Lions relish their refound form

Lions relish their refound form

Lions relish their refound form

Galatasaray players run to salute the supporters following their 3-1 victory over Fenerbahçe in the Spor Toto Super League. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

Only six months ago, Galatasaray was a team facing the risk of being relegated from the top-flight for the first time in history. Today, they are looking down on their rivals following two convincing wins. Last week, Galatasaray capped its recent rise to form with two convincing victories over Fenerbahçe and Trabzonspor – the top two teams last season. The 3-1 win Dec. 7 was the first victory over Fenerbahçe in 3.5 years, and the 3-0 rout of Trabzonspor on Dec. 11 was the team’s first away victory over its opponent in four seasons. Ending those long droughts, the team could finally break away from last season’s disappointment, which saw the club set its own record of most defeats in a single campaign.
As in many cases, coach Fatih Terim deserves most of the credit with the ability to turn a wreckage of a team to the table-toppers in only three months time. That was hardly a surprise given the 58-year-old is the usual emergency call in times of crisis at the club.

This is Terim’s fourth spell at the club, including his playing career as a resilient defender. He already had a big place in the club’s history, but it was his first coaching period at Galatasaray that made him a legend for the Lions. From 1996 to 2000, Galatasaray won four consecutive league titles, one UEFA Cup and European Super Cup – being the only Turkish team to achieve these feats. After short-lived experiences at Fiorentina and AC Milan, he was lured back to help his club. But the two seasons between 2003 and 2005 were largely disappointing. However, just when the team was thought to have hit rock bottom, his number was the one that would be called.

It is still so early in the campaign, especially considering the regular season will be followed by a playoff, but so far, Terim has done a good job of creating a good blend from a group of new players. That said, he was given a talented group. Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera could have been purchased by any of the biggest clubs in the continent, but he chose Galatasaray. Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi brought his experience, Ivory Coast Emmanuel Eboue gave versatility and Sweden’s Johan Elmander contributed with his scoring touch. The midfield partnership between Brazil’s Felipe Melo and Turkish international playmaker Selçuk İnan proved to be effective on both ends of the pitch.

Those players are all quality players that have either spent years at the highest level or still being regularly picked for their national teams, so the part of the success should be credited to the man who made those transfers possible. Ünal Aysal, a 70-year-old businessman, was slated by former Chairman Adnan Polat as “Galatasaray doesn’t need its [Chelsea owner Roman] Abramovich” during his candidacy. But he won over the fans quickly, thanks to his calm and wise statements and a clear abstain from intervening with Terim’s work (an unusual practice in Turkish football).

It should be underlined, however, that Galatasaray had a psychological and physical edge over its main rivals. Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş and Trabzonspor came under scrutiny with the landmark match-fixing case. Fenerbahçe lost four key players, including striker Mamadou Niang and defender Diego Lugano, following the Turkish Football Federation’s (TFF) decision to bar the team from the Champions League.

Beşiktaş and Trabzonspor played in the European competitions, prompting inevitable distraction. The fact that solid outsiders, Bursaspor, Kayserispor, Gençlerbirliği, lost their key players to top clubs also played a huge part in Galatasaray’s breakthrough.

However, Galatasaray fans will not be stopping to think about that right now. The team’s current run of results, appetite for goals and boasting two promising youngsters, defender Semih Kaya and midfielder Emre Çolak, will be enough to keep the smiles on their face.