first thing that hit me. The supporters are truly fantastic. They create the most amazing atmosphere, one that’s incomparable to anything I’ve experienced previously,” explained the African marksman.
Sowing up the title
And Sow has proceeded to thank the fans for that support in style, not just by scoring at will, but by hitting the net in memorable fashion too. A superbly acrobatic volley in an exciting 2-2 draw with great rivals Galatasaray only served to increase his popularity.
“I’d scored some similar goals for Lille, but that particular one wasn’t bad at all,” he said with an affable grin. To cement his local hero status, he has also begun to learn the language: “I know the basics: ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘goodbye’; everything you need to be polite!”
Having already had a nickname – Aslan (‘lion’ in Turkish) – bestowed upon him by fans, Sow has swiftly become a firm favourite with the Sukru Saracoglu faithful, just like another Senegalese international did before him. Attacker Mamadou Niang, who scored 15 goals in yellow and blue last season, left Istanbul in September 2011.
“That was Mamadou, but it’s Moussa who’s here now. We have very different styles of play,” he pointed out, adding, “There’s no denying he had a great year here, and that I was very keen to do as well as he did.”
In addition to his goals, what better way for Sow to achieve legendary status than to help his club win the league title? The destination of the Turkish championship will soon be decided via an inaugural play-off system, and Fenerbahce, second in the regular season, are well-placed to claim the crown, especially as they face rivals and leaders Galatasaray on Sunday.
“Spirits are high in our camp; we know what we need to do. We’re five points behind Galatasaray, and if we win all of our remaining matches, we’ll be champions,” concluded Sow with a smile.