The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Arda Turan: From Barca to (Almost) Jail

The story of Arda Turan represents the embodiment of both triumph and tragedy. He realized the wildest dream for a Turkish player — playing for Barca. In a dramatic turn of events, he fell from grace! So fast and so spectacular.

Abdullah Ayasun
Sep 12, 2019 · 6 min read
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For anyone with a decent understanding and love for football, Barcelona represents the embodiment of a philosophy imbued with the most affectionate and positive sides of this beautiful game. Barcelona’s very own brand is indeed associated with art, an aesthetic form of football that turned the Catalan club into a powerful icon of global soccer, generating devoted fans from China to Argentina, from Russia to the Gulf countries where the passionate enthusiasm for the next World Cup (in Qatar) is already remaking the region’s soccer landscape.

And playing for Barcelona, for any football player around the world, represents the wildest dream, something that occurs only to a tiny group of players blessed by as much talent as Fortuna (or destiny.) Arda Turan, a Turkish national soccer star, was one of those lucky players who wore that blessed jersey alongside Messi, Neymar and Suarez, the trio that once formed the most devastating attacking force in the global history of football. And he was the only Turkish player to do that. He still is.

His rise, before his dramatic fall, to the ranks of Barca’s star-studded squad still inspires young generations of Turkey’s ever-evolving soccer league. That story, however, comes to a macabre end in a way that baffles even the most casual observers. Arda’s fall from grace is as spectacular as his short-lived rise.

Arda, after he went to Barcelona from Atletico Madrid as a coveted midfielder four years ago, first failed to make an impact at Nou Camp. He later agonized to secure his spot on the most competitive squad on earth in football. Except for brief moments of shinings and occasional outbursts of creative display, Arda was a shadow of his former self in Louis Enrique’s second and third year at the helm of Barca as the Catalans failed to repeat their treble in 2015 in the next following two years.

Arda’s ordeal began even before his actual playing for Barca. He was unable to make his debut until January 2016 due to a transfer ban imposed by FIFA on the Catalans. The six-month absence or 10-month break when considering the summer recess as well proved costly for the Turkish star whose form was dependent on a regular presence on the pitch, not on stands along with the fans as a mere spectator.

The awkward deal, in a sense, could be cited as the primary reason for setting the course of his gradual decline even before a meaningful start. But Arda did not give up easily. After an unpromising half-season (where Barca fans voted him as one of the worst players of the team) marked by meager performance and dismal showing, Arda fought hard to recover his chances in 2016 summer. Amid media rumors of an early exit from the Nou Camp, he returned to the training ground earlier than anyone else. After meticulous work, he recaptured his fitness, fulfilling his pre-summer pledge to Luis Enrique. This salvaged the day. Previously, the media was more focused on his fat belly than his never-realized delivery for the team. His newfound enthusiasm and discipline allowed the coach to play Arda in the first weeks of the season where the Turkish player showed his true talent, displacing the charges of impotence and the early talk of another disappointment for Barca after a big purchase. (Barca paid Atletico $41 million for Arda, a handsome amount that made him the fourth expensive transfer in the club’s history.) Arda’s brilliance even briefly threatened the place of Neymar who was rested amid palpable signs of fatigue after Copa America tournament with his Brazilian national team.

But his debacle in El Classico with Real Madrid in December 2016 when his reckless and unnecessary foul won the visiting opponents a goal for a draw led the Barca coach to have second thoughts. Luis Enrique, in a veiled criticism after the game, blamed the Turkish player for the draw after his thoughtless foul triggered a goal-inducing freekick for the opponents.

The performance, and the morale, of Turkey’s national star has since irrevocably slumped. The rest of the season was equally dismal as the previous year.

But the worst was to follow. He did not play a single game for the first half of the 2017–2018 season. The 2018 winter break provided an opportunity for the Barca board to ponder offers from other clubs interested in the service of a decaying and struggling Arda. But, for all the buzz of the transfer market where newspapers imagined Arda landing in Arsenal or other mighty Western clubs, the Turkish star ended up in the least expected place — Basaksehir, an Istanbul club which was striving to dislocate the city’s other giants in the title race. Arda was sent to Basaksehir on a loan in January 2018 and he never returned back. The Istanbul club has become his perennial address since then.

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Arda’s was a story of both triumph and tragedy. His was a dream came true and later undone. If his transfer from Barca to Basaksehir represents a demotion or some form of relegation in his career, a recent suspended jail sentence attests to the most naked embodiment of his spectacular fall from grace. This week, he was handed a 32-moth suspended prison sentence by an Istanbul court for opening gunfire at a hospital. He engaged in a brawl with a singer at an Istanbul bar after allegedly harassing his wife. A year-long trial concluded with a nightmare for him, although the jail term is postponed conditionally. (According to the Turkish Penal Code, a jail sentence less than five years would be delayed until the defendant is committed another crime.)

Arda’s celebrity status and his quarrelsome relations with media always remained a stain on his standing and performance. In Atletico Madrid, he was able to balance his flashy life with his performance on the pitch under the disciplinary regime of the coach Diego Simeone. But he never found that balance again.

While Barcelona marked the peak of his career, it also signified the end-point, the final chapter in his football. Since his Barca days, the decline and fall has become the only story we read about Arda. Not his on-pitch displays of ever-fraying and now disappearing creativity, but his endless off-pitch adventures, his bar fights, his (sometimes extra-marital) flirtations with models and celebrities, his beating of a journalist on a plane after a national match, and other countless self-debasing acts. He grabbed headlines of tabloids more for this kind of stories than his skills and long-gone pitch performances.

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Arda celebrates a goal with his teammates, the notorious MSN — Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

Talent tinged with professionalism is the prerequisite and condition for enduring success. Arda’s lack of professionalism, the mishandling of his Barca days and his perennial attitude problems cut short his Barca dream. It also inexorably doomed his later football years.

For young aspirant Turkish players, Arda, judging by how his career unfolded and evolved, would not be an ideal role model. His career serves more as a cautionary tale than an inspiring story. It is even dreadful. Imagine. You play along with MSN (Messi, Suarez and Neymar; perhaps the best trio in football history), but you end up in a controversial Istanbul club, which is universally hated by football fans across Turkey amid charges of political favoritism, and then almost in jail.

Arda’s past pictures with MSN on the pitch, in this context, will be seen as no more than beautiful but passing memories. They would no longer invoke admiration, but bewilderment, bafflement and a sense of pity at the author of this tragic story — Arda himself. And those pictures will not be the proof of his greatness, but a living testament to the scale of his fall from grace. What a fall it was.

Abdullah Ayasun

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Abdullah Ayasun

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

Dialogue & Discourse

News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

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