After Beşiktaş's Europa League exit, a prominent Turkish columnist wrote, "I condemn Beşiktaş, which got eliminated from a group full of Scandinavian village clubs." The Istanbul club was beaten by Swedish minnows Malmö, bringing its European campaign to an end to in the group stages. What the writer claims is that there is an inherent difference of quality between Beşiktaş and Scandinavian clubs and whenever Beşiktaş is beaten by one, it is a disgrace. But as far as the Turkish clubs' international performance is concerned, there is no categorical difference between them and Scandinavian clubs, even though some players in top Turkish clubs can be worth more than entire Scandinavian squads.
Both Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe were humbled by some small but tough opponents this week. Beşiktaş only needed a draw against Malmö in Istanbul to qualify for the next round, but they lost 1-0, in what was a humiliating performance. You can easily say the Black Eagles fans felt completely lost the way Beşiktaş winger Ricardo Quaresma was sent off. The Portuguese star stamped on a Malmö player, deliberately trying to hurt him and saw a red. I have now lost count how many times Quaresma has done this, betraying his team.
However, even without Quaresma's ridiculous red card, Beşiktaş was in serious trouble to find opportunities against Malmö. Despite the fact that it needed a victory, Malmö did not take the initiative and forced Beşiktaş to play with the ball, something that the Turkish side does not like to do. The plan worked brilliantly, while Beşiktaş's offense was paralyzed with the lack of time and space. It became more and more vulnerable to counterattacks due to their confused defensive shape. Malmö converted the only serious chance it found, and then the disorganized Beşiktaş offense found it even a tougher to unlock the Scandinavian defense.
The Fenerbahçe case is a bit different since they changed their coach for the third time last week. But their performance was quite similar to Beşiktaş's - unable to open strict defenses and vulnerable against counterattacks. The new coach Ersun Yanal's first job should be making his team defensively as tough as the Scandinavian "village" teams. Given that many Turkish Super League teams also implement similar defensive strategies, it will be vital Fenerbahçe learns to counter them.
But for the time being, Turkish teams face the hard truth that you do not need to spend millions to play well and spending millions does not guarantee that you will play well. The time has come to return to the basics and restructure Turkish football.