Turk­ish sides dig deep in quest for for­eign stars

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

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

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