A look into Johan Elmander and his recent exploits in the Turkish Super League... we could be hearing his name a lot more after the playoffs!
The Emperor, his royal highness Imparator Fatih Terim marked his third reign at the helm of Galatasaray by bringing in three warriors from far away, distant lands. Tomas Ujfalusi was brought in from the land of the Czechs to comand over the defense, heralding from Brazil, Felipe Melo was bestowed with ruling over the midfield and from Alingsås in Sweden Johan Elmander was given charge of the attack. Elmander, known to the Lions faithful as 'Golmander' has bravely led the front line and helped transform Galatasaray into the most proflic attacking force in all of Turkey. Elmander has led the Imparator's armies across the country, from Istanbul, to the Black Sea coast, from the Mediterranean to the southeast, nowhere has been left unconquered by the mighty Swede.
Johan Erik Calvin Elmander began his footballing career in the season of 1997-1998 at his hometown club, Holmalunds IF. Surprisingly enough he wasn't always used as a striker, in his early years Elmander also played as a central midfielder, playmaker and forward. It wasn't long before he was snapped up by one of the bigger names in Swedish football, in 1999 he was signed by Örgryte and a year later he was recruited by Dutch giants Feyenoord aged just 18. Under the current Dutch national team manager Bert van Marwijk Elmander continued being used in attacking midfield roles. The young prospect really started making a name for himself in 2002 when he came on as a substitute in Feyenoord’s 3-2 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Cup final.
Elmander was subsequently loaned out to Djugarden for the 2002-03 season enjoying a successful stint scoring 19 goals in 12 games for the Swedish club. He then went onto join NEC Breda on loan before really making his mark with Danish giants, Brøndby. Michael Laudrup signed Elmander for €500,000 in 2004 employing him as a free roaming forward/playmaker playing in behind the sole striker in a 4-3-3 set-up. Elmander's creativity shone through and he helped Brøndby win the double in 2004-05 and was voted Brøndby's Player of the Year. After two years, 22 goals and 58 games Elmander was on the move again, French club Toulouse splashed out €5 million for his services. The deal turned out to be worth every €uro as Elmander scored 11 goals in his first season and helped le Téfécé finish 3rd in the Ligue1 and qualify for the Champions League.
Elmander had now started attracting interest from all over Europe and in 2008 became Bolton Wanderers most expensive signing of all time when he was signed for €12.6 million on a 3 year contract. Elmander struggled for form in his first two seasons and even had a 9 month barren patch. However, under Owen Coyle whom he fostered a great relationship with he regained his confidence which helped spur him on to rediscover his goal scoring prowess.
"He [Owen Coyle] helped me regain my passion for football. He believed in me, trusted me and helped me regain my self-confidence. He put great faith in me"
Johan Elmander, Galatasaray Dergisi, November 2011, Edition: 106
Elmander went onto score 10 goals and provided his team with 6 assists in 2010-11. Infact his goal against Wolves in November, 2010 was voted the greatest Premier League goal ever in a poll by The Guardian.
Elmander surprised many with his next move; in the summer of 2011 he joined Istanbul giants Galatasaray. While known as 'giants', minnows would have been a more fitting term in summing up their past few years, to make matters worse this was their worst season in club history... The Lions were in disarray and took radical action to try and chance the fortunes of the club. Last summer, Unal Aysal was elected chairman, he reinstated legendary manager Fatih Terim, Brazilian World Cup hero Claudio Taffarel and club legends Hasan Şaş, Ümit Davala & Tugay Kerimoğlu were brought in as coaches. The Lions followed this up by investing heavily in building a team which they hoped would bring back the glory years.
Elmander took a gamble in moving to Galatasaray, a gamble which has resulted in all involved hitting the jackpot. Galatasaray have gone from scoring 41 goals last season to already having found the back of the net 65 times this campaign. Looking at Elmander's scoring record he can hardly be described as being prolific and has rarely scored over 10 goals per season. You’re probably wandering, so what's so special about him? Well he's a dual footed powerful striker, with good close control, a sweet first touch and impressive aerial ability. However, what makes the Swedish striker special is his incredible work rate; there are few players who so consistently give 100% in each and every game. Wherever he has played his managers have always praised his work ethic,
"When he has worn that shirt he has given me everything he has got in a number of positions and worked his socks off for the team. He is someone I have a very good relationship with."
