It’s been quite the summer on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. The appointment of Giuliano Terraneo as Fenerbahce’s Director of Football caused confusion: a relative unknown outside the professional game, he caused many to wonder not just what he would bring to the club, but also who he actually was.
With the Turkish Football Federation’s regulations regarding foreign player restrictions relaxed almost to the point of insignificance, Terraneo and new coach Vitor Pereira had free rein to bring in who they saw fit. Those who doubted the appointment – and there were many – needn’t have worried.
A couple of months later, the former Milan and Torino goalkeeper has transformed the playing staff at Fener, compiling a squad with the potential to dominate domestically and make serious inroads in continental competition while moving on a host of ageing and peripheral players, with club captain Emre Belozoglu, defensive stalwart Egemen Korkmaz and Cameroonian international striker Pierre Webo among them. Between them, Terraneo and Pereira have rejuvenated Fenerbahce.
The Yellow Canaries finished second in the Turkish Süper Lig last season and as such entered the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round. However, having been beaten over two legs by Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, Fener dropped into the Europa League playoff round where they will play Atromitos of the Greek Super League - a tie that promises superb entertainment in a special atmosphere.
The objective for Fenerbahce was the Champions League proper but a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Istanbul made progression more difficult than the club would’ve wanted. The performance against former Galatasaray and Besiktas manager Mircea Lucescu’s Shakhtar showed some promise, but it was Fener’s first competitive fixture of the new season against a side whose league campaign had already begun.
Marquee signing Robin van Persie trained with his new team-mates just once before the first leg and was still unready going into the second in neutral Lviv, the venue for The Miners’ matches due to the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
It came too soon for Fenerbahce, who may find that the Europa League is better suited and a more realistic opportunity for continental silverware this season. Domestically, they appear to be significantly stronger than their two great city rivals, Galatasaray and Besiktas. Of course clubs can never just buy success, and Turkey has a history of impressive-looking transfers that have all but failed in recent times. Milos Krasic, once named among FourFourTwo's 100 best players in the world, has seen his career nose-dive into the obscurity of Fenerbahce’s second string following a succession of ineffective performances and an uninspiring loan at Bastia last season.
Fener's spending spree
Such a turnover of players during one transfer window often leads to issues of team cohesion with disjointed performances and negative results. With such spending comes great pressure, and Fenerbahce – already under serious amounts of it with arch rivals Galatasaray winning their 20th championship last season and being the first club to add the fourth star to their crest – know they have to react, and quickly. Stuck on 19 Süper Lig titles and back in European competition, this was always going to be a crucial window for the Yellow Canaries, a club under intense scrutiny from media and fans alike.
A host of quality players have arrived in Kadikoy this window. Simon Kjaer was first; the Danish international centre-back was heavily linked with a move to the English Premier League with both Liverpool and Everton before joining from Lille, a transfer that hinted at what was to come. Turkish clubs have often ignored the collective in favour of a glamour signing, and rarely have they spent big on what is perceived to be a rather token area of the game – the defence. Kjaer will partner Bruno Alves in the heart of the team's back-line – a complementary pairing that looks well balanced.
Crucial to the team gelling, three of the back four from last season will remain. Over the last two years left back Caner Erkin has been in the kind of form that has seen links with Bayern Munich, Inter and Liverpool. On the opposite flank, Gokhan Gonul provides the perfect balance of defensive nous and attacking outlet. Both possess incredible work rate and are given licence to get forward to supplement the attack.
The addition of Bursaspor’s Sener Ozbayrakli is also a smart move, providing the genuine competition for the right-back spot with Gonul that has been lacking in recent times, and Abdoulaye Ba’s arrival on loan from Porto makes up the numbers following the departures of Egemen Korkmaz and Bekir Irtegun, with Czech international Michael Kadlec providing experienced cover.
The signings of Robin van Persie and Nani from Manchester United have rightly stolen the headlines in Turkey and beyond, but arguably the key player for Fenerbahce is The Spider: Mehmet Topal, a classy defensive midfielder and the glue that holds the side together. His masterful understanding of the game, ability to read play, comfort in dropping between central defenders and innate knack of being in the right place permits Caner and Gokhan to get forward unfettered. He is a midfielder of poise and balance, one who makes the game seem effortless while covering more ground than anyone else.
Coupling unparalleled defensive intelligence with the ability to create from deep, the metronomic Topal is the kind of footballer every team needs. He has been the subject of a number of bids from teams around Europe including the Premier League this summer, each rejected without consideration.
There is potentially an issue of compatibility with Pereira’s system, with the Portuguese former Olympiakos and Porto boss opting for an attacking 4-4-2 in pre-season – one that arguably stunts his full-backs’ strengths in going forward and maroons Topal in a two-man central midfield. He is capable of playing in such a system but excels in a central three.
It may prove crucial to the new Fener to be able to utilise Topal in such a way in order to facilitate and integrate so many new faces. The signing of Ozan Tufan, who has joined after stirring interest from abroad with Chelsea, Manchester United and Valencia strongly linked to the 20-year-old dynamic midfielder, may cement Pereira’s pre-season system.
Tufan signed from Bursaspor and already boasts 13 international caps despite his young age. As was the case with the signing of Alper Potuk, bitter rivals Galatasaray thought they were close to signing Tufan before he opted for the Asian side of the city instead. Tufan may not be the last to join the revolution this summer either, with club president Aziz Yildirim hinting at more to come.
Nani’s arrival bolsters one of Fener’s strongest facets of the game even further. Moussa Sow has consistently performed wide on the left and Alper Potuk made the switch from central midfield look effortless. With the signing of last season’s top scorer in the Turkish Süper Lig Fernandao along with van Persie, Fener possess a potent attack for the wide men to create for.
Add the creativity of Diego Ribas, the all round midfield play and experience of Raul Meireles and another new face Josef de Souza signed from Sao Paulo, the new Fener have assembled a squad of real quality and, most importantly, balance ahead of the new season. If Pereira is able to instill his ideas and integrate so many new players quickly, Fenerbahce can dominate at home and have the chance to make the kind of impact they crave at continental level.
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