Emre's eye-catching hello to a different world

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The Independent Online

Such parochial rivalries might seem trivial to Emre Belozoglu, a native of Istanbul, a city which straddles civilisations, where East meets West. The midfielder's arrival at Newcastle last month as one of only a handful of Muslim players in the Premiership was put into sharp focus as terrorists brought carnage to London.

Commendably refusing to shy away from the issue, Emre takes it upon himself to buck the trend by acknowledging the presence of a world beyond the cosseted existence of the average Premier-ship footballer.

Through an interpreter, his English still being limited, Emre said: "I'm a Muslim as much as everyone is in my country, and it's good to have beliefs like that. As a Muslim I share the disgust at the attacks in London. I don't condone terrorism, and my thoughts are with those affected."

As part of the Turkey team subjected to racist abuse during a European Championship qualifier at Sunderland two years ago, no doubt from the same kind of knuckle-draggers who have targeted Sikh temples in a misguided response to Islamic extremists, Emre is acutely aware that the North-East is not alone in harbouring a minority of right-wing sympathisers. That clearly did not affect his decision to turn down Everton in favour of Tyneside, although a five-year contract worth the thick end of £16 million also helped swing it in Newcastle's favour.

He revealed: "No, I didn't have any concerns about racism in coming here. To be honest, the match at Sunderland didn't really enter my thoughts. Racism is something that can happen anywhere around the world.

"From what I've seen, I have to say that I really like Newcastle. I'm in the process of moving out of my hotel and into a house, which should help me settle in even more."

There is little Emre or anyone else can do regarding the one discomfort he has encountered settling into the North-East: "I'd say the only problem at the moment is the weather," he said. "Back home in Turkey it's about 40 degrees. I don't think it's ever going to quite reach that here, but I'm sure I'll get used to it after a while."

The Maradona comparisons arose during his four years in Italy, although they are sheepishly rebuffed: "I'm not sure about that. In my book there's only one Maradona, but it's pretty flattering to be likened to such a great player."

Having made all the right noises since a £3.8m move from Internazionale, Emre further endeared himself to supporters with an eye-catching midweek debut as Newcastle bowed out of the Intertoto Cup, something of a culture shock for a player who has been a regular Champions' League performer in a nine-season career.

He added: "It was important to get that first game under my belt. From a personal point of view it went well, but it was just a shame we couldn't win.

"I've been happy with the way the training has gone. I've been training hard and physically I feel pretty good. I was ready for the game on Wednesday, I needed it.

"I'm still not 100 per cent physically but I have another week before the Premiership kicks off," added the 24-year-old, who bears the scar of an operation to rectify a broken hand at the year's outset.

That Premiership debut arrives at Arsenal on Sunday, when, along with fellow high-profile summer arrival Scott Parker, he will carry much of the burden of ensuring Newcastle avoid an underwhelming first month that would give the chairman, Freddie Shepherd, reason to add to the man-agerial P45s he is apt to issue before the onset of autumn.

For the moment, despite being weakened by the exit from Europe, Graeme Souness's position remains relatively safe. The reputation forged by the Scot during a spell in charge at Galatasaray helped persuade Emre to choose St James' Park, and the Newcastle manager said: "Emre's been talked of as the best-ever player to come out of his country, which is saying something.

"I've worked with some wonderful Turkish players during my coaching career, and if Emre's half as good as that then I'll be delighted."

As he proved impervious to the hedonistic sophistication of Milan, it seems churlish to enquire whether the bright lights of Newcastle's famed quayside might sidetrack Emre from the task ahead. The response is swift. "Believe me, Milan was like that. And then some."

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