Okan Buruk’s Galatasaray reboot fired up by rivals Fenerbahce’s stars wars
After their worst Super Lig finish of 13th, Turkey’s most successful club are trying to reignite the flame. The season could not have gone much worse for Galatasaray and they have returned to their tried and tested method of hiring a club legend as head coach and bringing in veteran foreign players.
Such was the failing in the league that they sacked Fatih Terim after a disastrous start to the season. His replacement, Domènec Torrent, lasted six unpopular months in Istanbul. The Spaniard halted the slide, secured a draw in Camp Nou against Barcelona and the players enjoyed his methods but that was not enough to keep his job.
Club legend Okan Buruk has arrived as head coach, Dursun Ozbek is back to serve a second term as president and this summer’s signings of Haris Seferovic, Dries Mertens and Lucas Torreira have whet the fans’ appetite. The club now has romantic hopes of pushing for a 23rd title in the centenary year of the Turkish republic.
They have started the campaign in underwhelming fashion with a home defeat to Giresunspor sandwiched between two 1-0 away victories thanks to late goals from the 37-year-old Bafétimbi Gomis. On Sunday they face the champions, Trabzonspor, who finished 29 points above them last season, with the aim of showing progress is being made.
Although the household name signings are intriguing, many are aged 30 or over, their best days behind them and earning high wages. It is a risky strategy considering the low value of the Turkish lira – currently at 21.45 to the pound – and with the club €410m in debt.
Last summer Galatasaray planned to bring in younger players with potential to increase their value and create a sustainable business model. Four foreigners under the age of 24 were acquired, including Victor Nelsson who had been linked with a move to La Liga and the Premier League, but due to the underwhelming season, this has been abandoned.
In the past, Galatasaray have signed numerous big names, including Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, and the 35-year-old Mertens is the latest example. Understandably, by splashing out on foreign stars there are fears that domestic players are being neglected, leaving the squad unbalanced.
Having to no more than 14 foreign players in a match day squad with only eight permitted to play at a time, there is a pressing need for quality Turkish players. Kerem Akturkoglu is their standout native, and he looks destined for a move to one of the top five leagues in Europe, but his compatriots at Galatasaray are not at the same level. Galatasaray’s 2000 Uefa Cup triumph was built on a strong Turkish contingent of Hakan Sukur, Umit Davala and the current coach, Buruk, but those days are long gone.
Galatasaray are confident of making two to three more signings before the window closes. One key target is Cengiz Under, a talented winger who has struggled to settle in recent years, including a forgettable spell on loan at Leicester during the 2020-21 season. Brentford’s Halil Dervisoglu, who has spent 18 months on loan at Galatasaray, is another who offers quality to the home contingent.
The good news is that Buruk has recent experience of winning the Super Lig, lifting the trophy with Istanbul Basaksehir in 2020. His other spells as a manager, however, have lasted no longer than a season and he was sacked by Basaksehir nine months after their triumph, after a tricky second campaign.
The rivalry between the Istanbul clubs is infamous. Who can forget Graeme Souness planting the Galatasaray flag in the middle of the pitch at Fenerbahce after a particularly feisty derby? Their latest feud is more administrative, with Galatasaray irked by their rivals putting five stars on their shirts to symbolise winning the domestic title on 28 occasions – clubs are permitted one star per five titles.
However, nine of those championships were won before the creation of the Super Lig in 1959 and are not acknowledged. Galatasaray, Turkey’s most successful club, with four official stars above the crest, have not taken the added decagons well. It is a matter of prestige.
This has added spice to a season that has Fenerbahce installed as favourites to secure the title. They have made some shrewd signings, including Joshua King and Bruma, and have found their feet, winning their past two games 6-0 and 4-2 after an entertaining opening day 3-3 draw against Umraniyespor. Enner Valencia, the former West Ham striker, has scored six goals in three league games to lay down a marker.
Elsewhere in Istanbul, Besiktas’s transfer strategy is based on reigniting stalling careers. Gedson Fernandes, Wout Weghorst, Cenk Tosun and, most notably, the former England international Dele Alli have all landed at Vodafone Park this summer to become part of Valérien Ismaël’s band of forgotten former Premier League stars.
They will all be trying to catch Trabzonspor who missed out on Champions League group stage football this week after their loss to Copenhagen, meaning there will be no Turkish representatives, a sign of the country’s decline on the European stage. Israel, Scotland and Czech Republic can all boast of teams in Europe’s elite competition. Besiktas did make it to the group stage last year, losing all six matches by an aggregate score of 19-3.Galatasaray will be hoping they can live up to their historic expectation because another woeful season would be a most unwelcome hell.