Sooner or later, there comes a moment of truth for every figure trying to reform Turkish football. After a period of struggle, which is the natural result of change, all coaches and executives who try to bring something new to the table face the big question: is reform worth the risk?
As mentioned in the last Sports to the Point piece, Fenerbahçe has been struggling with the new vision brought by their new administration and coach. They were trying to build a young team with a consistent and effective game, and that does not happen overnight.
Nevertheless, after three consecutive defeats in the league, Fenerbahçe decided that following this agenda was too risky, and their performance against Konyaspor was a clear return to classic Turkish football practices.
The paradigm shift was first evident in the squad selection - young players like Barış Alıcı and Eljif Elmas were on the bench. Coach Phillip Cocu opted for a less risky and a more experienced squad, but the effects of his choice did not pay off until the last 30 minutes of the game.
Although he was not taking risks with young players, he was also not getting efficient effort in attack from his experienced players. He needed to win, but his team was not pressing their relatively weak opponents to create any significant offensive openings. Ironically, he was saved by one of his young players he had on the bench before the game, Eljif Elmas.
The young Macedonian not only actively orchestrated Fenerbahçe attacks, but he also scored a goal which brought three points to Fenerbahçe. His performance should be a warning sign for Cocu, that short-term wizardry does not always bring short-term success.
Secondly and more importantly, the game Fenerbahçe played against Konyaspor was totally inconsistent with the goals of the team. Not to belittle Konyaspor, but it was obvious that a draw would not be the end of the world for them, but it would be for Fenerbahçe. Still, it was Konyaspor preparing organized attacks and pressing their opponent without leaving Fenerbahçe time to build their game.
At the same time, Fenerbahçe left Konyaspor players deep in their half, letting Konya dictate the game. All of Konyaspor's six shots that found the target were real opportunities, while Fenerbahçe's only clear chance was the goal they scored. Thus, the game happened almost in the exact opposite way it was supposed to happen, and Konyaspor coach Rıza Çalımbay deserves praise for his daring game.
While Konyaspor was boldly pressing and attacking, Fenerbahçe was too busy sitting deep, fearing that a long ball could create a serious threat. At one point, the length of Fenerbahçe's game was from one penalty box to the other, leaving a huge space for Konyaspor to roam free.
Interestingly, despite Konyaspor's unwillingness to play long balls - instead bringing the ball into the wings - Fenerbahçe did not even try to press Konyaspor's center, Marko Jevtovic and Jens Jonsson, to cripple this process.
Added to this, despite the intense press, Fenerbahçe did not try to shift the wings with long balls, or to create time and space by changing direction. Coach Cocu was so alarmed by Konyaspor's counterattacking legacy that he did not risk any of his defensive fortifications.
This leads us to the conclusion that Phillip Cocu was too afraid of losing his job, an understandable excuse, so he changed his strategy to a defensive one rather than focusing on attacking.
Even though Fenerbahçe has gotten good results with this strategy, it does not offer sufficient strategic or tactical depth to dominate the Turkish league and to become competitive in the Champions League. Therefore, we can say that the new Fenerbahçe project collapsed and the team returned to its old ways to save the day.
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