Season Preview: New Season, New Questions
Can Fenerbahce Win Their 18th Super Lig Title?
By Nathan L. Redd
The long, hot summer is coming to an end as the Turkcell Super Lig kicks off another season Friday night. Despite a season of ups and downs, Fenerbahce wasn't great.....but they were good enough to win their record 17th Super Lig title in May. The title leaves the team confident heading into the season, but the club knows that repeating won't be easy. Historic rivals Galatasaray and Besiktas both improved their fortunes during the offseason, and Turkish after-thoughts Genclerbirligi and Kayserispor are ready to make some serious noise in 2007-2008. No team other than the "Istanbul three" and Trabzonspor has ever won the Super Lig title. Is this the year that someone other than the big four breaks through?
Fenerbahce looked good at times last season, but they also looked exhausted and confused. Zico, however, got the team playing its best at the end of the season and the squad took care of business against Besiktas and Galatasaray to claim the title. However, longtime veterans Rustu Recber, Umit Ozat, and Tuncay Sanli are gone. The new-look Yellow Canaries have a mix of youth and experience, but is it enough to win in 2008 and give headaches to opposing UEFA Champions League teams?
President Aziz Yildirim made some huge moves in the transfer market during the offseason. As a result, Fenerbahce may arguably be a more talented team than last year's side. However, there are A LOT of new faces and a lot of guys hungry for the ball. Whether or not Zico can keep everyone happy and find chemistry in the squad remains to be seen. Let's take a look at the 2007-2008 team:
New faces in 2007-2008: Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid), Gökçek Wederson (Ankaraspor), Colin Kazım Richards (Sheffield United), Ali Bilgin (Antalyaspor), İlhan Parlak (Kayserispor), Gökhan Gönül (Genclerbirligi OftaşSpor) and Yasin Çakmak (Çaykur Rizespor)
Key losses: Ümit Özat (FC Koln), Serkan Balcı (Trabzonspor), Rüştü Reçber, Mehmet Yozgatlı (Beşiktaş), Tuncay Şanlı (Middlesbrough), Recep Biler (Genclerbirligi OftaşSpor), Olcan Adın (Karşıyaka) and Kerim Zengin (İstanbul BB Spor)
Why Fenerbahce Will Win the Super Lig in 2007-2008: Aziz Yildirim has used the summer to put together a good mix of youth and experience for this year's team. UEFA Champions League veteran and global superstar Roberto Carlos comes to Kadikoy as one of the most heralded signings in Fenerbahce history. The Fenerbahce backline with Carlos, Diego Lugano, Onder Turaci, and Edu Dracena may be one of the best in Europe. Can Arat, Wederson, Gokhan Gonul, and Yasin Cakmak will provide the defense with a much-needed boost after a season in which strikers often found it easy to penetrate the Fener backline. After a year of confusion in goal, Fener seems to have found a reliable keeper in Serdar Kulbilge. His performance against Besiktas in the Super Cup has fans feeling optimistic. Volkan Demirel brings experience as a back-up, but his performance was inconsistent last year.
Up front, Fenerbahce returns hitman Mateja Kezman and brings in new forwards Colin Kazim-Richards and Ilhan Parlak, as well as Deivid de Souza and the always-underrated Semih Senturk. Many fans wanted to see Zico employ more of a two-striker approach (as did Kezman), but the Serbian star will once again be counted on to deliver goals this year. His late-minute target in the Super Cup last week has fans feeling confident. In the midfield, Stephen Appiah, Alex de Souza, Tumer Metin and Mehmet Aurelio make a formidable midsection. However, Tumer has the military service distraction this year. Deniz Baris and Ugur Boral bring experience and support to the midfield. Selcuk Sahin and new signees Ali Bilgin and Gurhan Gursoy will be strong back-ups.
Fenerbahce brings talent, youth, and experience to the pitch this season. Roberto Carlos is still at the top of his game and his experience cannot be understated. Colin Kazim-Richards is starting to show flashes of his young talent and could be a steal coming from England. Still, Fenerbahce hoped to sign one more forward before the season to provide help for Kezman. Kezman was under tremendous pressure last season after his failure at Chelsea. The star seems more relaxed this year, and with Alex de Souza healthy, Fenerbahce could have plenty of scoring options from the attacking midfield to help Kezman. Kazim-Richards, Metin, Aurelio, Bilgin, Senturk, Baris, and Parlak are all capable of finding the back of the net. Deivid de Souza, always the forgotten forward, also returns with a lot to prove.
