Analysis: Turkish football eyes better times ahead after turbulent years

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-26 23:11:26|Editor: yan
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By Burak Akinci

ANKARA, March 26 (Xinhua) -- The Turkish national football team has secured two victories in a row with a new coach at its helm and is hoping to get its Euro 2020 qualifying campaign on track after years of turbulence amid controversy and financial crises.

In its first match last week, Turkey won 2-0 at Albania, followed by a 4-0 home victory over Moldova on Monday evening in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

These wins were much-needed for a team that failed to qualify for the last two FIFA World Cups in 2014 and 2018, causing disenchantment in a country where football is by far the most popular sport.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan watched the second half of the Moldova game, and congratulated the players afterwards, adding that he hoped that "this momentum [of success] will be preserved in the future."

Turkey is in Group H of the Euro 2020 qualifiers along with France, Iceland, Albania, Andorra and Moldova.

Earlier this month the Turkish national team changed its head coach. Romanian veteran Mircea Lucescu, who had been under-fire for poor results, left to be replaced by Senol Gunes, who had previously taken Turkey to third place in the 2002 World Cup, and now faced a difficult task.

Now under heavy strain, the Turkish Super League was considered less than a decade ago to be one of Europe's stranger leagues. But match-fixing scandals, internal problems in Istanbul's so called "big three" clubs of Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas, and financial debts have contributed to the downfall of the national squad.

Many big teams are laboring under crippling debts and a lack of accountability, having spent too much money on foreign imports.

Conscious that football is a serious and truly venerated institution by millions of fans in Turkey, the country's government has initiated a financial scheme addressing some of the clubs' distress, but only time will tell if the plan will be successful.

Turkish football federation chief Yildirim Demiroren, a well-known businessman and controversial figure in the sport, recently handed in his resignation amid financial woes and bad results.

Some experts feel this is an opportunity to reshape the institution of football altogether in Turkey, and restart with a new vision.

"The greatest problem of Demiroren's period in football was not the failure of the national team, but the financial administration of Turkish clubs," Istanbul-based football specialist Arda Alan Isik told Xinhua.

"Turkish football is now experiencing its worst financial crisis ever," he said, estimating the total debt to be a staggering 1.73 billion U.S. dollars, in a country which has entered an economic recession.

"The Turkish Super League is worth around 600 million euro, yet its overall debts accounts to 1.75 billion euro," Isik indicated, underlining that the national team's performance has also been partially affected by these problems.

Isik hailed the measures implemented to keep debt-laden clubs afloat, but remarked that these were insufficient, and called on authorities to make club managers legally accountable for their misgivings and overspending.

Because of years of controversy and crisis surrounding football in Turkey, "fans have grown cold of the sport, which is supposed to be something fun. And this shows in the dramatic decline in attendance at games," Isik added.

There is also the issue of foreign players in the Super League which still sparks controversy, after a decision in 2015 to raise the limit of foreign players in a club squad to 14. Some teams take to the field without a single Turkish player in their starting 11.

While this has made it easier to attract foreign talents to Turkey, the inevitable downside is the increased difficulty for local talent to come through the clubs' ranks.

"Rather than aiming for splashy headlines in the press for their inflated transfers, club managers should focus on developing young talent and invest at the grassroots level," Isik said, cautioning that it could be a long time before Turkish football emerges from its current malaise.