OPINION Terim rumours unjust on Lucescu
Wednesday 1st May 2002
by Michael Severn
One of the events staged to celebrate Galatasaray's 15th Turkish championship during the euphoric week after they clinched it in Kocaeli was a dinner for the players hosted by manager Mircea Lucescu.
Ahead of the event, Lucescu described his team as: "Jewels, every one of them.
"They've made a great effort and they've brought Galatasaray to where it is today," he continued. "They've behaved in a self sacrificing manner and even at times when they haven't been paid, they've gone out there and been successful."
If you are looking for the secret of Galatasaray's triumph, Lucescu's statement is the place to start.
It has not been a matter - at least not often - of sweeping opponents off the pitch with flowing football. It has not been a matter of brilliant individual players, though the team does have a couple. It has been much more about teamwork, hard graft, determination and guts.
At the start of the season, few other than the faithful gave Galatasaray much of a chance of the title.
During the summer, Gheorghe Hagi retired to embark on an ill-fated spell as Romania coach. Okan Buruk, Emre Belozoglu, Fatih Akyel, Mario Jardel and Claudio Taffarel departed for pastures new.
When Gheorghe Popescu and Umit Davala joined the exodus during the season's first half, the squad they left behind was almost unrecognisable from the one Fatih Terim led to a record four consecutive championships between 1996 and 2000.
In addition, Galatasaray had to face a Champions' League campaign, something which clearly took its toll in 2000-01 when they missed out domestically to Fenerbahce.
And the club's precarious financial situation meant that even after the sale of Jardel, Lucescu had little transfer cash to work with.
But the manager stuck to the task, patiently grafting in new men, several of them unknowns, loan players or both, to replace the departed. He even changed his entire defensive system to allow Emre Asik to take Popescu's place.
Then the coach had to contend with injury problems. Sergen Yalcin, the man around whom he would have liked to build his midfield, has never been at full fitness this season and completely missing for months.
Another midfielder, Bulent Akin, and reserve forward Murat Sozkesen are also on the long-term casualty list.
There have been times when Lucescu must have torn his hair out wondering whether he would have 11 players fit by kick-off.
On Sunday, Umit Karan played 69 minutes despite a hernia which should have kept him sidelined. That is typical. The number of pain-killing injections Galatasaray have used this season has been a great boost to the Turkish pharmaceuticals industry.
The players, as Lucescu said, are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team.
And we have seen all season that, when one man is missing, another steps up to fill the gap.
We may not be talking about Hagi-class superstars, but young Colombian Gustavo Victoria, Andres Fleurquin, Ayhan Akman, who many thought was finished when he left Besiktas last summer, and latterly Radu Niculescu are just some of those who have come off the bench to turn in solid - at times outstanding - performances.
Every position is covered and nobody is indispensable, which has also led to considerable competition for places when Lucescu has had the luxury of a few extra fit players.
Umit Karan was brought in from Genclerbirligi as Jardel's replacement. He has impressed despite being disappointing in terms of his scoring record.
But Lucescu has a team and a style in which everybody is a potential scorer. Arif Erdem has been enjoying the Indian summer of his career with 19 league goals so far and, of the side which played against Kocaeli, the three substitutes included, only goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon did not have at least one goal to his credit this season.
There have been dark hours - elimination from the Turkish Cup by second division Erzurumspor, disappointment against Barcelona in the Champions' League and a dreadful 5-0 Super League thrashing in Bursa just before the winter break.
Morale, though, has never wilted, a real tribute to Lucescu. And to the supporters. "This championship belongs to the fans who have backed us all season without ever falling silent," Umit Karan said.
There remains the suspicion that it also belongs in part to the failings of others. Fenerbahce would have you believe that Galatasaray won because the Turkish football federation and its referees favour them.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, Fener ditched manager Mustafa Denizli, the man who took the Yellow Canaries to last season's title, after a string of feeble results including six losses out of six in Champions' League group action.
Arguments still rage over whether dropping Denizli was the right one. It is true, though, that replacement Werner Lorant took a while to find his feet in Istanbul and, by the time he had what the media like to call the Fener Ferrari firing on all cylinders again, the 11 hour had come and gone.
The Canaries had several chances to overhaul Galatasaray in the run-in to the championship and blew them all.
Perhaps the most critical failure was in Fener's home game against the new champions, when they could not increase a 1-0 lead even though Galatasaray had four players sent off.
If the Canaries had found a couple more goals on that occasion, the title race would not yet be over.
Besiktas started and finished the season badly. Although they had a good run in the middle, it is hard not to accept the contention of their own manager Christoph Daum that his squad were never championship material.
Trabzonspor, the one other team ever to have won the Turkish title, only made themselves safe from relegation as recently as Saturday.
Of the rest, Kocaelispor and Gaziantepspor promised that they would be tilting at the title but failed to deliver. Only surprise package Ankaragucu managed to keep the pressure on the leading group for any length of time.
With no disrespect to Lucescu and his team, Galatasaray did not have a great deal to beat.
Lucescu, of course, may just be on his way out despite winning the title and taking the team to the brink of the Champions' League quarter-finals, if reports that the club are planning to bring Fatih Terim back prove true.
Forget the stories that Lucescu will stay on as coach with Terim as technical director. Such an arrangement would last about five minutes, even if both men were prepared to accept it to begin with, which is hardly likely.
Terim in particular insists on having full control of team affairs or none at all.
No, it is one or the other and if Lucescu should draw the short straw, he will be entitled to ask: "What more could I have done?"
Although as different as chalk and cheese in some respects, Terim and Lucescu have one thing in common. Neither criticises his players in public. What happens in the changing room stays in the changing room.
Lucescu has readily admitted to errors he has made and has never blamed anybody other than himself - and occasionally referees - when things have gone wrong.
The players respect that and it has helped the Romanian maintain the tradition Terim established at Galatasaray of a united, mutually supportive squad.
As we are stressing team work and team spirit, it would be invidious, perhaps, to single out individual players for praise, but it would be equally invidious not to mention two of the old pros on the team.
Captain Bulent Korkmaz is an inspiring leader but also a man with an explosive temper.
Ergun Penbe is just the opposite. He is quintessentially the man who keeps his head when all around him are losing theirs, ever ready with a quiet word, a calming gesture when things are becoming heated.
Fire and ice. In their very different ways, Bulent and Ergun have both had a positive influence on the younger players around them this season.
Umit Karan best summed up the feelings generated by the squad upon finally reclaiming the crown last week. "We wanted it, we longed for it, we felt it and we won it," he said.