What Is Going on in Turkish Football

Baris Gerceker@barisgrckrCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2008

One may think, since Bleacherreport is generally an American-based site, it may not seem relevant to talk about the nation's not so favorable sports, taking place in an unknown nation. But if I am to talk about this stuff, then I really should start from where I know the best.

The nation's football is widely tri-polar, only four (4) teams managed to win the national championship, one past winner has not won it for so long now. The FA was founded earlier but "National League" history is only for 50 years. Before that, it was all regional leagues. Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray are the two teams with most trophies, 17 each. Besiktas won 10 times while Trabzonspor's league title number is 6. Trabzonspor has not won the title for over 20 years now they are not commonly considered as a title-contender for the past years.

Galatasaray, Besiktas and Trabzonspor managed to win 3 or more consecutive seasons but Fenerbahçe did not. Fenerbahçe never waited for more than 6 seasons to win another title while Galatasaray witnessed a title-drought for 13 years in the 70s and 80s. Besiktas had a similar drought for 14 years between 1967-81.

1988-89 season saw Fenerbahçe score 103 goals in one season which is a record still yet to be broken. Besiktas and Galatasaray ended one season each which they were not defeated for an entire season. The biggest win was Besiktas' 10-0 victory against Adanademirspor while the most number of goals was enjoyed in Fenerbahçe's 8-4 victory against Gaziantepspor.

Fenerbahçe is the team which kept the leadership throne for the longest time overall, for 478 weeks in total, followed by Galatasaray's 440 weeks and Besiktas' 339 weeks.

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Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup in 2000, defeating Arsenal in the penalty shoot-out, and the Super Cup the very same season defeating Real Madrid. They also managed to qualify for Champions League quarter finals in the following season. Galatasaray previously reached the semi finals of the Champion Clubs Cup (before the tournament evolved into being Champions League) and was knocked-out by Steau Bucharesti who lost to AC Milan in the final that year. Fenerbahçe managed to reach the quarter final of the Champions League on 2007-08 season, in which they were knocked out by the finalists FC Chelsea, on a 3-2 aggregate.

The league's narrow title winner spectra makes it quite boring at times. The nation does not have a common understanding of football, or sports to be honest, it all is about those three or four teams most of the time while some regional fan clubs try to keep their city's' team up ahead.

"Anatolian clubs" they are called, since 3 of 4 past champions are from one city, Istanbul and two of them, Galatasaray and Besiktas are based on the European side of the city. Even though Fenerbahçe is based on the Asian side of the city it is not considered as an Anatolian club. Trabzonspor however is the pride of those, which is in the eastern Black Sea region of the country. Other Anatolian clubs which have made important challenges to those four champions have been Gaziantepspor, Gençlerbirligi (one of 4 teams of the capital, Ankara), Göztepe (team of nation's 3rd biggest city, Izmir), Eskisehirspor (which is promoted to the premier league after a long break, last season) etc. Last year saw Sivasspor mount a title challenge for a long time, which was done by Kayserispor in the previous year.

Anatolian clubs' infertility is the biggest obstacle in front of the national football's international reputation. The national football depending on three clubs most of the time cannot provide enough depth to the national team, as well as limited access to the continental club based tournaments. Last year's surprise pack Sivasspor did not manage to make it through to the UEFA cup through Euro Vase while Kayserispor was eliminated by PSG in the first qualifying round.

The national team consists mainly of players from the three past winners and quite a few from those Anatolian clubs, and some from abroad. One more twisted defect of the nation and its league is that, since those three clubs are the most illustrious of all, many star candidates are transferred to them in a premature manner and they cannot improve the clubs they are transferred to, while their own progress hits a wall due to lack of first team football at times. It can easily be said that the Anatolian clubs seed, the three champs rip them.

After all this "screen-shot" definitions and descriptions comes the big question: WHY?

The main thing is that, even the directors, boards and chairmen of the "other" clubs are originally fans of the three champs. Personal relationships and biased attitude affect the minor clubs' squad quality as well as long-term targets. Generally, in all aspects of life in Turkey you can see an uttermost state of spontaneity and a total state of chaos, one may find it too optimistic to see it in a certain branch of professional sports. It simply does not happen.

Anatolian clubs generally start the season with humble expectations, such as avoiding relegation, a safe mid-table position etc. Rarely they push the ignition key in the slot with a solid target of European qualification. They lack in professionalism in their transfer policies, both inside country and out. Pay too much money to agent driven foreigners, and pay even more in forms of compensations when it comes to terminating awful contracts. Most of the time the board does not have the perception to manage the club, they lack the foresight and even minimize targets in order to be able to keep the control of the clubs they manage, sad but true. They definitely lack the vision to build onto their teams and believe in higher stakes.

The last 10 seasons saw 5 championships by Galatasaray, 4 of Fenerbahçe and only 1 of Besiktas. The 10 seasons before that saw 4 of Galatasaray and Besiktas and only 2 of Fenerbahçe. These three, despite disliking each other to the point of hatred, look like three brothers, sharing what is on the table all the time, not even caring to drop some crumbles to the "others". It all revolves around those three.

As for national team success is around, 3rd place in World Cup 2002, semi final in Euro 2008 recently. But even those high level entries and relatively top finishes do not show the slightest image of a reputation, system or school.

Aziz Yildirim, the chairman of Fenerbahçe for over 10 years now, described Galatasaray's UEFA Cup victory as "coincidental" in a press conference. Since Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray are fierce rivals this statement was interpreted as something jealous, underrating, which definitely was not the case.

What he meant was certainly not underrating the success of it all, he was merely saying, unless you achieve such top levels based upon systematic studies, pre-planned progress and clear programming what you achieve will only remain as a good old past time memory in your trophy cabinet. Unless you manage to build upon such successes, use the money and reputation coming from it in a really prospective way you will not be able to achieve such things and increase your reputation.

Even the three horsemen of the league are repeatedly failing to build on to their short term successes, one cannot feel angry or upset at the boards of the Anatolian clubs who are spending so less money in the same league.

The 2008-09 season saw 7 weeks past at the moment this article was written. Last year's champions has already lost 7 of the possible 21 points, while last season's Champions League success story is in much worse shape, winning only 3 games of the 7 and losing the remaining 4. Besiktas, who is currently undefeated are in the leaders position with 17 points and long forgotten Trabzonspor are trailing one point short after losing 3-0 to Galatasaray on away venue. What is to come is hard to predict.

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