In Poland recently there has been a feverish debate concerning the reasons for Polish clubs’ failure to get a club into the 2017-8 European group stages. People have bemoaned pretty much everything from inefficient club scouting systems, to poorly-run academies to short-termism among owners. In an attempt to wider the focus a bit Rightbankwarsaw has decided to look more broadly at the qualifying rounds for the Champions League and the Europa League and talk to journalists from countries whose sides have underachieved and countries who have exceeded expectations. In this way we can see if what is happening in Poland is a Europe-wide problem and understand what should and should not be done in the future.
First we’re going to look at countries who have underachieved. Our first case study is Turkey, where the mighty Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe both failed to qualify for the Europa League group stages. To tell us what went wrong we interviewed Freelance Turkish journalist Alp Ulagay who has previously written for the Turkish daily newspapers Hürriyet, Habertürk and Cumhuriyet.
Hi Alp, Can you explain the roots of Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe’s failures this season to qualify?
Both clubs were late hiring the much-awaited and much-needed new players during the off season. Galatasaray had to play their Europa League (UEL) second qualifying round games in mid July. Even though they knew they’d have to play games that early they weren’t ready at all against the weak Swedish side Östersunds and were outmatched in both games and ousted from the competition immediately. They were still planning to bring in new players as late as in August. Their manager Igor Tudor, appointed early this year, still has to prove himself at this level. Now he’s been given all the squad he wished for and it’s up to him to provide the results.
Meanwhile Fenerbahçe had more time to prepare for their UEL third qualifying and playoff rounds. Despite overcoming Sturm Graz in the third round they were upset by an inexperienced Vardar team in the playoff round. The same goes for them as Galatasaray: they were far from fielding their preferred lineup due to injuries, ongoing hiring negotiations and a lack of cohesion. Fenerbahçe had just brought in Soldado before the Vardar games, and still keep on signing new players well into late August which is obviously way too late. Their newly appointed manager Aykut Kocaman, who already guided Fenerbahçe between 2010 and 2013, tends to emphasize a defensive side of the game which is quite unusual for the club. The fans might well lose patience with him quickly.
How would you describe the state of Turkish domestic football? Would you say it is improving or regressing?
Turkish League seems to have certain qualities over the past 15 years: A mid-level European league with broadcasting rights of more than $450 million per season, an appealing wage structure for foreign players and coaches, and access to European competitions. But the broadcasting money is not well-spent. Many clubs have chosen to bring in European stars who are well past 30 years old and some injury-ridden, including Pepe, Eto’o, Gomis, Menez, Nasri, Soldado, Van Persie. This investment hasn’t brought the expected results. We need better results in European competitions to be able to say the situation is improving.
Are the failures of individual clubs purely down to those clubs or does it have anything to do with the failures of the Turkish FA/Turkish league administration?
Those failures are mostly up to the clubs. Two years ago the Turkish FA changed the limits on foreign players to what the clubs had demanded for a number of years. They were thus able to sign up to 14 foreign players in order to get some success in European competitions. But it hasn’t worked that well. We’ve only had one UEL quarter final during the last two seasons.
Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray have both been suffering from administrative and financial deficiencies for a number of years. They have kept spending good money on players during recent seasons but due to the wrong choices they haven’t got the results on the pitch that they had expected. Now they are heavily in debt and they are consistently making the same mistakes regarding managing the football team: In the absence of a sporting director the presidents themselves or board members are involved in player-hiring process on a day to day basis, and managers tend to count too much on experienced players.
How do you see Turkish domestic football developing in the future?
Turkish domestic football needs to improve on a few key points in order to develop as a major league. First of all the fans. The average gate in the Turkish Super League was under 10 thousand fans per game last season. With newly-built stadiums in every major football city, the FA and the clubs have to work in hand in hand to bring more fans to the games. The target might be 15 thousand average attendances in five years and 20 thousand in ten years.
Secondly Turkish clubs need to get some results on the European front. Turkish fans put a lot of emphasis on successful results in European competitions. But since the famous UEFA cup victory by Galatasaray in 2000, Turkish clubs have only had one UEL semi-final, two UEL quarter-finals and two Champions League (UCL) quarter-finals.
And finally the Turkish FA have to eliminate dirty play on the pitch. There are too many brutal kicks in the Turkish league which hamper the flow of the play and leaves many players injured during the season.
What do you think of UEFA’s new reforms making it more difficult for smaller clubs to qualify?
As far as we know UEFA seems to be dividing Europe into two in terms of quality. The major leagues will still be able to play regularly in the UCL in the years to come. That being said, clubs from midsize and small leagues will have great difficulty in reaching the groups of the UCL. Meanwhile that means more room in the UEL groups for those clubs from midsize and small leagues. Nonetheless UEFA should avoid the passage of third ranked clubs in the UCL group stages to the UEL knockout stages. Otherwise big clubs will still play an important role the UEL as well.
Would you like to see a new third competition being developed by UEFA? If so, what should it look like?
Definitely not. It’s taken years to make the UEL a competent competition in terms of its financial rewards. UEFA would not be able to manage a third European competition.
Thanks go to Alp, who you can follow here. Stay tuned for further instalments!