When Pierre Webo ended his eight-year spell in the Spanish top flight to join Istanbul BB, a modest Turkish Super Lig side, in 2011, it appeared to signal the start of a wind-down towards retirement. Few could have predicted that the move would instead breathe fresh life into the Cameroonian striker's career. Few, perhaps, except Webo himself.
"For me, it was like a new challenge," Webo told FIFA.com. "I wanted to change my life and leave Spain. It's true that the first [Turkish] club I joined had no big ambitions. But I knew it was somewhere I could regroup. That's what I've done and I'm now at Fenerbahce, and happy to be there."
Webo has, indeed, found a new lease of life in Turkey. The strong, Bafoussam-born striker has scored 28 goals there in less than two seasons – one fewer than he managed in four years with his previous club, Mallorca. And he seems to have rediscovered his youthful verve of the early 2000s, when he notably scored 15 times in 21 outings for Uruguayan giants Nacional.
Uruguay to Turkey, via Spain
"It was purely by chance that I started my career over there (in Uruguay)," said Webo, reflecting on his early days. "I had no idea where I was going. I was young and I just wanted to travel and play professionally, the same as all other African footballers. I had the chance to do a trial over there, and it proved successful. A few weeks later, I was playing in the Copa Libertadores. And a few weeks after that, I had won the Uruguayan championship. It all happened very quickly."
After winning three league titles in as many years in South America, Webo decided to try his luck in Spain, where he played for Leganes, Osasuna and Mallorca between 2003 and 2011. Injuries meant he struggled to match the prolific form he had shown in Uruguay, although he did regain the scoring touch with 11 goals in his final season in the Balearics. "My coach [at Mallorca], Michael Laudrup, simply reinstilled the confidence I had lost in the years before," he said.
"These days I don't feel particularly young. But I do feel strong," Webo added. "After so many years, you obviously become experienced. I think I can still keep going. And I feel good in Turkey. The people are friendly, and the football here is full of emotion. That makes the teams more attack-minded. In Spain, I played for clubs that tended to defend more than attack. Here, it's the complete opposite. I like that approach."
Fenerbahce coach Aykut Kocamanne also buys into that attacking philosophy, partnering Webo with Moussa Sow in an all-African strike duo. The pair have scored 14 goals between them since the start of their link-up, with Webo clearly holding his sidekick in high esteem. "I understand him very well; he's a great player and a great guy," he said of the Senegalese. "I've played with the likes of Savo Milosevic and Samuel Eto'o, and he [Sow] is from the same mould."
Webo follows Mamadou Niang, Henri Bienvenu Ntsama and Sow as the fourth African to play for Fenerbahce in recent years. And with Côte d'Ivoire star Didier Drogba now turning out for Galatasary, Fener's fierce rivals, the draw of the Turkish capital is proving strong. "It's no coincidence that Fenerbahce manage to attract so many African forwards," Webo said. "Fener is, quite simply, a great club, and great clubs need great forwards. That's what Mamadou Niang, Henri Bienvenu and Moussa Sow are. Pierre Webo, too!"
It has been a strong season for Webo and his club, with Fener currently second in the Super Lig and competing in the latter stages of both the Turkish Cup and the UEFA Europa League. Webo, for his part, wants the Yellow Canaries to go all out for the treble. "It's been so long since I last won a trophy. I want to lift all three," said the striker, who scored in his side's 2-0 first-leg victory over Lazio in the Europa League quarter-finals. "Our team is good enough to aim for success on all three fronts. We'll do everything we can, with the help of our fans, to make it happen."
Webo, it seems, is as ambitious now as he has ever been. And he has not given up hope of adding significantly to his 47 caps for Cameroon, despite having featured only sporadically for The Indomitable Lions since the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. "The door is still open, and I was called up back in November," he said. "The coach selects the players who are in the best form. If he doesn't choose me, it's because he thinks I'm not in good enough form."
"Whatever happens, I will continue to support the national team," Webo added. "But if they do call me up, I'll come running."