5 pensioners lighting up the Turkish Super Lig
You thought MLS was a retirement league? Turkey is becoming a wholly attractive destination for ageing tourist footballers. Thirsty after European football yet unable to cope with its rigorous demands, they turn to the Super Lig for solace when China's get-rich-quick retirement plan isn't an option.
Arda Turan is the latest inductee to the community. After seven mixed years in mainstream Europe, the 31-year-old went home to enjoy the same benefits so many international stars enjoy in his homeland, with the added advantage of knowing all the best restaurants. At new club Istanbul Basaksehir, he met familiar foes turned friends. Gael Clichy. Emmanuel Adebayor. Eljero Elia. Gokhan Inler. It was a unique homecoming.
While Turan's much-celebrated return isn't proceeding quite as intended, a few of his peers are topping the charts. Here are five fading stars leaving a fiery trail as they fall to earth.
Bafetimbi Gomis: 32
Galatasaray is demonstrating an unusual panache in the final third this term. Although Gala trail leaders Basaksehir by two points, the Yellow-Reds are goal kings with 43, averaging a little under three per game. Most of that burden has been shouldered by Bafetimbi Gomis. In just 19 starts, the 32-year-old has potted 15, and laced another four. Only Trabzonspor's Burak Yilmaz has fared better in the division. More remarkably, though, he only linked up with the club last summer. Carlos Carvalhal arrived in Swansea a little too late for the Frenchman.
Emmanuel Adebayor: 33
Ade lives! At one point there, no club on the planet fancied associating with Adebayor. Not even the lowest teams. Crystal Palace summoned some courage. Ultimately, they cut their losses. Talented, with power and precision few strikers can match, indiscipline was the Togolese's sole bane. Basaksehir took a leap of faith, bringing him to Turkey last winter. Jackpot. Adebayor's seven goals fired them to runner-up places in both cup and league. He hasn't stepped a foot wrong this term, complementing Gomis' 15 with 10 of his own.
Vagner Love: 33
An account of Love's extraordinary career will surely not go down well without CSKA Moscow. There he gained demigod status for doing his job perfectly; 244 games produced 120 strikes. He's carried his boots to five clubs since leaving the Russian capital in 2013. The goals didn't dry up but he never found a home, even in his native Brazil. When his age began to show in Monaco in 2016, the striker joined Alayanspor. He finished top scorer last season with 23. His 10 strikes this campaign paved a switch to Besiktas in January.
Arouna Kone: 34
Hodophobia is not in the Ivorian's lexicon. He is the prototypical journeyman, practicing his craft with nine European club sides in five different countries. Sivasspor is his latest harbour. Being a nomad, Kone adapts well to climate, culture, and language. Such skill was needed in leaving cold, wet Merseyside for hot, arid Sivas. But the 34-year-old is enjoying his football again, scoring and creating at will. After 20 games, he's notched nine and assisted on three.
Ryan Babel: 31
Liverpool thought they had mined the next precious Dutch jewel when they signed Ryan Babel in 2007. Four years in Merseyside proved otherwise. Even now, with doubts surrounding £75 million Virgil van Dijk, there remains only one Dirk Kuyt at Anfield. But that's a story for someone else to write. The point here is the winger's underwhelming displays were not good enough for the Reds.
Spells at Hoffenheim, Ajax, Kasimpasa, and Al Ain followed. Even in those underwhelming environments he still couldn't match his youthful hype. However, he seems to be recovering for lost time in Istanbul. The tricks, pace, skills, and predatory instincts have returned. So far, so good. He's netted seven league goals.
Ironically, Istanbul is the stomping ground where Liverpool won its last European honour in 2005. Don't hate the player. Hate the football gods.