For a football player who has spent his entire life at his hometown club, moving to another team abroad is no easy task. Adapting to a foreign culture, not to mention a different style of football, can often be a painful process. That is why it is very important to find similar traits to your own country, and something close to your heart, in your new home.
Turkish midfielder Gokdeniz Karadeniz, who has earned 50 caps for his country, was lucky in this respect. Karadeniz played for Trabzonspor in his native Turkey until he was 28 years old and then opted to move abroad. As it transpired, Russian club Rubin Kazan was the perfect choice.
"I was at Trabzonspor for ten years," Karadeniz told FIFA.com, "and it wasn't easy to move to an unfamiliar country with a different climate. However, it helped that there are similarities with my culture here in Kazan. I'm Muslim and here they also practise Islam; there are many beautiful mosques. This is a completely unique city, unlike all the others in Russia."
On Saturday, the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 Official Draw is being held in Kazan, which truly does stand apart from other Russian cities. It is by far the most multi-cultural and cosmopolitan metropolis in the country. Islam and Christianity are both widespread, with mosques and Orthodox churches standing side by side.
"This city has a rich history," Karadeniz continued. "I love strolling around the historic landmarks and going inside the beautiful Qolsarif Mosque. Kazan has some wonderful Uzbek, Georgian and Azeri restaurants, where I love to spend time. When relaxing, I feel more at peace in quiet places, like the countryside on the outskirts of the city. For fans planning on coming to Russia, Kazan simply has to be on their itinerary. In eight years, this city has become my home."
*Rubin love affair
*It was not easy for Gokdeniz to find his feet in Kazan, but he has since become an adopted native of the city. The 36-year-old Turk was recently included on a list of the 50 most famous personalities living in Kazan. His charitable projects are well known among locals, but it his football ability for which he is admired above all. Gokdeniz's love affair with Rubin runs so deep that he has a tattoo of the club's name on his arm.
"Rubin signifies the most successful period of my career," he added. "I won trophies in Turkey, but only at Rubin did I understand what it feels like to become national champions. I also see how the fans are with me. I'm not only a player for this club, but also a life-long fan now. That's why I decided to get the tattoo, so Rubin is forever in my heart and on my body. I'll tell you a secret: I'm planning on getting tattoos of all the titles I have won at Rubin in my career."
The Tatars signed Karadeniz in 2008 when the club was on the cusp of a new era in their history. The Kazan-based team sensationally won the Russian Premier League in 2008 before successfully defending their title a year later in 2009. Suddenly, European football had come to the city and the climax of this period was a 2-1 victory against Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the 2009/10 UEFA Champions league, a game in which Gokdeniz grabbed the winning goal.
"Kazan is a very sporty city," Karadeniz said. "At the start, I felt people preferred the ice hockey club Ak Bars; it seemed they could attract bigger crowds. However, when the success arrived and we started to play in Europe, the situation changed. Now, I believe Rubin have more supporters. And they are really special."
Over the years, Kazan have managed to attract quite several talented footballers from around the world: Ecuadorian midfielder Christian Noboa, Argentine pair Cristian Ansaldi and Alejandro Dominguez, Italian defender Salvatore Bocchetti and Nigerian forward Obafemi Martins to name but a few.
"I can't pick anyone out," Gokdeniz said with a smile. "They're all top-class players and I don't want to offend anyone. I can only say that playing with them gives you a real buzz."
*Global football celebrations
*Two global footballing events are coming to Kazan in the near future: the city will host four games at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 and then six matches at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Karadeniz has first-hand experience of the Tournament of Champions, having featured at the 2003 Confederations Cup for Turkey, even scoring against France and Brazil.
"I've scored 140 goals in my career, which is a pretty decent amount if you consider I've not always had an attacking role on the pitch," he said. "If I were to draw up a list of my most important goals, those strikes at the Confederations Cup will definitely be in the top ten."
Karadeniz has vivid memories of the competition and cannot wait for Kazan to experience it. "It was a special tournament for me – my first in the national team," he recalled. "I was 23 years old and the atmosphere made a particular impression on me. It was practically like a World Cup.
"It's a real festival and it's fantastic that it will be taking place in Kazan," he concluded. "The city will be able to watch world-class football. It's also important for the organisers that the Confederations Cup helps with preparations for the World Cup. I don't doubt that Kazan will cope with everything."