Turkish Delight As League and Players Improve

There has been an awaking in Turkish football of late, one that has been a long time coming. After a decade of sub standard performances, football in Turkey is improving with much-needed upgrading to its main league, The Super Lig and its players. In the past Turkey relied on a golden generation that included Hakan Suker, Rustu Recber, Bulent Korkmaz and Alpay Ozalan to name but a few to advance their game both domestically and internationally. Success followed this generation with a third place finish at the 2002 World Cup and a semi final appearance at Euro 2008 the main highlights. But since their retirements, Turkey has failed to qualify for a major tournament and look set to miss out once again on Euro 2016 unless they can improve their current fourth place position in Group A.

Turkey finished 3rd at the 2002 World Cup (Image from REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Turkey finished 3rd at the 2002 World Cup
(Image from REUTERS/Jason Reed)

But after several turbulent years, Turkish football is once again pushing its way to the front of the queue for recognition. The Super Lig is starting to become more competitive and interesting to those outside of Turkey with a host of well-known faces joining the league. In what has been a fairly quiet start to the summer transfer window, Turkey is leading the way with several big moves. The first came late last week and was fairly expected with German striker Lukas Poldolski finally ending his troubled stay at Arsenal by joining Galatasary. The World Cup winner had found his chances limited at the Emirates over the past few years and has decided to move to Turkey in order to secure regular first team action. Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger did try to convince him to stay but was unable to promise to start the winger on a more frequent basis. After a disastrous loan spell at Inter Milan last season, Podolski’s credibility as a world-class striker has dropped considerably so he views a move to Turkey as a way to rectify that.

Lukas Podolski has joined Gala from Arsenal (Image from Getty)
Lukas Podolski has joined Gala from Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

Another player looking to rescue their career is Nani. The Portuguese winger has decided to leave Manchester United this summer after been deemed surplus to requirements by Louis Van Gaal. A move to Fenerbache and a starring role in their new look side is just what the doctor ordered for the player whose career has gone into free fall. Both moves are for significantly less than Arsenal or United paid for them but at this stage any revenue generated is welcomed. Both clubs are looking to spend big in the window but need space in their squads and extra funds to make that possible. The potential addition of Robin Van Persie to Fenerbache will only strengthen the league further and help to promote the Super Lig on a more global scale.

Nani is mobbed as he joins Fenerbache (Image from AP)
Nani is mobbed as he joins Fenerbache
(Image from AP)

Luckily for Turkey it is not just one way traffic with several of Turkeys national side set for big moves this summer. First up is Atletico Madrid star Arda Turan who has agreed to sign for Barcelona in a move that has disappointed several other chasing clubs including Chelsea. The talented 28-year-old played a pivotal role in Atletico’s title run in 2014 which in turn made him into a cult figure at the Vincte Calderon Stadium. Turan is known for his close control, dazzling dribbling skills and vision. As the captain of Turkey,  he is a strong fan favourite and is widely recognized as a influence of the next generation of Turkish players  so his move to one of the biggest clubs in Europe has been seen as boost to his home nation chances of developing the next batch.

Captain Arda Turan is widely respected across his home land (Image from AFP)
Captain Arda Turan is widely respected across his home land
(Image from AFP)

One of these players is the highly rated Turkey striker Enes Unal who yesterday agreed to join Manchester City. The 18-year-old is the clubs first signing of the summer will arrive in a deal worth an initial £500,000 that could rise to £2million based on appearances. Unal first came to the attention of several of Europe’s elite clubs with his performances for Bursaspor youth team scoring a remarkable 182 goals in just 110 games. That strike rate earned him a call up to Turkey’s Under 16 side where his goal scoring exploits continued hitting 24 goals in 25 appearances.  Since then Unal’s progression has been accelerated both at club level and international level, making his debut for Bursaspor aged 16 and for Turkey earlier this year aged 18. He is likely to be part of City’s development squad rather than the first team but could feature if City needs to add something different to its attacking options.

Players like Turan and Unal will be vital to the future success of the Turkish game but they will face some of the same challenges as their predecessors. Turkish football for a long time has been riddled with off field corruption at board level with many clubs bending the rules to gain an advantage. Changing this mindset will take more than the arrival of a few new foreign players. An additional problem that Turkey has is with its existing players with rumours of infighting rampant amongst the squad. Stories surfacing last month about Gokhan Tore pulling a gun on Hakan Calhanogiu highlights the extent of the problem. Manager Faith Terim is in his third spell of Turkey but has never had to deal with such problems before so it will be interesting to see how he handles it going forward. What is clear is that if Turkey is to reach a major international tournament, they need to have  their entire squad playing as one. Despite the talent at his disposal, this could be his biggest challenge to date.

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