While much of the Super Lig improved during the offseason, no one assembled a more talented overall unit than Fenerbahce. The team could certainly be the most diverse and most talented in Turkiye. This mix of youth, talent, and veteran leadership could be the ticket to an 18th championship and a deep run in the UEFA Champions League this year.
Why Fenerbahce Won't Win the Super Lig in 2007-2008: President Aziz Yildirim brought a lot of talent to Kadikoy, but a formidable side also left Istanbul during the summer. Longtime captain Umit Ozat headed for Germany, and superstar Tuncay Sanli left to try his luck in England. The shocker of the summer came when rivals Besiktas swooped in to sign Rustu Recber and Mehmet Yozgatli in June. Veteran Serkan Balci also left and headed east for Trabzonspor.
The losses of Tuncay, Balci, and Ozat can't be overlooked. Despite his young age, Tuncay was Fenerbahce's go-to man in tough situations. He played with passion, heart, and tenacity. He made good things happen in difficult times. Most Fenerbahce fans knew he would leave eventually, but it doesn't make it any easier to accept. Umit Ozat was a gem in set pieces, and Serkan Balci provided veteran leadership for the team. Rustu's loss shouldn't be as significant as originally thought. Had he left Fenerbahce four years ago, the move would have been huge, but Rustu appears one twisted knee away from retirement now. Yozgatli was a strong back-up and showed flashes of offensive firepower.
Can Serdar be the consistent stopper that Fenerbahce lacked last season? Can Alex de Souza stay healthy? Can Zico keep Mateja Kezman happy as the lone striker up top? Will Stephen Appiah accept his role in Kadikoy? These are all huge questions heading into the opener. Roberto Carlos is still magnificent, but at 34, how much more does he have left? Colin Kazim-Richards shows flashes of brilliance, but his decision-making often reflects his youthfulness. Tumer Metin has always been reliable, but his military service this year will keep him out of action for much of the year. It remains to be seen if Deivid de Souza can be the goal-scoring threat Fener signed him to be, or if he'll be loaned out or sold.
Fenerbahce unquestionably has talent, but a lot of new players will slip on the Fener shirt for the first time tomorrow night. Can Zico mold the experienced guys with the new, young stars and find chemistry? Additionally, Galatasaray and Besiktas return much of the core of their teams, and both made noise in the transfer market during the summer as well. Genclerbirligi signed up-and-coming Australian star Nick Carle, and both Kayserispor and Vestel Manisaspor showed moments of great play last year. Trabzonspor and Denizlispor have played Fener tough in recent years, and as the champion, everyone will be gunning for Fenerbahce this year. It remains to be seen if the talent coming to Kadikoy will equal the talent leaving Sukru Saracoglu over the summer.
The Verdict: The Turkcell Super Lig will once again come down to the wire in 2008. Despite the pessimism of many Turkish fans, the lig is improving. Roberto Carlos, Lincoln, and Tello bring global notoriety to Turkiye. Besiktas is currently cruising in UEFA Champions League qualifying, dispatching Sheriff FC with ease. The bottom of the Super Lig is still not up to par, but teams like Genclerbirligi are trying to climb the ladder. Expect the Ankara outfit to surprise some people, and Denizlispor, Kayserispor, and Trabzonspor will all fare better than expected. Vestel Manisaspor will be much improved as well, but the title race will again come down to the big three. Personally, I'll be shocked if any of them lock up the title before the second-to-last weekend. When it's all said and done, however, Galatasaray will finish a close third again, behind Besiktas and the Super Lig champions - Fenerbahce. I expect Fenerbahce to dispose of Anderlecht in the Champions League and move on. Fener won't win the Champions League this year, nor will they get close to winning it. However, they will move further into the tournament than they have in recent years. It will be enough to provide Fenerbahceli's with optimism headed into the 2008-2009 season.