Ex-Bolton manager Gary Megson summarized what Elmander does to a T:
"Centre forwards get judged on goals, and I would like him to get more goals, which is an obvious statement to make, But whereas everybody just looks at the goals that a centre forward gets, I think the people who do the coaching, the management and the people who help with the running of the football club also recognise some of the other qualities that he brings in. We know that Johan is the hardest working centre forward in the Premier League in terms of the running and sprinting that he puts in."
Fitness wise, Elmander is in better shape than most of his fellow Turkish Super League players, he regularly covers a distance of 11km per game. To put this in contrast, covering an average distance 10km per game is considered as putting in a 'tough shift' in this league. Elmander's hard work gives the opposition less time on the ball, gives the Galatasaray midfielders an easier time to pick out through balls as he's always running into free space and he often drops back to help out in the midfield. Elmander has given his markers all sorts of problems when dropping deep, he drags his marker out of position breaking the defensive line, giving his teammates space to get in behind. Despite being Galatasaray's top scorer with 12 goals this season, goalscoring is not his only role, he is much more versatile than the average central striker and is often involved in providing goals; in fact he has 7 assists to his name already.
Fatih Terim and Elmander are a match made in heaven, Terim renowned for installing passion, self-belief and a never say die attitude in his teams has found a player who fits right into his footballing philosophy. One only has to think back to Turkey's Euro 2008 campaign; they turned around a one goal deficit against Switzerland followed by an unbelievable comeback against the Czech Republic. The Czech's were leading 2-0 and were just 15 minutes away from qualification... however, after conceding two goals in quick succession they were dealt a knock-out blow when Nihat Kahveci scored in the last seconds taking Turkey through into the last 16. As if that wasn't enough, in the following game against Croatia, Turkey conceded a goal in the last minute of extra time... it looked all over... however, in a dramatic twist of fate a minute later the Turks equalized and went on to win the tie on penalties. With more drama then a Broadway show and storyline which could easily put the most outlandish Hollywood film to shame the Turkish national team won a reputation as the 'comeback Kings'.
Elmander's approach to the beautiful game is just what Terim expects in his players and already Galatasaray are proving to be one of the most dogged teams in the league. The Lions have battled their way back from the jaws of defeat a few times this season and showed tremendous character in their most recent derby against rivals Fenerbahçe. Galatasaray found themselves down by two goals within the opening 15 minutes. The Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium is an intimidating enough place at the best of times but when the Yellow Canaries scored their second goal the atmosphere reached fever pitch. You could have forgiven any team for imploding and simply rolling over considering the circumstances, however, not Terim's team. Elmander led the comeback and got the Lions back into the game with a 36th minute goal. He worked his socks off throughout the game and helped his team go on to dominate the game from the 30th minute onwards. Galatasaray equalized late on and only the cross bar denied them their first away win against Fener in the last 12 years.
Elmander has been no stranger to scoring in important games this season clinching key goals in 5 out of the 6 derbies. The passion, drive and determination the powerful Swedish striker brings with him to every game are qualities Terim and the fans absolutely love. Affectionately given the nickname 'Golmander' for his goal scoring prowess he has settled in at Galatasaray remarkably well in such a short time. Elmander has also gone onto become a true Istanbulite off the field, enjoying his spare time on the shores of the Bosphorus, frequenting the local eateries and enjoying the cuisine... Elmander effendi can often be found around town exploring the city. In a recent interview with 'NTV spor' he was quoted as saying, "It’s a great city, I feel at home here, there is so much to do, my family is enjoying life here we feel like were living in a kind of paradise".
The hitman of the Golden Horn has made himself at home on and off the field; he's been partnered with a manager who fully appreciates his role and what he brings to the table. The 30 year old 'Golmander' is in fantastic physical form; he never misses a training session and really looks after himself well. Elmander has found a home from home with the Lions and we feel this is only the beginning, the start of something special; Golmander has the potential to go on and become one of the Galatasaray greats.