The taming of Turkyilmaz

Phil Gordon talks to Joachim Bjorklund, Rangers' European safety net
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The Independent Online
The revolving door that is now the European transfer market will provide Rangers with vital insider information when they try to open their Champions' League account in Zurich on Wednesday.

Grasshoppers may be gnomes in relationship to the continent's top clubs but the same could hardly be said of their star man, Kubilay Turkyilmaz. The Swiss striker is a player of stature, in both achievement and physique, as England discovered during Euro 96 and Manchester United also found to their cost in this very competition three years ago. Fortunately, Rangers' much-flourished cheque book has provided them with the means to cancel out Turkyilmaz.

When Walter Smith, Rangers' manager, spent pounds 2.7m on the Swedish international Joachim Bjorklund in the summer, he did not expect an instant pay-off. Now, in view of the Scottish champions' Group A adversaries, the investment looks inspired. Bjorklund has already tamed Turkyilmaz, not once but twice. Two seasons ago in the Champions' League, when the defender was with IFK Gothenburg and Turkyilmaz was the idol of Galatasaray, Bjorklund managed what the likes of Tony Adams and Steve Bruce failed to do; stop the man from scoring.

Both have moved on since then, Bjorklund to the Italian club Vicenza for a year before coming to Ibrox, and Turkyilmaz back to his native Switzerland for a record pounds 1m fee after five years playing in Italy and Turkey. However, in the Hardturm Stadium on Wednesday, Smith will be requesting a carbon copy outcome from Bjorklund. The mild-mannered 25-year-old is not in the least bit fazed by the prospect.

"Turkyilmaz is a good player," Bjorklund reflected. "He's fast and skilful but most of all, he's physical. He holds the ball up well. He's the kind of player you need to stay tight on but you have to be careful because, with his strength, he can turn you if you get too close. Turkyilmaz has got a good record of scoring goals with Switzerland. He also made quite an impact with Galatasaray - but he didn't manage to score in either of the games with Gothenburg when I marked him. Hopefully, that will be the same on Wednesday."

Gothenburg won both of those meetings in the Champions League two seasons ago, a competition in which they emerged on to the bigger stage after winning their group which contained both Barcelona and Manchester United.

Though the Swedes failed to progress beyond the quarter- finals, Bjorklund earned his own move to higher ground. "Vicenza is not a big club but I moved there simply to play in Italy. But the offer from Rangers was one I could not ignore. This is a huge club and I knew I would get the chance to play Champions' League football here. I loved that with Gothenburg, beating a side like Manchester United or holding Barcelona to a draw."

Bjorklund's ambition matches that of his new employers at Ibrox. The club are desperate to emulate the 1992-93 season when they came within 90 minutes of the Champions' Cup final itself, and although the draw has given them Ajax and Auxerre, as well as Grasshoppers, the task is not beyond them. "Beating Vladikavkaz 7-2 in Russia was a great result for the club," Bjorklund said. "It let people around Europe take notice of us. Ajax are obviously a good side, despite selling some of their best players recently, but they are having some problems just now so they are not invincible. We respect everyone in the group, but fear no one; we have a good chance."

The Grasshoppers coach, Christian Gross, rated as a clever tactician around Europe, used a record 30 players to win the Swiss title last season. If, however, Rangers recreate their mesmerising 90 minutes in Vladikavkaz in Zurich, Gross might need to utilise that entire squad . . . at the same time.

Rangers' group matches: 11 September: Grasshoppers Zurich v Rangers. 25 September: Rangers v Auxerre. 16 October: Ajax v Rangers. 30 October: Rangers v Ajax. 20 November: Rangers v Grasshoppers. 4 December: Auxerre v Rangers.