The silent revolution in Turkish football

Published 08.10.2019 00:45

Right now the first four teams of the Turkish Süper Lig table are Alanyaspor, Sivasspor, Trabzonspor and Konyaspor. If the league ended this week, these teams would be the representatives of Turkish football in the European arena. I highly doubt that these teams, except maybe Trabzonspor, are known outside of Turkey. The usual suspects from Istanbul - Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş - are struggling to keep up with first four and the gap is widening. This means that we might see a surprising result at the end of the season, as the codes of Turkish football are changing slowly.

First, the era of Los Galacticos has ended in Turkey, roughly a decade after it had in other parts of Europe. Just five years ago the success of a team was highly dependent on the individual quality of its players, but right now it has been replaced by the quality of collective action. A talentless but hard-working defensive midfielder is as important as a superstar striker today. Most of the coaches in Turkey have finally started to interpret the game as a series of collective actions, and started to pay attention to organizing connections between their players. This combined with the fact that the cooperation of two ordinary players is more powerful than a talented but lone player's effort, has allowed the relatively weak teams of Turkey to play as good as the Istanbul giants without huge spending.

Added to that, as is the trend in global football today, the humble Anatolian teams are able to play with less offensive burden and they have the advantage of underestimation. Their big opponents are mostly expected to win, so an ordinary Anatolian team does not need to put a great effort in a domination game. The only thing they need is a solid defensive strategy and some decent offensive set-pieces. They do not need to circulate the ball like Manchester City in the opponent's penalty box, but to play directly with a set-piece. This method not only makes it harder for big opponent's to score, it also requires less risk to score on the Anatolian teams' behalf.

However, what differentiates this new approach from the old classic counterattacking models is that the new method is more complex and organized. The ancient way of counter-attacking would involve parking the bus in front of the penalty box and playing long-balls into the opponent's half, hoping that one of them would find their target. Nevertheless, the new type of counter-attacking resembles counter-pressing, but in a more conservative way. Unlike Klopp's Liverpool, a decent Anatolian team today presses their opponent in the middle of the pitch, rather than in front of their penalty box. Normally, against a team which plays domination game well this would cause some problems, as it leaves some time and space for buildups.

Since no Turkish team is able to play a domination game properly right now, this weak spot is mostly hidden. But it seems clear to me that until a team in Turkey excels in the domination game, whoever plays this new counterattacking method the best and add some offensive variations to it, will get the best results. This new method has already changed the way football is played in Turkey and it will continue to change it more. Rather than lamenting for the easy days of the past, I think the big guns of the Süper Lig should accept this change and aim for a proper domination game.

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