It was the pinnacle of his career.
Arda Turan strolled out of the Camp Nou tunnel, bearded and grinning.
Bulbs by the hundreds flashed from professional cameras all the way down to your amateurs using smart phones. 3,000 fans had come to watch him be presented as a Barcelona player, days after completing a €40m move from league rivals Atletico Madrid, to join up with the reigning Spanish champions. After kicking some balls into the crowd of hysterical fans desperate for their own taste of Turanisimo, Arda stepped up to the microphone to elaborate on what went into his decision.
“Luis Enrique called, which I was really happy about. He told me we can work together, which I like, he wanted me here in the team," Arda said. "He's special, too, he won three titles last season and I am looking forward to working with him. I am going to try and live up to his expectations; I won't let him down.”
Despite some calls from the press for Spanish, or even English, Arda spoke exclusively in Turkish. He didn’t want his words to be muddled or misconstrued. He meant business, so much so, that he left the Calderón knowing he would have to sit out the first half of the season due to Barca’s transfer ban.
Nearly a year later, it had all gone to hell.
A player who became renowned under Diego Simeone for his hard work and take-no-prisoners attitude, appeared overweight and low on confidence. The layoff effected his conditioning, and most importantly, his rhythm. He was shuffled in-and-out of the lineup more than a card deck, going on to make 25 appearances across all competitions, scoring 2, and assisting 4. The numbers were his lowest since an injury-plagued 2010-11 season with Galatasaray. From there, things only went from bad to worse. He was criticised by national team coach Fatih Terim and Turkey supporters for his terrible form at the European Championship in France. It got so bad, that his own supporters even went as far as booing their captain off the pitch after their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Spain. All the while this was happening, he was constantly being linked with a move away from Barca. Juventus, Chelsea, Galatasaray and even China were all tipped as potential destinations. The club also showed signs it was ready to move on, continuing to strengthen the very part of the field he occupies, signing Denis Suarez and Andre Gomes, respectively.
Through it all, Arda did not want to take the easy way out, making it clear to his agent, Ahmet Bulut, that his decision was to stay at the Camp Nou. The arrival of Arda had been a personal request of Luis Enrique, so he too was willing to continue having faith in the player, albeit with some conditions.
Called back to Catalunya with a week’s less holiday than expected, the club presented the midfielder with some strict guidelines on the control of his weight, while also asking that he decrease the number of visits to his native Turkey for advertising events. It's a message that looked to carry some weight (no-pun intended) as Arda was selected to be Neymar’s primary replacement while the Brazilian is busy guiding his country in the Olympics. Almost immediately, Arda began to show signs of life. If his goal against Celtic in the International Champions Cup was the appetizer, then his performance in the Super Copa against Sevilla was the surf n turf entree.
Super Cups are often decried as glorified friendlies but don’t tell that to the fringe players trying to carve out roles with their current club or elsewhere. Arda knew this was his chance to at least be in the conversation, and in the end, he was all anyone wanted to talk about.
After Iniesta hobbled off to a knee injury in the 1st leg, Barca desperately needed a new “brain” to connect with Messi, and more so Suarez, to supply the killer ball — even if unconventionally. Denis supplied the service that found Arda streaking into the box, and without even a thought, he cleverly guided the ball with his chest into the path of an onrushing Suarez, who slotted it home with ease. His teammates immediately rushed to his side, smiles and all, basking in the moment for a man who had not had many happy ones of late.
In the second leg, Arda produced even more magic. Just nine minutes in, he streaked in on the left side behind Messi who deftly picked him out, before the Turk calmly struck the left-footed shot past goalkeeper Sergio Rico. His second came in the 46th-minute when he launched an audacious curling shot from 30 yards to stun Rico before landing in the top corner. In just a little over a half of football, he had equaled a goal tally that took him 5 months to achieve last term.
It was a man-of-the-match performance of the likes we haven’t seen since his Atleti days. Now, whether he can keep this up or will even be afforded the opportunity is a different story. The presence of the MSN forced Arda into the midfield last season. However, with Neymar out, Arda has been able to play in a more attacking role, similar to at Atletico when he was at his best. With Neymar’s inevitable return and Iniesta’s knee strengthening by the day, it remains to be seen what the future holds for Mr. Turan. What we do know? The smile is finally back accompanying the beard and with more chances to impress before August is out, Arda can be Arda again.