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Leagues: Turkish Super League

Change in transfer policy at Fenerbahce give club supporters newfound optimism


When Fenerbahce lost last season’s league title to crosstown rivals Galatasaray, it was obvious the club would not let that stand.  Seeing their rivals win the right to tack on a fourth star to their emblem (stars in Turkey are for every five league titles) certainly didn’t sit down well with the faithful.  While many were quick to put the blame on chairman Aziz Yildirim, and with the club’s fans already angry at the season that was suffered, Fenerbahce decided to make big moves in the transfer market to pacify supporters and make a run for the league title.

In the last few windows, Fenerbahce have been quiet on the transfer front.  The only major signing that was made in the last couple of windows was Diego Ribas from Atletico Madrid, and he came in as a free agent.  With the lack of European competition due to their two year ban imposed by UEFA for alleged match fixing, Fenerbahce could not attract any sort of decent talent from abroad.  But with the ban coming to an end, two things changed their transfer outlook.

The first is the relaxing of the Turkish Super League’s foreigner quota.  In previous years, the quota would force line-ups that would consist of a majority of Turks.  Some of those domestic players, fans of various clubs have argued, are of lower quality.  As such, the quality of play on the field has suffered.  As an example, last season allowed only five foreigners on the field during play, and three additional foreigners on the matchday roster, with one additional foreigner in reserve.  The new foreigner quota allows clubs to have up to 14 foreigners on a 28 man roster, up to eleven foreigners on a matchday roster, and the coach can determine the starting lineup as he sees fit.  As it pertains to the starting lineup, a coach could start a Turkish league game with all starters being foreigners.

SEE MOREListen to an interview with Ata Dizdar about Turkish soccer.

The second is the hiring of former Inter Milan sporting director Giuliano Terraneo as Fenerbahce’s sporting director.  Terraneo immediately went on the prowl for players.  While Sener Ozbayrakli and Fernandao already had deals with Fenerbahce at around the time Terraneo got hired, Terraneo has acquired players in a very unusual amount of time for any Turkish club.  Generally Turkish clubs tend to drag their feet when it comes to transfers and find it hard to convince players to come to Turkey.  Fenerbahce were quick to acquire central defender Simon Kjaer of Lille, defender Abdoulaye Ba and goalkeeper Fabiano Ribeiro of Porto (both of the Porto players come in on one-year loans), and, perhaps one that raised some eyebrows, midfielder Nani of Manchester United.

However, it’s Fenerbahce’s most recent transfer that has made the headlines.

Robin Van Persie was once the leading scorer of the English Premier League.  His most recent season at Manchester United didn’t work out so well as injuries hampered his playing time.  While the injuries were minor in nature, it certainly didn’t help Van Persie’s reputation of being injury prone.  There were times where he wasn’t in the starting eleven for other reasons; such has having Wayne Rooney or Radamel Falcao being selected ahead of him even when he was healthy.  But nobody expected Van Persie to move to Turkey, not even those within the country itself.  Like Wesley Sneijder’s move to Galatasaray before him, Van Persie’s move to Fenerbahce provided a lot of buzz within the football community.  Also, the transfer fee of €6.65 million euros (or £4.7 million) was seen as a bargain in some circles covering soccer in Turkey.  As a comparison, Fenerbahce acquired midfielder Souza from Sao Paulo for €8 million.

Some have argued that the only major reason foreign players sign with Turkish clubs is because of the money.  With a tax rate of 15% for football players in Turkey, that makes the Super League a very attractive area for players to ply their trade.  However, it is a far cry from the glamor of England, Spain, Germany, or Italy for instance.  Van Persie will get a significant wage rate at Fenerbahce for the next three years.  Given that, it is essential to question whether it’s too much for a player who is injury prone and has had attitude issues at times.

Granted, going to Turkey is a tremendous step down for him, and with the lesser quality, Van Persie shouldn’t have issues scoring goals.  But the money paid for him, the injury issues, and the attitude issues will be highly scrutinized.  Nobody in Turkey will be paid more than Van Persie, and whether he is worth it remains to be seen.

SEE MORERead more coverage about the Turkish Super League.

Fenerbahce is taking a tremendous financial risk with this signing.  Granted, Fenerbahce isn’t in as bad of a financial shape as their competitors, but paying the wages reported for Van Persie, along with the wages of Nani, Kjaer, etc., will have to be offset by revenues coming in.  As of right now, Fenerbahce does not have a shirt sponsor.  There are rumors that there are negotiations for a shirt sponsor and that the naming rights for Sukru Saracoglu stadium will be sold off.  In fact, there has been a report published by news website T24 that Ulker, the food manufacturer, has paid for the stadium naming rights. However, players like Nani or Van Persie are not going to play for cheap, especially if they’re playing in Turkey.  Fenerbahce may want to put last season’s failure to retain the league title behind them, but it’s coming at a financial risk.  While Financial Fair Play rules have been relaxed, their Istanbul big three rivals already are under settlements with UEFA’s Club Financial Control Board.  Fenerbahce didn’t have to worry about FFP with their ban, but now that they are back in Europe, they will have to.

The transfer period that Fenerbahce is having hasn’t been seen in Turkey for years.  Most of the time, the major Turkish clubs, with Fenerbahce being a prime example of this, have had to drag their feet when it comes to transfers from abroad.  The addition of Terraneo certainly has helped Fenerbahce attract these sorts of players.  But the major reason for this is the new foreigner quota for the Turkish league.  So perhaps comparisons with previous transfer windows can’t be logically made due to this.  With the availability of many more foreigner spots on a roster in comparison with previous seasons, this transfer period was anticipated to see how all the clubs would respond.  For Fenerbahce, they have responded to the loosening of the quota in a major way.

It also worth noting that Fenerbahce has to go through Champions League qualifiers.  While that has been the case in the past, the hope was that the club would qualify for the group stages and then make quick moves when qualification was secured.  The question is, will the current transfer policy cost them from a financial prospect in a few years?

With their ban from Europe at an end, and with the fans already angry about how last season ended, Fenerbahce has made moves to give fans some sort of hope.  With the foreigner quota being relaxed, and without any transfers made in the last few windows, Fenerbahce have gone on a spending spree.  But this sort of spending has been seen before, and the results have not been positive.  Granted that Fenerbahce has some financial muscle to work with in comparison with other clubs, but whether it results in trophies in upcoming season remains to be seen.  If it doesn’t work out, then the club will pay dearly from a financial standpoint.


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