Cenk Tosun left the club he grew up supporting as a kid for Everton in January. Tosun parted ways with Besiktas after winning back to back league titles. The striker helped guide the Black Eagles to finish the Champions League group stage as undefeated leaders but turned down the chance to take on Bayern Munich in the Last 16 for an adventure in Merseyside.
It would be an understatement to call the Turkey international a fan favorite among the Black Eagles faithful. The striker affectionally known as ‘Tosun Pasha’ back in Istanbul did not exactly hit the ground running at his new club.
After failing to score in his first two starts he was then ditched for Oumar Niasse over a four-match stretch. Questions were beginning to be asked. Big Sam made it clear that Tosun was unfit. There were rumors of a rift. Contrary to what was reported Tosun is not on bad terms with Sam Allardyce. On the contrary. “I get on really well with Big Sam,” he said. “He’s been in contact with me for a long time and wanted me when he was at Crystal Palace. He made it clear there would be a place for me at Everton.” In fact, Tosun appears to be fond of Allardyce. “Sam played an important role in the transfer. He was always open with me, he doesn’t mince his words, he says what is on his mind,” he added.
Tosun was no stranger to having to fight for his place in the team. He joined Besiktas as a second choice striker, competing with the likes of Mario Gomez, Vincent Aboubakar and Demba Ba over the years to establish himself as top dog at the Istanbul giants. This is a man used to being the underdog. Overcoming the odds and grafting for a place in the team. But a bit of help never goes a miss. Especially during the settling in process. “We have a legendary player here called Duncan Ferguson, he has been a huge help behind the scenes. He stayed behind with me after training to work on my game, my fitness, get me up to speed with the Premier League. He always believed in me. When I wasn’t playing he helped me keep my head up, he’s been fantastic, we work really closely together, I think I remind him of himself a bit.”
Whatever Ferguson did with Tosun did the trick. It turns out that trip to Dubai was not just a bit of fun in the sun. The January signing returned a changed man. After winning his place back as a starter he scored in the 2-1 defeat to Burnley. He then found the back of the net in the next two games including a brace in the 2-1 victory over Stoke City. The Toffees first away win of 2018.
It was not just Ferguson who helped Tosun during his rough patch. “My teammates have been very helpful, they have been very welcoming. I get on really well with Klaassen, we live really close and travel to training together. The team has older brothers like Seamus Coleman, Wayne Rooney and Sigurdsson who took me under their wing.” Now if you are wondering what he means by ‘elder brothers’, well, the Turkish word ‘abi’ is used as a sign of respect. You do not necessarily have to be related by blood. Anyone older and respected in the community is designated the title. Now in the world of Turkish football, the ‘abiler’ of a team are prestigious figures. It is not uncommon for the younger members of the squad to stand up when the captain and ‘elders’ enter a room as a sign of respect. He followed by saying. “They are the guys who show you the ropes and command huge respect among the squad. They tell you how things are done round here. Maybe if I joined from another Premier League club it wouldn’t have been the same. But they welcomed me to the club, went out of the way to help me settle, they showed great leadership, they knew I came from abroad and from another culture.”
A lot was made about Tosun struggling with the cold and suffering a bit of a culture shock. Newcomers to the Premier League are often lambasted for not working hard enough, not adapting and worst of all not getting stuck in. The closest league to the Premier League is probably the Bundesliga. It seems like most people forgot that he was actually born and raised in Germany. “I can play as a lone striker or with two up front, both have advantages and disadvantages, it does not bother me. I always think of the team first, if the manager wants to play a certain style I’ll adapt. I have strong foundations from my time in Germany, they gave a great education and drilled us with the knowledge required for modern football. I’m used to fast, physical football. This makes adapting easier.”
He laughed off claims that the weather bothered him, “I grew up in Germany so England did not really come as a shock like they said, it is quite similar actually. The style of play, the weather, the scenery. I was already used to it. I am used to different cuisines and like different cultures so it is great, there is no problem when it comes to the food like is being made out. It isn’t an issue.” It is also worth remembering that he scored a brace in a blizzard in Stoke.
