Turkish football league: world stars in the village

Ronaldinho, van der Vaart, Pirlo, Balotelli. Or even a Jogi Low on the bench? In the Super Lig, megalomania is running riot.

The most prominent Fenerbahce newcomer so far: Diego. Image: dpa

It didn’t take much for Vahid Halilhodzic’s collar to burst, his hat to snap, his keg to overflow. It was a simple, albeit unpleasant 1:3 test match defeat of his club Trabzonspor in the Austrian training camp against FC Augsburg that made the Bosnian coach at least displeased. "I’m not only sad, I’m also angry," the 61-year-old said afterwards – and added: "I want to play for the title with Trabzon. To do that, we need ten new players. If they don’t come, I’m gone."

At the World Cup in Brazil, Halilhodzic led the Algerian national team to the round of 16, narrowly losing out to Germany in extra time. After the North Africans were eliminated, Halihodzic decided to return to the Black Sea coast, where he had already been on the sidelines in 2005/06. The outburst now, shortly after taking up his post and just a few weeks before the new Super Lig season begins at the end of August, is likely to have been more a matter of calculation than genuine anger. Halilhodzic, the fox trainer, is well aware of the immense pressure and the sky-high expectations at his new, old club: the ambitious players in the claret and light blue jerseys have been waiting for the championship since 1984.

To understand the basic structure of Turkish soccer, it is helpful to look at the final tables of the last few years, or even decades: The eternal phalanx of the "big four" consisting of the three top Istanbul clubs Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas, as well as Trabzonspor, has so far divided 55 of the 56 championships played more or less evenly among themselves; only Bursaspor was able to briefly break through the supremacy in 2010.

This phalanx still determines the fate of the Super Lig, albeit no longer quite so unchallenged. In the self-image of the top dogs and the public, the only way to the title each season is through their own club. The tabloids regularly herd one or the other world star sow through the village, trading big names as new arrivals, no matter how far-fetched. After all, it reads well. Most recently, Ronaldinho, who has been languishing for the past ten years, was in the news. He was close to an agreement with Fenerbahce, could imagine playing for the club, or at least had heard of it. For the expected 20th championship, the defending champion would finally want to decorate.

World-class player

In the end, it was Ronaldinho’s Brazilian compatriot Diego, formerly of Bremen, Torino, Wolfsburg, Madrid and Wolfsburg, who compensated for the time without international competition with millions. Because after the manipulation scandal of 2011, "Fener" is still excluded from Champions League and Europa League for a year. Among the Besiktas reporters, Rafael van der Vaart, still under contract with Hamburger SV, recently enjoyed great popularity. Of course, Croatian coach Slaven Bilic also needs new players of the very highest world caliber to fulfill the "black eagles’" dream of the next (and then 14th) championship since 2009.

However, the biggest signing in this year’s summer break so far has only been former Hoffenheim player Demba Ba, who was bought from Chelsea FC. "Names like Mario Balotelli or Andrea Pirlo, who are being traded here as new arrivals, do not correspond to the truth," even the new Galatasaray coach Cesare Prandelli recently had to urge prudence – a medium-weight cultural revolution in Istanbul. The signing of ex-Bremer Hugo Almeida for the "Lions" seems more realistic. The Portuguese will probably be presented in the next few days.

Prandelli, by the way, succeeded his compatriot Roberto Mancini at Galatasaray. "I made a good choice with this club," the 56-year-old former Italy selection coach has been cajoling into every microphone for weeks. But the pressure of expectation is immense: anything less than an outstanding double of championship and cup would be a disgrace. According to wild rumors, Scotland’s David Moyes and even Germany’s World Cup-winning coach Joachim Low were also "serious candidates." Well, then.