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Umit shines on the spot
11.9 || webmaster

"Every Turkish footballer's dream is to play in Europe. And with a team like Milan. But believe me, there is great sadness inside me. Leaving the Galatasaray I love makes me very unhappy. My heart and soul will always be with you and with the team."

Those are the words of Umit Davala in a parting message to Galatasaray fans on his personal website, headed: 'This is not goodbye'.

On Tuesday, Umit makes his last appearance in a red-and-yellow shirt against Lazio in the Champions' League before moving to their Serie A rivals AC Milan. There he will link up once more with his former mentor Fatih Terim.

So who is Umit Davala and why has Terim persuaded Milan to fork out 3 million for him when they could have him for free when his contract expires at the end of the season?

It is fitting that the last act of his career with Galatasaray should be in the Champions' League. The moment every Lions fan is likely to mention when Umit's name comes up took place in the first round group phase of the competition in 1999-00 and the Rossoneri have good cause to remember it with a shudder.

They were Galatasaray's opponents at the Ali Sami Yen stadium when a penalty was awarded in injury time with the sides locked at 2-2.

If that remained the final score, Galatasaray would have been eliminated from Europe. However regular penalty specialist Gheorghe Hagi had already been substituted and his deputy Hakan Sukur (now with Internazionale) backed out, pleading exhaustion.

In their place, up stepped Umit. With delirium on the terraces and players on the bench unable to watch, his was the coolest head in the ground as he smashed the spot-kick into the roof of the net.

The rest is history. Milan were left spinning in freefall out of Europe while Galatasaray went on to take the Uefa Cup on penalties against Arsenal, a shootout in which, ironically, Umit missed.

Terim's successor at Galatasaray, Mircea Lucescu, has said little about Umit's impending departure but he is a player no manager would want to lose.

What makes him so indispensable is not only his prodigious work rate but his versatility. Lucescu has been using him mainly on the right of midfield but he can slot in anywhere across the middle of the park.

His height makes him useful in the air, and his forceful tackling mean that he can function as a defender when the need arises.

On a couple of occasions when he had an injury crisis on his hands, Terim even used him as an emergency striker; Umit has a powerful right foot shot. Indeed, if he ever decides to take up goalkeeping, Turkey's No 1 Rustu Recber had better watch out.

He rarely gets himself into trouble with referees and is regarded by his fellow players as a thorough professional, a hard man but not a violent one. That comes, perhaps, from German ideas about discipline. Umit was born in Germany in 1973 and holds dual nationality.

He began his career with Waldhof Mannheim before moving to Turkey to play for second division Afyonspor. After subsequent spells with Istanbulspor, Diyarbakirspor and Genclerbirligi, he was signed by Galatasaray in 1995, a year before Terim took over.

Initially he struggled to establish himself in Istanbul and just as he seemed to be doing so he suffered a horrific knee injury which kept him out of the game for months.

On his website, he vividly describes the moment when he knew the ordeal was really over. In a training game, he went in for a 50-50 ball with team-mate Suat Kaya and not only won it but flattened the diminutive Suat in the process.

"Okay," said Suat ruefully as he picked himself up. "I understand. Welcome back."

Although Umit is now a regular fixture in Turkey's national side, this is a relatively recent development. At 28, he has only 18 caps to his credit and has scored for Turkey just once, in a World Cup qualifier in Macedonia earlier this year.

Off the pitch, he is a keen amateur rapper, recording his own songs at home and has had several offers to make an album. Umit is also a regular in the gossip columns and last New Year's Eve tested the loyalty of the Galatasaray fans by being photographed kissing the daughter of Fenerbahce manager Mustafa Denizli.

But unlike many players who have succumbed to the Istanbul bright lights, Umit is not one to let his night life interfere with his day job. He is always present for training on time and always in good shape.

That, as much as his ability, is why Terim wants to work with him again – it is a case of one professional's respect for another.

Umit Davala will never be a Zidane or a Figo but the game needs artisans as well as artists and for those who recognise that fact, he is first class.

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