Galatasaray have kept their feet on the ground in their run to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, one in which they have recovered from an unpromising start to set up a last-eight meeting with Real Madrid.
Never before have the Turkish side gone so far in the competition, and as far as their Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo is concerned, their humble approach was crucial to the recovery they made in the group phase. Without a victory in their three opening games, Gala beat Romania’s Cluj on Matchday 4 to kick-start their campaign, and have since grown in belief, so much so that Melo feels they have what it takes to topple the Spanish giants.
Talking to FIFA.com ahead of Wednesday’s first leg against the nine-time European champions at the Bernabeu, Melo reflected on Galatasaray’s unlikely revival and their hopes of going even further in the competition.
FIFA.com: Real Madrid are in fine form at the moment, having knocked out Manchester United and beaten Barcelona twice. Is this a case of mission impossible for you?
Felipe Melo: Not at all. We’ve beaten Manchester [United] too and we went on to knock out Schalke convincingly. People are always going to make Real the favourites because they’ve got the best players in the world. I’m not scared, though. If we go out there feeling scared, we’ll end up letting in five, make no mistake. We’re treating them just like we would any other team, and we’re staying grounded, respectful and cautious. You also have to remember that the Champions League is unpredictable. Last year Chelsea beat Barcelona with 11 men behind the ball and then overcame Bayern Munich with a weaker team. Anything is possible. You just have to believe.
It’s your job as a holding midfielder to stop their much-vaunted attack. How do you plan to do that?
I’ve got a good career record in that respect. I’ve played in the World Cup, the Confederations Cup and in Spain and Italy and I’ve always had to mark great players. What we need to do is not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll have to chase the ball like a little team would because they’re at home and they’ll want to put pressure on us and keep possession, which means we have to know what to do whenever we get it. That’s the only way to make it hard for them to attack and for us to suffer less. If we play it any other way, we’ll be bombarded. We need to be humble and to run and fight. That’s what got us here and that’s what’s going to take us through.
The tie will pit together the competition’s joint-top scorers in Cristiano Ronaldo and Burak Yilmaz. Who has the upper hand there do you think?
I think you can say that their duel is pretty much the same as the duel between Real and Galatasaray. Burak has been scoring goals for a few years now and I was one of the people who said he should come. I was happy he did too. He’s grown in the same way the team has. He’s physically strong, he knows where the goal is and he’s having a great year. We’re up against the best team in the world now, though, and he’ll have to give his all, stay grounded and know when to attack and when to defend. If he doesn’t, then Cristiano’s going to have even more space to attack in.
Galatasaray have broken new ground in the Champions League this season, and all after picking up just one point in their first three games. What brought about the turnaround?
The Champions League is a very tough competition, especially when you haven’t played in it for a while. It’s almost impossible to expect a team to come back into it and start winning straightaway. Our opening game against Manchester [United] was pretty even. We hit the woodwork a couple of times but we lost, and it took us a few games to find our identity because we had some new players who were still settling in, like Burak, Hamit [Altintop] and [Umut] Bulut. As soon as they found their feet, the team kicked on and acquired the experience and the coolness you need for the Champions League. That’s what made the difference in the second half against Braga (a 2-1 away win for Galatasaray in their final group game), for example. We went out focused, kept our feet on the ground and ran even harder, and we managed to turn the game around and qualify.
The arrival of Didier Drogba, who won the title last year with Chelsea, and Wesley Sneijder must have been a big help at such an important stage of the season.
Their arrival helped a lot. They’re big names who have achieved so much, but there’s nothing big-headed about them. They’re prepared to dig in like anyone else, and that’s been essential. They had a big hand in us reaching the quarters and they’ve been crucial in the Turkish championship. Drogba is a role model. He won the Champions League for Chelsea, attracted big crowds wherever he went in China and he’s got a lot of charisma in the dressing room. Obviously he’s still adjusting to life in a new country with a different culture and customs, and that’s not easy. He’s already given a lot to the club, though, and I know he can give even more. He’s going to bring us trophies, and we’re full of hope.
You came up against Sneijder in the quarter-finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, when he scored twice to knock Brazil out. Have you spoken about that game at all or shared a joke about it?
No. We have a good relationship and we don’t joke about that. Obviously, I was happy when he arrived because I knew him from his time at Real Madrid, when I was in Spain. It was the Netherlands we lost to in 2010, not Sneijder. We lost to a team, and if he hadn’t scored, then someone else would have. It was just one of those things. I was happy because he’s a player who can make all the difference, and you’re always happy to have someone like that beside you.
Despite their arrival you’ve managed to hang on to the No10 shirt. Is it yours for keeps now?
That’s right. The No10’s been mine since I came to Galatasaray and people here call me ‘Pitbull 10’. No one messes around with me. No way! (laughs). Seriously, though, the No10 jersey has nothing to do with my job in the pitch. I run a lot and work hard for the team. I’m happy to do that too because at the end of the day it’s the ones up front who score the goals and make sure I get paid (laughs).