Saturday, December 15, 2007

Volkan Silencing Critics With Superior Play

Volkan Silencing Critics With Superior Play
By Nathan L. Redd

"He doesn't belong on a top team like Fenerbahce." "He's not a Super Lig-level goalkeeper." "His mistakes will cost Fenerbahce a championship." Volkan Demirel heard all of those statements and more last year. The 26-year-old Istanbul native took more hits than a mafia target last season after then-starter Rustu Recber was injured in a national team match. He was then passed up for the starting spot by third-string goalkeeper Serdar Kulbilge. As Tuncay Sanli, Umit Ozat, Serkan Balci, Mehmet Yozgatli, and Rustu Recber left Kadikoy during the summer, the quiet rumblings of concern were that Fenerbahce didn't have a top-notch goalkeeper. Then starter Serdar Kulbilge went down with a knee injury.

Enter the new Volkan Demirel. After a tumultous 2006-2007 campaign, Volkan quietly improved his game. His concentration, focus, and reflexes closely resemble his one-time mentor, Rustu. But as Rustu quietly drifts into retirement age across the Bogazici in Istanbul, Volkan is entering the prime of his career. Fenerbahce is making history in UEFA Champions League, advancing to the knockout stage for the first time in club history. The team also dominated rivals Galatasaray last weekend in Kadikoy. While Roberto Carlos, Semih Senturk, and veteran Alex de Souza have played major roles in the team's success, Volkan may be the team MVP through the first half. He's allowed only 14 goals through 15 games so far this season. Fourteen of the Super Lig's 18 teams have given up more goals so far. Most of the goals have been beyond his control, and Volkan has been at the top of his game when it mattered most. A clean sheet against world powers Inter Milan. Zero goals given up to Galatasaray. One of the previously-believed "weak spots" for Fenerbahce has quickly become a strength.

As he becomes more experienced with the first team as well as Turkiye's Milli Takim, Volkan is more focused and playing smarter futbol. He seems oblivious to the criticism, but he's quietly learned from his mistakes. After conceding what could have been a disastrous goal to CSKA Moscow earlier this week after a mistake by defender Edu Dracena, Volkan quickly re-focused and became a wall in goal for Fener. "We were trying very hard to score first, but conceding a goal actually woke us up" he said after the match. "I promised our fans to do my utmost. On Saturday we did not allow Galatasaray to score a single goal against us and my teammate Edu just made a mistake. As a result of this mistake I was not able to keep it. However, it makes us realize that we have to show a better performance" he told Fenerbahce TV.

Semih Senturk has become a dominant Super Lig scoring threat. Roberto Carlos may actually be playing better than expected. Colin Kazim-Richards, Ugur Boral, and Gokhan Gonul have all emerged as budding stars for the Yellow Canaries. Alex de Souza and Mehmet Aurelio have both provided their usual leadership for the team. While the fans relish in the team's offensive success so far, the best performance may be happening at the other end of the pitch. As a result, Zico may be faced with a difficult decision to make once Serdar Kulbilge returns from injury. Fenerbahce finally have a luxury in goal that they haven't had in quite some time.

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