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@semihakcomak – beni düşündüren şeyler – things that make me think

Turkish football versus Turkish economy

futbol3Lately, I’ve been thinking about the parallelism between Turkish football and Turkish economy. Turkish economy resembles Turkish football in many aspects (or vice versa, there is huge cultural element in both). At least the self-brainstorming made me to write this short piece.

Before the 1980s we cannot really think of Turkish football. Okay, maybe a bit, but only a bit. Late 1980s witnessed structural changes in Turkish football led by foreign coaches like Jupp Derwall, Gordon Milne and Sepp Piontek. They achieved three things: 1) there should be a system, 2) there is something called “football technique”, 3) pay attention to youth and football education. Many famous Turkish players we know were youngsters in the 1990s who were given chance to play by these foreign revolutionary coaches (e.g., Tugay Kerimoğlu, Abdullah Ercan, Okan Buruk etc.). The system that Derwall set up in Galatasaray in the late 1980s even brought its own local managers such as Mustafa Denizli. Under Denizli’s guidance Galatasaray played semi-finals in the European Champions Club’s Cup in 1989. This restructuring period continued for about 15 years but it did not sustain because of several reasons:

  • The concept of “system” did not sink deep in to the minds of the football elites. Sustainability lost importance. Cultural character such as “easy gain”, “fast result”, “save the short-run” prevailed,
  • We could not create a football culture. We talk about British, German, Latin American, Brazilian, Spanish and Italian football. Most people who are a little bit interested in football can give you a sketch of the above football schools. But you cannot talk about a Turkish school. The right word to describe Turkish football school (if there is any) is “unexpectedness”. The foreign clubs or national teams are scared to play against the Turks not because that we have a very good system, players and technique but because we play unexpected football. No one knows, understands and can foresee how Turkish teams would play. It could be spectacular or as well spectacularly bad.
  • Mostly incompetent club presidents. Unfortunately Turkish football has been governed by key figures (both club and the federation) who has little knowledge in football. Their capacity of management is even worse (pay attention: I say most, not all). The incompetency in management has reached a degree of maturity in the last couple of years. The whole process of the ethical issues in Turkish football was totally mismanaged from the beginning to the end. The result was UEFA ban against two of the biggest clubs in the country, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş.
  • We forgot about the youth and education. Especially in the post-2000 period the clubs (including the national team) have discovered the Turkish origin players who were educated in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Lately the national team is almost totally framed around these Turkish origin foreign educated talents. Turkish football has never reached the maturity to produce local talents. We preferred short-run gains to sustained long-run success. There are now only a number of locally educated talents. Clubs and the national team mostly rely on foreigners or the European Turks. The latest decision of the Turkish Football Federation that each team can have 6 + 4 foreigners (6 who can play and can sit in the bench and 4 sit in the stadium) was a punch in the face of big clubs like Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş. The demand for Turkish players suddenly rose. However there are only a number of quality Turkish players because we forgot to educate the youth. Now can you understand why Alper Potuk created a war between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe (a young talent who moved from Eskişehirspor to Fenerbahçe recently for about 7 million euros)?
  • Everybody talked about corruption in Turkish football but nobody had to courage to speak up until last year. The ethical issues about corruption and match fixing was neatly covered up by the Turkish Football Federation. However it all suddenly slammed back on our face several months ago when UEFA banned Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş from European cups.

Now let’s connect to Turkish economy. Recently I’ve written about the state of the Turkish economy (see my two-part op-ed in Research Turkey, “The future may not be so bright”, part 1 and part 2. Erinç Yeldan, Güven Sak, Emre Deliveli and others have also contributed quite a lot to the discussion on the current state and future worries regarding the Turkish economy. Let’s cut it short and go point by point

  • Can we talk of a Turkish economic system with well-functioning institutions (justice, democracy and I’d include education as well)? The answer is no. The institutional system in Turkey is unstable which inhibits long-run sustainable growth (see part 1 of op-ed in Research Turkey). We do not have a politics-free economic system. Every government attempts to construct its own institutions and system. We design economic system that is governed by alike minded people (“easy gain”, “fast result”, “save the short-run”).
  • Our economy behaves as unexpected as our football. There is nothing such as “sustainability” in our economic jargon. Go to World Bank indicators and plot per capita GDP growth from 1980 onwards. You’ll see many ups and downs. Do we have an educated guess on the state of the Turkish economy in 2015? Not really. Some says good, some bad and some even worse.
  • The competency of management of the economy should be seriously questioned (as well as the competency of the government, previous ones as well as the present). At the moment we totally rely on foreign debt-led growth (see the op-ed by Erinç Yeldan in Research Turkey; also see Mahfi Eğilmez on the same issue) and most resources are invested in services and construction (see the op-ed by myself in Research Turkey). Here is a bold comment: The next crises will be the crises of the services and construction sectors (finance, real estate, banking, insurance, restaurants, hotels, personal services etc.). When David Harvey visited Turkey last year he said, “Istanbul and Ankara looks like Spain five years ago” quoting recent construction-led growth of the Turkish economy. Quite a number of academics are talking about sustainability of the current growth process but the government does not care (just as in the case of 2000s or the 1990s).
  • But I think the most important issue we have is education. We cannot educate our youth. The education system has changed about 20 times in the last decade. It won’t be wrong if I say that we educate the youth in a chaotic system. The PISA scores reflect this. We cannot attract youth to science, academic research and engineering programs. I’d say these are our good days. At the moment we cannot fully observe the results of the badly designed education system. But we will soon.
  • Ethics is a big problem, especially work ethic. I already wrote on the “immoral growth” process we live in Turkey.

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