Turkish sides dig deep in quest for foreign stars
Another day in this summer’s transfer window and another foreign star arrives at Istanbul airport to sign for a Turkish top-flight side, met by a raucous reception from hundreds of local fans.
Looking slightly bewildered and not understanding a word of the sometimes bawdy Turkish football chants, the player brandishes a club scarf, smiles politely and is whisked away in a luxury vehicle.
This scene has played out several times this summer as half a dozen foreign stars arrived in Istanbul to begin a new stage in their careers, attracted by massive clubs with a genuine history but, above all, multimillion euro annual wage packages.
In order to attract the very best, the Turkish sides are digging deep into their pockets, straining their own financial positions, economists say. The big name arrivals this summer have included France’s Mathieu Valbuena (Lyon to Fenerbahce), his international teammate Bafetimbi Gomis (Swansea to Galatasaray) and Portugal’s Euro 2016 winner Pepe (Real Madrid to Besiktas).
They will join a Super Lig already stacked with big names including Robin van Persie at Fenerbahce and Samuel Eto’o at Antalyaspor.
Those arriving are generally in the final stage-but not end-of their careers and playing in Turkey offers the chance of performing for prestigious clubs who have places in European competition.
But no-one can also deny that the salary packages are mouth-wateringly attractive. Pepe, 34, will over the next two years receive a total net wage of 9.5 million euros ($10.8 million), excluding bonuses. Gomis will get 3.35 million euros per season.
Signing the big foreign players brings prestige and ramps up the clubs’ image. Clubs want to turn the page on the dark days of the 2011 match-fixing scandal while ground attendance has been falling at just an 10,000 per game average last year. The domestic game is increasingly competitive and clubs dream of finding the great player who will propel them to European glory.
The only time a Turkish side won a European competition was when Galatasaray defeated Arsenal in the 2000 UEFA Cup final.
And the traditional Istanbul big threeBesiktas, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray-no longer have the field to themselves.
Last season’s surprise runners-up were Basaksehir of Istanbul who have signed former Manchester City player Gael Clichy. Another big spending side is Antalyaspor whose captain is the famously high-earning former Barcelona and Chelsea star Eto’o.
But the enticing packages offered to foreign players come at a price. Tugrul Aksar, a specialist in the economics of Turkish football, told AFP the current total revenue of Turkish clubs amounts to four billion lira (one billion euros) but their spending is up to six billion lira.
“It’s a very serious shortfall,” he said, saying clubs were drawing on future revenues.
He said while the Turkish Super Lig is the number six competition in Europe in terms of revenue “it is a championship that spends more than it earns”.
In a sign of the tightrope that the clubs walk, Galatasaray were in March 2016 banned from European competition for one year for breaching spending rules that impose limits on the levels of annual losses. As a result, the Lions lost their place in the 2016-2017 Europa League.
‘PART OF TURKISH NATIONALISM’
Clubs sometimes have enjoyed having their fiscal debts cleared by the government, with the game seen in the country as a matter of national prestige.
“The state is always going to be there to support the Turkish clubs,” said Daghan Irak of the University of Strasbourg. “In Turkey, the big clubs will always survive whatever the difficulty is because they are there to represent Turkey in Europe.
“Playing against foreign clubs has been their raison d’etre since they were founded. Their existence is fused to Turkish nationalism,” he added.
Along with their high wages, the foreign players themselves can enjoy becoming massive celebrities and the centre of attention in Turkey.—AFP