Tosun made it clear that Everton have done a great job helping him settle in. “Everton have been great, they have someone who sorted my car, my bank, finding a house and just making my life a whole lot easier settling in.” The most important factor was the fact he already knew English, “They were a big help but knowing English also really helped, I’m able to communicate and express myself.”
He appears to be going for cultural immersion, “I’ve tried the scouse dish, I like trying traditional foods but I have to say the English spoken here took me by surprise, it isn’t what I was taught in lessons. I’m not going to lie I didn’t understand anything when I first arrived.” Well it is not the English taught in the classrooms, “I remember my first training session, there are a few players in the youth team that have a really strong Scouse accent and I didn’t have a clue what they were saying. I thought maybe I had not learned English properly but I could understand some of the others so figured out it must be a regional thing.”
Maybe it is time for Tosun to have a go at the Scouse alphabet as he is clearly picking up the local lingo, “But now I’ve got used to it, I’ve picked up a lot of new words. Like when there is a ck sound its pronounced more course. Like for back you have to say barkh. So I’m starting to feel settled. The people are lovely.”
Tosun then moved onto Goodison Park and the fans. His first home goal in the 2-0 win over Brighton really resonated, “It was amazing, every goal is an amazing feeling but scoring that first goal at home and knowing that it earned the team a win made it even more special.”
Everton would be 7th in the league if only home games were taken into account but would be hovering just above the relegation zone in 16th position going on away games. So what is it about Goodison Park? “We definitely play better at home, we play with more confidence and the fans really motivate me,” he added.
The fans really do appear to have won Tosun over. “The fans are amazing, I am used to great atmospheres playing in Besiktas who are very loud,” he underlined. They are so loud in fact that Timo Werner had to be taken off early when the two sides met in the Champions League this season. “But Everton fans really do live up to their reputation, I was told all about the atmosphere before joining but now I understand what makes them so special,” he said.
It turns out Liverpool and Istanbul are actually quite similar. So much for the culture shock! “When I walk around Liverpool they like to have a chat, take a photograph. They are very talkative and warm-hearted. I’m starting to get recognized here. The city has a real passion for football, everyone talks football, it reminds me of Turkey,” he claimed.
Emre Can and Tosun were born in the state of Hesse, Germany. Both players were born into Turkish families. Despite joining Liverpool in 2014, commentators still pronounce Can as Chan. It turns out Everton fans have done a better job learning how to say Cenk. “They pronounce my name really well to be honest, they call me Cenk but I have heard some of the fans call me Tosun Pasha which I was chuffed about,” he exclaimed. Tosun Pasha means King Tosun or General Tosun. “Knowing they actually researched and spoke with Besiktas fans to learn this left me gobsmacked,” he added.
He will get a chance to compare the derby games next. The striker is set to feature in his first Merseyside derby on Saturday. “I love big games, I’ve played in some very big derbies in Turkey so I know what is expected, how to prepare and just how much these type of matches mean for the fans,” he continued, “This is a huge derby, I know what it means to the club and the fans.” And he has been doing his homework. “I always watched the previous Merseyside derbies. I am preparing myself. I’m taking it very seriously, this is serious, it’s more than just a game I know that and all that is important is the win. We want to give the fans something to cheer about. In a city with more than one big club these games mean everything,” he emphasized.
Everton fans who follow social media will probably have noticed a surge in followers from Turkey. I call that the Tosun effect. He has a huge fan base back in Turkey and has joined a growing number of Super Lig stars starting to make a name for themselves in the top-five leagues. “Having so much attention from Turkey does not create pressure if anything it is a source of motivation. The Besiktas fans continue to follow me and because I was on good terms with the other clubs I am lucky to have support from them as well. The guys back in Turkey have been really supportive, they want me to do well. I want to represent Turkish football in the best possible way and be an ambassador for the league to show it is underrated and there is talent to be found,” he stated.
Tosun left Besiktas a hero. Will he enjoy cult status at Everton in the same way? only time will tell but you can guarantee one thing. He won’t stop trying.