The stark decline of Turkish football: Who is to blame?

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The Turkish national team, otherwise known as “milli takim”, are under justified scrutiny for recent dismal performances, most recently a 4-0 loss to Brazil.

There is a clear decline in Turkish football there for all to see, with the national team sitting at the bottom of their qualifying group after three games and their only point coming in a draw against Latvia.

There are many factors which could have lead to the demise of Turkish football, that we are going to be discussed further in this piece.

Turkey success was a feature of the past decade

Turkey is a nation that has a huge love for football and developed great players in the process. The team peaked in 2002/03, when they managed an impressive World Cup in Japan/South Korea and managed to finishing in third place. They went on to earn a Confederations Cup place and once again finished third in that competition.

This side developed a host of talent, which was based on a solid defensive partnership with Bulent Korkmaz and former Aston Villa defender Alpay Ozalan. Their strike force was lead by Turkey's all-time top goal scorer Hakan Sukur. The team also had class talent in the shape of Tugay Kerimoglu, Yildiray Basturk and Hasan Sas among others.

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There have been issues with the side ever since, however current manager Fatih Terim managed to motivate his Euro 2008 side to a semi-final place in Austria/Switzerland. The team showed great work ethic and character in that tournament, shocking Europe with many late goals on their way to the latter stages.

Lack of young talent and opportunity

World Cup 2002 saw a rise in Turkish talent bringing through youngsters such as Emre Belezoglu. The Galatasaray youth system was bringing through the majority of the talent, giving players like Emre debuts at the age of 16.

Currently it is difficult for youngsters in Turkey to see the same opportunity, as there are more foreign players in the league. The amount of foreign players has spread through the Turkish Super Lig, generally lowering the standard. It is an argument that has been brought up about the Premier League as well. Teams are bringing in average players to play ahead of local talent and it is not progressive in terms of player development.

The golden generation in Turkey developed from a successful Galatasaray side that managed to win the UEFA Cup in 2000 as well as the Super Cup against Real Madrid.

Primarily Turkish players were in the side that played for Galatasaray against Arsenal in the Uefa Cup final with the exception of stars such as Taffarel, Popescu, Capone and the legendary Gheorghe Hagi. In the Champions League last month Galatasaray fielded 7 non-Turkish players against Arsenal at the Emirates in the group stage match, losing 4-1.

Fatih Terim

Fatih Terim, also known as “The Emperor” is the most legendary manager in Turkish Football. He is clearly a man motivator and lead Galatasaray to UEFA Cup victory in 2000. He also led Turkey to the Semi-Finals of Euro 2008. This is a man that managed in the peak years of Italian football at Fiorentina and Milan. His success is clear for everyone to see and has undying passion for football.

The problem with Terim is that he seems out-dated in his tactical thinking, the game has adapted and he has not managed to do so. The team he currently puts out don’t seem motivated and it may be the end of the road for “the emperor.”

Turkish Ego stopping a full inquest

Turkey is a very proud nation that wears their heart on their sleeve and for years this has been shown in their football teams. Players like Bulent Korkmaz continuing to play with a dislocated shoulder in the UEFA Cup final. Former centre back Servet Cetin hobbling with a strapped up knee in Euro 2008. This passion has been lost amongst the current crop of Turkish Players. The determination to go with talent does not seem to be there, unlike successful teams of the past.

According to Turkish Football News website TFN former Arsenal star Alex Hleb, star now playing in Turkey with Konyaspor, is of the same belief stating,

Hleb said:It’s my second season here in Konya and I’ve pretty much seen everything.  I can’t say there’s much of a difference between Turkey and the rest of Europe.

"People may think there is, but there really isn’t.  The training is the same, and the same tactical language is being spoken.  Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the Turks is their ego. I’m afraid if they can’t get rid of their egos, they won’t find any success.”

Hleb not alone in damaging assessment

This is a blunt criticism from the former Arsenal and Barcelona man but the same thing could not be said about Turkish players of the past.

The success has got to the head of Turkish players and the influence of lazy foreigners who finish their careers at Turkish sides for the money may not have helped. This has not helped the competitiveness of the Turkish Super Lig as well as the mentality of young Turkish players.


It is clear that both the mental and physical development of the current Turkish side needs to change. The technical level is not far off however there are clear issues with the mentality in Turkey.

This may have stemmed from the influx of foreign players. However it is lazy to consider this as the sole reason, as signings like Gheorghe Hagi have also helped the league greatly. More opportunity needs to be given to Turkish youngsters and the pride needs to come back in to the Turkish national football Team.

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