NEW Stalybridge Celtic signing Berat ‘Jonathan’ Ustabasi admitted to being “starstruck” when he played against Samuel Eto’o, once one of the greatest footballers on the planet.
The 25-year-old wide midfield player was playing for Turkish side Denizlispor against Antalyaspor on the day former Barcelona, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Everton striker Eto’o made his debut.Ustabasi recalled: “I received an elbow to the face and was lying on the floor when I hand reached out to help me up.
“When I looked it was Eto’o. I was starstruck. He was the biggest player I have ever played against.”
It has been quite a journey to Bower Fold for Manchester-raised Ustabasi, who had spent the past six-and-a-half years playing in Turkey and Macedonia, much of which was for top-flight teams.
But it was a hankering to prove himself in England that brought Ustabasi, who was born at Wythenshawe Hospital, back home.
Former Warrington High School pupil Ustabasi, who has a Turkish father, played most of his junior football in Cheshire for Lymm Rovers and Grappenhall.
Ustabasi, wanting to play in Turkey, joined Super League club Denizlispor aged 18.
He spent three years at the club playing for their Under-21s, the occasional cup game and the memorable friendly against Eto’o and his Antalyaspor.
Ustabasi left after three years in pursuit of regular first-team football as he signed for third tier side Fethiyespor where he spent 18 months.
He then joined Bursaspor, Super League winners in 2010 and a club which has played in the Champions League.Ustabasi spent much of his time at Bursaspor’s feeder club Yesil Bursa in the third tier.
He also had a further six months at third division side Bandirmaspor.
After six years in Turkey, Ustabasi spent six eventful months at top Macedonian club FK Shkupi where he became an instant hero.
FC Shkupi had to win their last game of the season against Rabotnicki to qualify for this season’s Europa League.
“We were 1-0 down and I scored after 89 and 91 minutes to snatch victory. It was one of the highlights of my career,” he recalled.
Ustabasi never got the chance to play in Europe after deciding in the summer it was time to return home having made 87 appearances in Turkey and Macedonia, scoring 19 goals.
Looking back, Ustabasi said it was a great experience playing in Turkey.
He said: “The fans are passionate. When the team lost they are on your back but if you win you are treated like a God.
“When I went to Turkey I couldn’t speak the language, even though my dad is Turkish.
“I wanted to live and play football in Europe and it was a great experience, one I would not have changed.”
Ustabasi added it was a “dream” to play football in England, either professionally or semi-pro, which prompted his return home.
He emailed his CV to most clubs in the Manchester area and Celtic secretary Andrew Betts replied.
Ustabasi continued: “After my first training session I decided I wanted to stay, even though I also had an offer to train at Ashton United.
“I liked working with the manager (Simon Haworth) and it is a good club with a good ground.”
Ustabasi has resumed his studies since returning home and recently began a science and exercise degree at University Academy 92 which is run by Manchester United’s Class of 92 players and operates from Lancashire County Cricket Club.