‘MY TURK­ISH DREAM TURNED SOUR AF­TER CHAM­PI­ONS BOW’

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Chris Dunlavy

DROPPED. Os­tracised. Bombed. Jem Kara­can holds few fond mem­o­ries of play­ing for Galatasaray.

One, though stands out: his de­but against Eskise­hir­spor at a seething, smoke-wreathed Ataturk, full of noise, colour and, as it tran­spired, mis­placed op­ti­mism.

“The team hadn’t been do­ing great,” re­calls the former Read­ing mid­fielder, who has just signed a short-term deal with Bolton af­ter 18 tu­mul­tuous months in Turkey.

“I came in, played 90 min­utes, did re­ally well. We won the game 4-0 and I thought ‘Right, this could be the start of some­thing’.

“The next game, I wasn’t even in the squad. I spoke to the man­ager – or at least tried to in my bro­ken Turk­ish and his bro­ken English. I said ‘What’s go­ing on?’

“He ba­si­cally ex­plained that they’d signed a young lad from Real Madrid for £1m. The board planned to sell him for £10m, so they’d told the man­ager he had to play games, no mat­ter what. I walked out think­ing ‘Come on – this isn’t right’.

Not much was right about Kara­can’s time on the Bospho­rus. Born in Lon­don to a Turk­ish fa­ther, he’d re­jected Galatasaray at 14, rea­son­ing he was too young to move abroad.

A sec­ond of­fer in July 2015 ap­peared to present a sil­ver lin­ing to two-and-ahalf years of in­jury hell. Af­ter eight years at Read­ing, Kara­can took the plunge. Yet, al­most im­me­di­ately, doubts crept in.

“The first week of pre­sea­son train­ing was in Aus­tria,” says the 28-year-old. “It was a re­ally weird bunch of lads. Mil­lion­aires, internationals. Play­ers who’d had un­be­liev­able ca­reers. A lot of egos.

“I was used to down-toearth lads at Read­ing, be­ing the joker in the pack. I just wasn’t my­self. A week in, I spoke to my fam­ily and said ‘What have I done?’” Vic­tory in the cur­tain-rais­ing Su­per Cup briefly as­suaged those con­cerns, but then came that de­flat­ing chat with man­ager Hamza Hamza­oğlu, who was sub­se­quently sacked.

“The new guy came in and was even worse. He said ‘Sorry, you’re not part of my plans be­cause you’re part of the old regime’. I was like ‘Wow, so that’s it?’ And it was.

“I played a few cup games, made my Cham­pi­ons League de­but against Atletico Madrid. Just lis­ten­ing to that song at the start of the game, I was crack­ing up. All I could think was ‘This wouldn’t have hap­pened at Read­ing’.

Des­per­ate

“To get Koke’s shirt – some­one I’ve al­ways ad­mired – and play against An­toine Griez­mann was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. But it all turned into a night­mare from there. “At the start of this sea­son I got cast aside, pres­sured to leave. “I said ‘Well, I’ve got two years left on my con­tract so I’m sure we can come to an ar­range­ment’. They said ‘No, we’re not giv­ing you any­thing, just go’. “My fi­ance, who was out there with me, said ‘No, you can’t let them take the p***’. And she was right. Even though I was des­per­ate to get out, I had to think of se­cur­ing my fu­ture as well. “I thought, ‘What’s the worst that can hap­pen?’ It turned out the worst was pretty bad. Just me and the fit­ness coach day af­ter day. No con­tact with any­one. “They tried their hard­est with the mind games. But, when you’ve been out in­jured for 16-17 months like I have, there’s not much can break you. That was a walk in the park.” Less eas­ily ig­nored were the ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Is­tan­bul was hit by five sep­a­rate bomb­ings dur­ing Kara­can’s stay, four claimed by ISIL and one by the Kur­dish Free­dom Hawks. The over­all death toll reached 128.

Also, last July Turk­ish forces launched an un­suc­cess­ful coup against pres­i­dent Re­cep Er­do­gan, lead­ing to 179 civil­ian deaths and a na­tional state of emer­gency.

“We lived right in the cen­tre of Is­tan­bul,” says Kara­can. “We had a lovely place on the ma­rina, woke up to the sun ev­ery morn­ing. That was amaz­ing. “But, a month in, a cou­ple of bombs went off quite close to us. When you hear things like that on the news, it isn’t real. When you’re there, it’s scary. We saw the frenzy the coun­try went into. “Another cou­ple went off. Then there was the failed coup. It

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

IN­FLU­EN­TIAL: Wal­sall mid­fielder Florent Cu­ve­lier ROYAL: Kara­can at Read­ing TALK­ING TURKEY: Jem Kara­can faced Atletico Madrid and An­toine Griez­mann dur­ing his time at Galatasaray Inset: Alarm as Er­do­gan sup­port­ers take over a mil­i­tary tank dur­ing the failed coup at­tempt

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