Alex de Souza pulled out of Fenerbahçe’s Can Bartu training ground in Samandıra for the last time. A 40-minute meeting with coach Aykut Kocaman and his teammates had just taken place. After eight years in Istanbul, the player known as KrAlex or King Alex had said his goodbyes. He had reluctantly agreed to rescind his existing deal with the club.
As rumours spread through Kadıköy that this was the end, a tweet appeared on the timelines of Fenerbahçe supporters. It was from Alex. “My contract with Fenerbahçe has come to an end,” he wrote. “It was the saddest signature of my life. Fenerbahçe have lost a player but they have won a fan. Thanks for everything.”
The message was retweeted 53,000 times, a record for Twitter in Turkey. Coincidentally, the figure was almost identical to the capacity of Fenerbahçe’s Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium.
Everyone was aghast. Only two weeks earlier, a statue had been unveiled in his honour in Yoğurtçu Park. Addressing the thousands of supporters in attendance, Alex, standing with his hands on a lectern and a Fenerbahçe scarf around his neck, broke down in tears.
The gesture meant a lot to him. Situated close by another statue, that of Lefter Küçükandonyadis, a player widely considered along with Can Bartu, as Fenerbahçe’s greatest ever, there could be no higher recognition than to be thought of in his company.
The pair had spent some time together before Lefter’s death earlier this year and there was ample respect between one legend and another. They are revered. Why then, so soon after this event, was Alex bidding a heavy-hearted farewell to Fenerbahçe? How on earth had it come to this?
Even at 35 and past his prime few had wanted his time at the club to end this way. On the night of the announcement, hundreds of Fenerbahçe fans gathered outside Alex’s house to express their gratitude but also the anger they felt at how he had been treated. Appearing at his window, he, once again, was clearly very moved by the scene. “I’ve never cried as much as I did this week,” he said.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called to thank Alex for his services to Fenerbahçe and reportedly even made a last gasp effort to make him stay in the country, asking if he might consider joining another Istanbul club, Kasımpaşa. Alex politely declined. “It would be better if I return home,” he said.
To explain why he left, it’s necessary to return to social media. Because in a certain respect, this started and ended with a tweet.
It’s fair to say Alex has never enjoyed the easiest of relationships with current coach Aykut Kocaman. A legend is his own right at Fenerbahçe after winning the Süper Lig twice and finishing top scorer three times as a player, there’s a sense that Kocaman has been trying to phase Alex out for a while.
They clashed while he was director of football and have done so more or less ever since he replaced Christoph Daum on the bench in 2010. Things deteriorated in the summer. Alex learned while on holiday in Brazil that Kocaman had briefed reporters of his intention not to play him every match and that he planned to discuss it with him once he returned to Turkey. “But that discussion never happened,” Alex claimed.
Instead, there was a tense exchange before Fenerbahçe’s Champions League qualifier with Vaslui. Kocaman explained that the team were headed in a different direction without him. One of the few remaining classic No.10s, he was told that the game had moved on. “I have had many arguments in 18 years as a professional footballer but this was one of the most serious.”
Informed that he wouldn’t be playing in the Champions League play-off that followed against Spartak Moscow, Alex, feeling that he had been shown a lack of respect principally because he was told of the decision in front of his teammates and not in private, reacted bitterly to the news. He tweeted that maybe Kocaman was jealous of him.
Possibly because, with Alex only four league goals away from his record as Fenerbahçe’s all-time top scorer in the Süper Lig, he feared for his legacy. The 140 characters he used to convey that sentiment also spelt the end for Alex. It was the point of no return.
“I admit that I’ve made some mistakes,” Alex later said. “The biggest one was to hurt my team sometimes. I misused Twitter. I’ve sent some messages and SMSs to some people. It would have been better if I hadn’t done so.”
Dropped for the next game against Gaziantepspor because, according to Kocaman, he was “confused”, Alex wondered how his coach could have arrived at that conclusion when they hadn’t even spoken to each other. Communication had broken down. Their working relationship was beyond repair.
The final straw came when he was taken off mid-way through Fenerbahçe’s visit to Kasımpaşa on September 29. A late 2-0 defeat perhaps should have done for Kocaman. Fenerbahçe had slumped to fifth with only a trio of wins from their last 15 games, an unacceptable return considering the investments made in the summer with Dirk Kuyt, Milos Krasic, Raul Meireles and Mehmet Topal reinforcing an already strong squad.
Kocaman, however, had the backing of president Aziz Yıldırım. The Fenerbahçe chief, himself only recently out of jail after his alleged involvement in a match-fixing scandal, has had his ups and downs with Alex, and by appearing to take Kocaman’s side risked losing the fans’ support.
To them, however, Alex had perhaps become too powerful and needed to be checked. “Fenerbahçe is here, where is Alex?” sang the fans. He needed reminding that he wasn’t the club. So he was out.
There’s a sign at the Şükrü Saracoğlu intended for visiting players, which reads: “No way out.” Somehow Alex, one of their own, had been shown the exit. In some cases the end justifies the means. In the aftermath of Alex’s departure, Fenerbahçe won 4-2 away to a highly regarded Borussia Mönchengladbach side in the Europa League and then satisfied their supporters by thrashing Besiktas 3-0 in the Istanbul derby.
The feeling, however, remains, even in light of the improper way he acted, that Alex deserved more – not from the fans – oh no – who “even at my lowest point came to pick me up and support me outside my very house,” but perhaps from the club.
Had Alex not inspired Fenerbahçe to the Süper Lig on three occasions and twice lifted both the Türkiye Kupası and Süper Kupa? Had he not won Turkey’s Footballer of the Year award in 2005 and 2010 and finished top scorer in 2007 and 2011? Few can dispute the claim that he is the greatest foreigner ever to play in Kadıköy.
Alex returned yesterday to the place where it all began for him, his first club Coritiba back in Brazil. But before agreeing to his homecoming, he said: “For eight years I tried my hardest for Fenerbahçe, I don’t know what the future holds but I can say this from the bottom of my heart, I will always be a Fenerbahçe fan.”
His reign in Istanbul may have come to an end, but to many at the Şükrü Saracoğlu, Alex remains a king.