Lorik Cana has pleaded with Sunderland fans to understand his decision to leave the club for UEFA Champions League football.

The 26-year-old yesterday completed a move to Turkish side Galatasaray, worth in excess of six million euros, just a year after arriving on Wearside in a £5million switch from Marseille. He admitted the decision to leave had been a difficult one, but said it was an opportunity he could not afford to pass up.

Albania international Cana said: "I have been offered the opportunity to play in European competition and the Champions League, and especially to be closer to my family. This was not an easy decision for me though and I hope people understand.

"I thank everyone at Sunderland - the coaching staff, medical team, office staff, my team-mates and of course the fans. I wish the club to achieve everything it deserves and to continue moving higher and higher."

Cana swiftly established himself as a crowd favourite at the Stadium of Light with his no-nonsense style of play, although he did not necessarily endear himself to referees.

In his 35 appearances for the club, he picked up 10 yellow cards and one red, and manager Steve Bruce admitted he would have to adopt a more circumspect approach if he was to avoid repeated disciplinary bans. His move to Turkey will have come as a surprise to fans, and Cana paid tribute to them for their support during his time on Wearside.

He said: "Since the first day I arrived, I have had an amazing story with Sunderland. I knew I would find the kind of club and support I needed to play my game. The people here love their club, they have passion and a proper identity. I gave my all for the club and it will always be in my memory."

Manager Steve Bruce will have been happy to recoup his investment in a player he realised wanted to go as soon as he returned from his summer break. He said: "Lorik's style of play and attitude made him a natural choice as captain last season, but when he came back for pre-season training, it was apparent that he had a desire to return to Europe.

"Turkey is nearer to Albania, where his family and roots are, and it is much easier for him to see them on a more regular basis - I think this was a major factor for him. We thank Lorik for his time here and wish him the best of luck for the future."