Speaking in an exclusive interview with L’Équipe, former Swansea and Marseille man Bafétimbi Gomis discussed his move to Turkey.
How has your adjustment to Galatasaray been?
Very, very well. As early as my first few hours on Turkish soil, I was welcomed in a magnificent manner, with a mob of people. It feels good to have such great expectations. Arriving in a big club and feeling the passion is a great privilege, even though I am in my thirties.
When things are not going as well, the pressure from fans can also be unbearable.
Yes, but I tend to look at the glass half full. I have always enjoyed using the fans’ demands as a way to go up a level. When you saw those fans earlier, or those after a match, who chased my car, I feel something.
The Turkish league attracted many players this summer. However, from a French perspective, it remains a smaller league, where players only sign for money. Do you understand why some may think that?
I can understand that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I consider it to be a league that is on the rise and is no worse than the French league. It can attract significant players like Mathieu Valbuena, Van Persie, Pepe, myself. These are players that would have their place in large Ligue 1 clubs.
If I were to say, “Gomis took his early retirement in Turkey”, would that bother you?
That is not the right way to put it. One must know how to interpret this kind of reflection. But knowing how hard I work and the team I have around me (he even hired a personal trainer amongst others), I know that this is certainly not an early retirement. The expectations around me are even greater than those at Marseille. I hope that I will not let these fans down.
You stated – or at least this was how it was understood – that you wanted to stay in Marseille. Was this true?
I had kept that as an option. I told myself, why not? Even if leaving Swansea after my loan was not the initial idea. But, that would have required for all conditions to be ideal for me to stay. It was not the case, and I decided to go for a challenge where I could get more visibility on the long term.
Are you disappointed?
Not at all. I am very privileged. I knew that if I were clinical enough, I would get offers. The initial idea was to get my career back on track during one season. At the time, I also did not know that the club was going to be bought. With the arrival of a new owner, things could have been different. But no, I am not disappointed.
Did you feel that you were pushed out by Marseille who could not meet your financial demands?
Not at all. It was not only about financial demands. I felt that there was a desire for me to stay, but it was not a definite wish. I think that they did not tell themselves: “He scored 20 goals despite being injured for two months, in a weaker team compared to this season’s one. This player fits our project.” I did not feel at the heart of the project. So I decided to leave. And even if Marseille did go the extra mile financially, I do not think I would have stayed.
Simply put, I would have had the choice between Marseille and a foreign league. But from the beginning of the negotiations, I knew that I would not stay. Firstly, I did not feel a strong wish on their part to work with me and secondly, I was only offered a two-year contract.
The offered salary confirmed what I believed. As Rudi Garcia said, they wanted to keep me, but they would not do anything crazy to do so. I have a magnificent relationship with the coach and that will never change, but that is one thing that I did not understand. Galatasaray bought me for €2.5m. Without trying to compare myself to him, they bought 29-year-old Konstantitos Mitroglou for €15m, with a salary that is probably around the same as mine. It seemed more reasonable for them to go with me, but that’s just my opinion.
So Marseille actually had the money to keep you.
Yes, they did. But maybe, I was also unlucky because I was around with the old owners. They probably wanted better. If I had scored 20 goals at Swansea, I would have been the striker that they wanted this season (smiling). That’s life, and once again, I am delighted to be here in Galatasaray. It is a great opportunity.
Is Mitroglou better than Gomis?
I do not know. He is a good striker and I hope that he will succeed at this magnificent club.
In your eyes, did the Marseille owners underestimate your impact?
I have often not gotten the recognition I deserve in France. That is the story of my life. I have always had to fight. After scoring 20 goals while missing two months of competition, I thought that was not bad. Today, I am happy to have that recognition in Galatasaray.
Do you feel that they took you for a fool?
No, I maintain a good relationship with the owners. Even if I would have liked an offer that reflected greater trust. That is football, and I wish them the best. You know, I was not surprised, as there were signs. In Marseille, even when I would take a cab, you could feel that it was on everyone’s mind, including the club’s.
The fans were expecting more, and considered that I had to accept being a second choice, and internally, I also felt that. After seeing the club’s PR (on the transfer window), even the slightest of bad touches on the pitch would have cost me my head. Even if the pressure does not scare me, I would have liked to have been defended a bit more.
What will you remember from your season at Marseille?
When I arrived, the club was staring into the abyss. Former players told me I was crazy to sign there. But in the end, from a human perspective with all the players and employees of the club with whom I had become very close, or a sporting perspective, the adventure was magnificent. I was always reluctant to come to the club from my region (he grew up in Toulon).
But this time, I went for it, and I did not regret it. I was also able to be closer to my father and bring him happiness while he was ill. He passed away in my arms. The last thing he said to me before dying was “Now, you are the boss of the family. Make good decisions as a man and in your career.” This really played a part while reflecting.
Through these words, I understood that one must not force their destiny. That in order to succeed, all the conditions had to be ideal. When you love a club, the love has to be reciprocal. There was also an incident which I did not talk about which did count. The night of the last game of the league, at 7 p.m., I was walking around the training ground and I was attacked by fans, who had come for a meeting. It almost became a fistfight. They wanted to hit me because they criticised me for, amongst other things, acting like panther, in reference to my Saint-Étienne days.
Had a member of the administrative staff not intervened, this could have lead to a catastrophe. Even if I know not to generalise and that those people were but a minority, these are small signs which make you reflect on things. Here, when you score 20 goals, are the captain and fight on the field like I did, these kinds of events cannot happen. This incident really hurt me. Plus, when you get a two-year contract offer with a lowered salary… I did not want to go back in there, without full support.
You have often been criticised for being over the top, in interviews, in regards to your love for Marseille. Does that bother you?
That is how it is. That was no lie, I was sincere. Today, I am still in touch with some fans. Many of them made me feel loved and respected. And I lived my dream. Every goal I scored, I saw myself as a kid again. There were really strong emotions. So I have become a Marseille supporter once again. I gave a lot to the club, but they also gave me a lot and I cannot forget that. It is also thanks to them that I was able to put my career on the right track, and that I was able to get that offer from Galatasaray.