For the first time in decades, Turkish soccer is witnessing significant change. The Süper Lig—Turkey’s top tier of soccer—has long been dominated by three clubs. The winningest of them is Galatasaray, who have won 22 league titles. Next is Fenerbahçe, who have won the league 19 times, followed by Besiktas with 16. All these clubs are located in Istanbul, and, for a while, held most of the league’s wealth and fanbase.
However, recent financial issues have changed this hierarchy. Simply put, the way the trio were being run was not sustainable: old superstars came in for one last paycheck, and then they left. This is why Robin van Persie, Ricardo Quaresma, Didier Drogba, and more came to Istanbul. With clubs drowning in debt, players were offloaded for little or no money, and few replacements came in.
Since the turn of the century, only one team had won the league other than one of the big three clubs until 2019/20. Suddenly, two of the last three league champions have broken the monopoly, with the previous season’s champion Trabzonspor having won for the first time in 38 years.
Fenerbahçe and Besiktas are now both using more sustainable methods. They’re buying younger, better players, and trusting their academy players. Fenerbahce have a legitimate star on their hands with 17-year-old Arda Güler and multiple other talents, while Besiktas are recruiting younger players such as Gedson Fernandes.
Galatasaray, however, were slow to heed this warning. Last season they finished 13th in the league, the team’s worst-ever performance. Things weren’t pretty on or off the pitch: popular manager Fatih Terim was sacked, teammates fought each other, and the club continued to deal with debt. However, despite this, the team has reason to believe that the club is on the right track again.
Usually, departures aren’t a great thing, but with a budget like that of Galatasaray, it’s huge for the club. Multiple expiring contracts mean the club will free up some of its wage budget and have more financial freedom. Well, slightly. Galatasaray are reportedly up to hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.
Estimates from capology.com show that Galatasaray will see its wage budget drop by almost $10 million, albeit not including new signings. Arda Turan (35), Sofiane Feghouli (32), Fatih Öztürk (35), Ryan Babel (35), and Semih Kaya (31) are all leaving for free, meaning that Galatasaray can find younger, cheaper replacements.
Thankfully, Galatasaray are starting to invest in younger, safer signings. Mostafa Mohamed, for example, joined on loan from Egyptian team Zamalek (who I talked about a little while back) and has been in fine form. Now, he’s joining them for about four million dollars—not a bad fee for a 24-year-old proven international.
Kazimcan Karatas, a 19-year-old left-back with Süper Lig experience, also joins for slightly over a million dollars from Altay. The Turkish youth international put in some impressive performances last season and could overtake veteran Patrick van Aanholt as the team’s starting left-back at some point. He’s definitely a player to watch as the season goes on.
Galatasaray’s only other confirmed signing so far is Abdülkerim Bardakci, a 27-year-old center-back who scores goals at surprising rates. Seriously—he scored more Süper Lig goals (7) last season than all but three Galatasaray players. He’s been brought in more for his defense than attack, though: thanks to Bardakci, Konyaspor finished third in the league, with only three teams conceding fewer goals.
Signing younger players also means there is potential to sell them for more revenue in the future. A thirty-something former Premier League star likely won’t go up in value, whereas teenagers from lesser-known teams might. This is something Galatasaray even did last season but is continuing to improve.
The good news is that Galatasaray currently has a lot of young players who are only going to get better. Kerem Aktürkoglu was in the third tier of Turkey when Galatasaray picked him up for free; now the 23-year-old Turkey international is linked with some of the world’s biggest clubs. Yunus Akgün, a brilliant 21-year-old winger, is returning from his loan at Demirspor and should play a big role this season.
Sacha Boey is a 21-year-old right-back with a lot of potential, while center-back Victor Nelsson has established himself as a quality player at the age of 23. Olimpiu Morutan is now a Romanian international at the age of 23. The list goes on and on.
My personal favorite (tied with Yunus Akgün) is Eren Aydin. The six-foot-tall striker scored at an incredible rate for various youth teams before going on loan. In Turkey’s third tier, he scored seven goals with three assists in nine starts, and Galatasaray reportedly has rejected several loan offers for him. He might be their breakout player this season.
Academy and Youth Teams
In recent years, Galatasaray has had several strong players from their academy. The only problem is that they either haven’t been played or left too early for both the team and themselves. Despite the constant poaching they face, Galatasaray’s youth teams and academies continue to be some of the best in Turkey.
Striker Zeki Saki had an impressive season last year on the U19 team, with 14 goals and three assists as Galatasaray won the U19 Süper Lig. Attacking midfielder Hamza Akman—cousin of Eintracht striker Ali Akman—scored eight times and had seven assists in the same competition.
Beknaz Almazbekov is already Kyrgyzstan’s youngest ever player at the age of 16 in a 2-0 win over Myanmar and has potential. At right-back, 17-year-old Ali Turap Bülbül has played over 20 games at youth level for Turkey.
Galatasaray struggled on both sides of the ball last season, conceding the most goals they have since the turn of the century. However, they’ll have a much better defense next season.
For a start, longtime goalkeeper Fernando Muslera is returning to action. Muslera missed a whopping 13 Süper Lig games last season with an injury, with Galatasaray conceding 22 goals in those games. They also won only four of them.
Galatasaray also was without starting center-back Marcão for nine matches due to suspension (eight of which for fighting a teammate) and three due to injury. They won four of those twelve matches. He should—if he remains at the club—form a strong pairing with Victor Nelsson.
They also add some desperately needed depth to the position with the previously-mentioned signing of Bardakci, one of the Süper Lig’s more consistent defenders last season. Add in the fact that Christian Luyindama is returning from his loan, and that’s a lot of strength in the position. Fullback is also a position with a lot of depth
While Galatasaray wasn’t great on defense last season, they were slightly unlucky. Injuries and suspensions left them depleted and forced to use fringe players, leading to poor results. This year, they’ve added a lot of strength that will allow the club to compete all season.
Despite the negatives, like lost revenue for not competing in Europe, last season’s struggles may have been necessary. For years, teams across Turkey including Galatasaray have sacrificed the future for short-term success. Now, however, Galatasaray is acting with both the present and the future in mind.
Image courtesy of CFC Unofficial (Debs), CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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