A year of newcomers and fading stars in Turkish football

Published 01.01.2019 22:51
Updated 02.01.2019 08:00

The sports world in Turkey bid farewell to 2018 with mixed results that brought cheer to underdog teams and puzzled the fans of former giants of Turkish football.

Football is the most beloved sport for the Turkish nation and naturally it dominated headlines year round. There was a particular focus on the downfall of the "big three" in the Turkish Super League, namely, Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş and Galatasaray. These three Istanbul-based outfits ended the year on a gloomy note with their standings in the league on the decline.

The year, on the other hand, had started with good news for players. Premier League side Everton signed Beşiktaş forward Cenk Tosun for 22 million euros, the highest fee paid by a foreign team to a player coming from any Turkish league. Arda Turan, who made waves in Spain's La Liga, meanwhile, returned to Turkey for a deal with Medipol Başakşehir, departing from Barcelona on loan and ending a tenure of more than six seasons abroad.

Galatasaray were crowned champions in the Turkish Super League for a record 21st time in May after defeating İzmir's Göztepe 1-0 in its final game of the season. The victory sealed a triumphant return for veteran coach Fatih Terim, who has been dubbed the "Emperor." Terim took the reins for the fourth time in 2017, months after leaving his job as Turkey's national team coach amid controversy over a street brawl.

Yet, neither Galatasaray, nor other members of big three have managed to live up to the hype in the first half of this season, consenting to lower ranks in a league dominated by former minnows. Medipol Başakşehir ended the first half of 2018-19 season in December as the leading team with 35 points.

Evkur Yeni Malatyaspor, another rising star, wrapped up the first half in the third spot, after Trabzonspor which long struggled against the big three for top spots only to remain in their shadow.

Former league champions Fenerbahçe remain in the relegation zone with only 16 points while Çaykur Rizespor is anchored in last place with a lowly 12 points.

2018 was a year of a radical change for the Yellow Canaries of Fenerbahçe, which ended a decades-old reign of veteran chairman Aziz Yıldırım. Ali Koç, an energetic businessman who thrilled fans with his promises to return the team to its glory days, faced a crisis in the first half of the season due to financial troubles and has failed to satisfy fans. Fenerbahçe's points have been sharply declining amid a lack of fervor in the team, leading to more tension in the club. A streak of defeats cost Dutch coach Phillip Cocu his job and brought back former title winning coach Ersun Yanal just a few weeks before the first half.

2018 also brought one of the most controversial changes in recent memory to Turkish football. The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system further fueled the debate over controversial referee decisions, an excuse for most clubs to shift the blame on their failures. The VAR was a dominant force on the pitch, with 98 decisions changed in total, affecting the outcome of matches. The system canceled 24 goals and awarded seven goals to teams in matches.

On an international level, Galatasaray, Beşiktaş and Akhisarspor were the only representatives in the Champions League and the Europa League but all of them failed to impress with less than stellar results. One little solace for Turkey was being awarded the 2020 UEFA Champions League final, an event watched by millions.

Turkey, however, failed to secure the right to host the Euro 2024, losing the bid to its only rival Germany in September. Germany also figured in another disappointment for Turkey after mistreatment of Mesut Özil, a German-born player of Turkish origin, by the German Football Federation. Özil quit the German national team in July, citing racial abuse soon after what he called an unfair criticism over his photos with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan's photo-op with Özil and İlkay Gündoğan, another German player of Turkish origin, during the former's visit to London, triggered scandalous comments amounting to racism by German Football Federation officials. Özil accused far-right politicians and media for questioning his loyalty to Germany, and using his picture with Erdoğan "as an opportunity to express their previously hidden racist tendencies."

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