Turkish national squad could grab surprise win at Euros

Turkish national squad could grab surprise win at Euros

Barçın Yinanç - barcin.yinanc@hdn.com.tr
Turkish national squad could grab surprise win at Euros The Turkish football squad faces a difficult group at Euro 2016 as the teams in its group are similar in stregth, according to a sports commentator. 

However, if it manages to emerge from the group in the tournament that started over the weekend, Turkey’s chances will be higher -- to the point that it could even grab a surprise win at the end despite not being among the favorites, said journalist Gülengül Altansay. 

Tell us about the profile of the Turkish team?

The current national team is a much better team compared to the one that preceded it. There were players in the former one that used the team for their own sake. Coach Fatih Terim resisted for a long time but then started to move during the last two years to create a new team. The type of players I was talking about were taken out of the team, and he gathered players who have similar attributes. This is a team that people from Turkey can easily endorse. But one has to say that there are not too many players in the team that have [come through the Turkish system].

Indeed there are seven players who are Turkish migrants who have played or are playing in Europe.

Actually I don’t find it correct to put pressure on Turkish migrants playing in Europe so that they choose the Turkish national team. Had Hakan Çalhanoğlu chosen Germany, he would have raised the trophy at the World Cup [in 2014].

The profile of the national team does not represent the current level of football in Turkey. Look at Iceland; look at the numbers of licensed players and licensed coaches compared to its tiny population. We are 78 million yet we cannot come up with 11 players that have been raised in Turkey. That says a lot about our football.

And Turkey’s coach is again Fatih Terim.

It is wrong to make a myth out of Terim. We have come to such a point that criticizing him has come to be identified with criticizing the national team. Indeed, Terim deserves all the praise for his past performances. He is one of the best coaches that Turkey has produced.

Up until he became the coach of Fiorentina [in 2000], we saw an ambitious coach eager to learn. He probably took much of a shine to the nickname he was given at that time: the emperor. He started to act along the line of “I don’t have to learn, I will teach.” That has reflected itself in his failures. It seems he is getting out of that mood. There are changes in his approach to the game. I think it was a wise move, for instance, to place Mehmet Topal in the center of defense. This is in line with contemporary football. It is a decision that shows he is breaking established norms. He has renewed himself as well as the team. It is a team where no one lords over the others. That’s why I am hopeful. 

How is the mood in Turkey, in terms of the interest in the tournament?

Turkey has a lot of problems and it seems there is no light at the end of the tunnel in terms of a solution. For some time, we have seen a trend among some players – and also among those who are playing in Europe – to prostrate in prayer or give a soldier’s salute after scoring a goal in reference to the current political environment in Turkey, related to the Kurdish issue and the tension in the country. 

If this team makes certain similar symbolic gestures after scoring, that will not be a unifying move but a divisive one. There should be no pressure of a political or discriminating type in the national team. They should avoid this type of behavior or anything that could cause resentment in some circles in Turkey. This should be a team everybody in Turkey, whatever their religion or ethnic affinity, should endorse. 

Football cannot make problems go away. Football should not be used to make up for the lack of a solution. So the national team should not forget that they are the team of all of Turkey. And if they were to take a unifying stance, this could reflect positively on other issues.

Why can’t a country like Turkey, which glorifies football so much, come up with 11 players who were produced at home?

For the past 20 years and especially in the course of the past 10 years, so much money has entered into football that big clubs do not want to take a risk. They recruit famous footballers to avoid taking a risk with the supporters of the team. Even if the team fails, they just say, “Well, [the players they recruited] did not play well.” No one wants to make an investment in the infrastructure with the aim of raising a player. When big clubs are like that, the smaller ones follow suit. You may ask about where they find the money: from the broadcasting rights. Today, football is governed by TV channels. Unfortunately, the clubs are not using the money they receive wisely. 

Look at this year’s champion, Beşiktaş. [Ricardo] Quaresma; the team’s supporters adore him. Yet there are two players which have contributed to this year success, and they are Oğuzhan [Özyakup] and Atiba [Hutchinson]. They are the players who were getting the least applause when entering or exiting the game. But there have been times when Quaresma has not served the team, but, on the contrary, harmed the team.

If there has been no change in the approach to football for years, how did Turkey manage to make it to Euro 2016? Is it because of the migrant players?

Yes, but as I said before, there is also a balance within the team. There is no privileged player in the team, they are similar in terms of age and talent. 

How will the Turkish team fare?

The Turkish team started really badly, and there were times when we said this was over. They made a comeback at the last minute; the team in time started to improve and Terim started to form a better team. The backs with Oğuzhan are very good. The only problem we have is in the middle of defense with the stoppers. In terms of forwards, Burak Yılmaz is good but I hope Terim will use Cenk [Tosun] who is in better shape. Terim should not act in line with general expectations, thinking what others say. He should take courageous decisions. By placing midfielder Mehmet Topal in the center of defense, the team will get the chance to start the game from the back. In today’s football, the more you get the players into the game, the more you increase the chances of success. You can’t say these are defenders and that they should wait. Today, everyone is doing everything.

How about the other teams?

European champion Spain failed in the World Cup; they are renewing their team. Germany couldn’t renew the team, and I think they have lost strength. France is at an advantage because it has good players, and it is the host country. Turkey has a chance. The most difficult period is the one ahead. Turkey’s job will be easier if it is able to get out of the group. But Turkey’s group consists of teams of equal strength. But once out of the group, Turkey’s chances will increase. 

Compared with the Turkish squad, other teams have better players who are playing at big clubs. But forming a balanced team is equally important and Turkey has a chance in that sense. Look at Leicester, which won against squads of celebrity players in [the English Premiership].  

I don’t expect Turkey to become the champion. But I wouldn’t be surprised either if it were to win. Both Turkey and Iceland are no favorites, but both could make surprises. 

Tell us about the general environment under which the Euro 2016 is taking place.

It is happening under the shadow of rising nationalism, racism and the refugee crisis. Take the host country France; the fact that [Real Madrid star] Karim Benzema was not included in the team is attributed to racism. Liberals in France did not even object to that. But the French team that won the World Cup in 1998 had nearly no [ethnic] French, but the team composure was a unifying factor. The rise in nationalism and racism that is fueled by the migration crisis and terrorism has started to reflect itself on football. 

On the other hand, these tournaments were thrilling because we were able to watch many players thanks to these competitions. But now we have the chance to watch players wherever they play. So we know the players. Second, these players play 50, 60 games a year. They are tired, and I think they are not so excited about these national games.

Who is Gülengül Altınsay? 

Turkish national squad could grab surprise win at Euros

Born in the northwestern town of Düzce, Gülengül Altınsay went to school in many different places due to the profession of her father. She graduated from Istanbul University’s Science Faculty and started working at daily Aydınlık in 1978, the year she graduated.

Following the Sept 12, 1980, military coup she quit journalism and started to work as a teacher. After nine years, she returned to journalism in 1989 and began to write for sports magazines. Her first personal columns started to appear in 1990 in daily Güneş.

In the course of the past 25 years she has worked at several newspapers, including daily Hürriyet, writing on sports. Her columns appear currently in daily Cumhuriyet, where she has been writing for the last two years.

A member of Beşiktaş, she once put her nomination in for the administration of the team.