Burak Yilmaz has been one of the revelations of the season so far. Having netted six goals in the UEFA Champions League this term, he sits just one behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the tournament’s top scorers' chart. Galatasaray’s passionate fans have pinned their hopes on the striker and dream of reaching the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier club competition. FIFA.com chatted exclusively with the 27-year-old ahead of the hotly-anticipated last-16 meeting with Schalke.
“We’re going into the game fully focused," he said. "They’re a strong opponent but we have enough quality to get through and reach the last eight.” Yilmaz is currently in a rich vein of form. Even strikers such as Lionel Messi (five) and Robin van Persie (three) have failed to match his goalscoring feats so far. With the competition entering its knockout phase, the 27-time Turkish international is determined to prove his ability once more.
Galatasaray have won their last three group games in the tournament, including a 1-0 home victory over Manchester United in which Yilmaz scored the decisive goal. For the forward, that triumph was final proof that his side belong among the continent’s elite. “I think we’ve done fantastic work. Luck wasn’t on our side in the first three matches, but we always believed in ourselves and were rewarded for it.”
Yilmaz is well aware he is following in the footsteps of legendary attacking compatriots such as Hakan Sukur, Tuncay Sanli, Nihat Kahveci and Lefter Kucukandonyadis. “Of course it’s a huge honour to be mentioned in the same breath as players like Hakan Sukur and it’s true that I’m having a great season. I’ve never had the kind of self-confidence I have at Galatasaray now,” Yilmaz said.
“It’s very important for me to feel at home at my club and that helps me perform well. Galatasaray is my home, I’m very happy and content at the moment. At the end of the day I’m just trying to give my best in every game,” said the imposing forward, who also heads the scoring chart in the domestic Super Lig alongside strike partner Umut Bulut.
Joined by new team-mates Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, Yilmaz helped his side to a 2-1 victory over Akhisar Belediye last Friday. The win cemented their place at the league summit and helped the 2000 UEFA Cup winners remain on course for a 19th Turkish championship.
In spite of his eye-catching displays, Yilmaz is keeping his feet firmly on the ground and has a simple explanation for his remarkable goalscoring tally. “It’s a combination of having a nose for goal and hard work. I live like a professional and take good care of my body and soul away from the pitch. On top of that, I train very hard and am never satisfied with myself, as I always think I can get better.”
Schalke are his next potential victims. Despite the German club’s poor run of four league games without victory, which has plunged them down to ninth in the Bundesliga, Yilmaz and Co are anticipating a fierce contest on Wednesday evening at the Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul. They are aiming to reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2000/01, incidentally the same season a certain striker named Sukur led the line.
Matching that achievement would help Yilmaz to move out of the long shadow cast by one of his country’s greatest footballing heroes. However, in one respect he already has a place in the record books as the only player after Sergen Yalcin to have appeared for the four traditional Turkish powerhouses: Galatasaray, Besiktas, Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor.
“It’s a privilege to have played for the four biggest sides in Turkey," he continued. "All of them have a great history and extraordinary fans.”
If the striker scores against Schalke, a permanent place in the hearts of the Galatasaray faithful is all but guaranteed.