The State of Turkish Club Football

May 27, 2019

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Süper Lig

Founded: 1959

Most Championships: Galatasaray, 22

Last 5 Winners: Galatasaray (18/19, 17/18, 14/15), Besiktas (16/17, 15/16)

UEFA Ranking: 10th

Highest Ranked Club: Besiktas, 25th

Interview with Turkish football expert, Özer Dindje

For Turkish fans, what have the last few years been like in European competition? Besiktas have made a Europa League quarter-final, Fener have made an EL semi final, and Gala have made a Champions League quarter-final. Is that a success?

In a word, disappointing. Turkish football continues to underachieve relative to its potential. While the three examples you mention were successes in their own right, they were also distant anomalies.

It was 2013 when Galatasaray had that storming run in the Champions League and Fenerbahce reached the EL semi-final. Back then, clubs were adventurous with their spending and were able to build truly competitive sides. Galatasaray shocked the world by signing a 27-year-old Wesley Sneijder from Internazionale for a mere €7.5 million in January 2013 – only to dazzle the headlines again two weeks later – by signing Didier Drogba! Meanwhile, the Fenerbahce of that era consisted of the legendary Alex de Souza and acquisitions such as Milos Krasic from Juventus (€7.5m) and Raul Meireles from Chelsea (€10m) who were impressive signings to say the least. More recently, Besiktas built a back-to-back Super Lig winning team which consisted of midfield maestro Talisca and the prolific Cenk Tosun who together propelled Besiktas to the Last 16 of the Champions League in 2017-18, before being demolished 8-1 on aggregate by Bayern Munich.

The single common fate of these three clubs now? Their star-studded squads have been dismantled, in part due to mismanagement, and part due to Turkey’s economic woes. The scarily high-interest rates, for example, have effectively forced these debt-ridden clubs into exile from the transfer market. The financial gulf between Turkish clubs and the rest of Europe is only likely to grow – so some innovative restructuring and lots of good fortune are needed if Turkish football is to become a true “success” in the future.

How seriously is the EL taken by the Turkish clubs that enter the competition?

Football is always taken seriously by Turkish clubs, whether playing domestically or in Europe – with one recent exception. Basaksehir, a state-sponsored, fan-less, overnight formation in an artificial neighbourhood of Istanbul were inches away from the Champions League group stages in 2017-18. Perhaps even centimetres, as an Emre Belözoğlu shot against Sevilla in the final minute of the game struck the post, preventing a headline that would have sent shockwaves across Europe.

Following their demotion to the Europa League group stage, they consistently fielded weak squads and effectively sabotaged their own chances of qualifying from a relatively straightforward group. It was the same story the following year, when they crashed out in the qualifying stages to Burnley after setting out with a B team. The main aim for the club has always been to win the Super Lig, so I would imagine they’d continue on a half-hearted path in the Europa League, if they do not qualify for the Champions League.

Before each season what would be seen as a successful year in Europe for Turkish fans?

In Turkey, there is always a huge gulf between expectation and reality when it comes to European success. Turkish fans have a relentlessly never say die attitude when up against the odds, particularly towards the Champions League. Fans of the Big 3 will always say “bring it on” when they draw the likes of Bayern, Madrid and Juventus etc despite having significantly fewer resources.

But that attitude can pay off too. Firstly, it makes for a sensational atmosphere both home and away – after all Turkish fans have a reputation to uphold and putting on a show against the big boys is part of the fun. It also gives the players a huge psychological boost. The fans truly expect them to deliver, and occasionally, they do. Nobody had expected Galatasaray to qualify from a group containing Real Madrid and Juventus – but they pulled off a deserved upset against on the final match day a club that would appear in two out of the next four finals.

Personally, I admit I fall into this trap too. My expectation in the CL is always Last 16, but the reality is typically met by finishing third in the group. In the EL, I expect a QF but usually have to settle for the Last 16!

Do most of the country get behind the Turkish sides playing in Europe or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent?

It’s Tribalism galore! Rival fans hate each other with a passion. That passion can even be as strong as the love for their own clubs. I remember seeing Beşiktaş fans holding up Schalke scarves back in 2013 (Gala were drawn with them in the CL Last 16), but now that attitude is commonplace.

n this, however, I might be one of the very few who thinks differently. Turkish football is nowhere near the level of consistency required to have the luxury to support the opposition. We are not like England, filling all the 2019 European finals with our own teams! If only! An Arsenal fan can rightly want Spurs to lose a CL Final, but the rivalry amongst Turkish clubs who are merely fighting to qualify from the group, is short-sighted!

How do you think the Europa League 2 will affect Turkish EL performances and what has been the reaction to the formation of the competition in Turkey?

I think it will provide a great opportunity to inject some glamour into the smaller clubs. Currently, the 5th European place from Turkey is either the cup winner or the fifth-place finisher in the league and this allows for welcome variety. We’ve seen the likes of Bursaspor, Akhisar, Konyaspor, Osmanlispor to name a few. European football brings in money and prestige, so the addition of a new tournament should incentivise clubs to take the EL more seriously.

What would you like to see UEFA do to level the playing field more for the smaller European sides?

Find a way to boost the money in the EL and have a decent incentive structure in the EL2. The former could be in the form of expanding the number of standardised sponsorships, which should be possible given that the competition has participants from more countries at the latter stages than the CL usually does. EL2 might have regional trophies awarded perhaps, like in the days of the Balkans Cup. Alternatively, there could be several “winners” like the old Intertoto Cup.

Interview with Turkish football expert, Özer Dindje

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A Europa League infographic

Author: Tom Mortimer

Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer,, among many others.

Twitter @TMortimerFtbl

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