By the Bosphorus
The former Liverpool and Wales striker reflects on the challenges of coaching Bešiktaš
Turkey is a unique country. If you go to Turkey to work, in any line of business, then you’ve got to have your sensors on. You’ve got to be aware of what’s going on around you. This is not like moving from London to Manchester or even Wales to Spain. You’re going into a country that is completely and utterly different. You don’t have a clue about the language or how things work and there’s a lot of trust involved. You’ve got to realise where you are, and who you’re dealing with, what players are like, and what goes on behind your back. You’ve got to get to know people and get to know who you can trust and who you can’t. I went to Turkey open-minded and saw for myself how it works and, for me, it was one of the highlights of my fantastic experience in football management.
For someone from Western Europe to survive two years in a place like Turkey is not easy. Football has been my life, but I like to think I’ve also learned an awful lot about people’s different personalities and mentalities, and not just players – journalists, directors, presidents and supporters too. All of that helped keep me afloat during my time in Istanbul.
I’d been to Turkey with Liverpool once before, to Trabzon, in the east of the country, to play Trabzonspor on the way to winning the European Cup in 1977. It was a horror trip. Take a look at the memoirs of any of the Liverpool players from my era and you’ll find an entry on that game. Bob Paisley famously described our team hotel as a “doss house”, the ball as a “pig’s bladder” and he said he “had better rations in my bivvy in the western desert” during the Second World War. Ray Clemence remembers the pitch that night as having rocks all over it and everyone has a story about how, between the prayer minaret on one side of our lodgings and farm animals on the other, nobody got a wink of sleep. Suffice to say, the place had improved quite considerably by the time I visited Trabzon with Beşiktaş 20 years later, but that first time was terrible. With all due respect, it’s one thing to work in Istanbul, another to work in a different part of the country. Generally, the foreign coaches in Turkey only work in the capital or Ankara, where it’s a bit more cosmopolitan.
Istanbul is a huge city and I was put up in a terrific place, the Swiss Hotel, right on the banks of the Bosphorus. I used to watch the boats come down to the Mediterranean from Russia every day and wonder what was going up and down inside those shipping containers from one place to another; just exactly what was travelling by right under our noses. It’s a very interesting place. I’d do my work there on the waterfront; sit in the cafes planning out my next games, watching how people moved about; watching people in these boat taxis going back and forth between Europe and Asia just 15 minutes across the water. I’d get on a boat with them sometimes and go across to the other side, have something to eat over there in another continent, and come back again to finish off what I was doing. I enjoyed the bazaars, the old buildings, the temples; top museums they have out there and there was time in my days to go and explore, while still getting all my football matters sorted. Sometimes, I’d head over the old bridge right up to the end of the Straits where the Black Sea starts off and sit among the different types of people over there beyond the city, where I would enjoy all the different kinds of fish restaurants and all sorts. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do, to work in a place like that. It was all part of that same sense of adventure that took me from Swansea to Lisbon in the first place, and it felt exhilarating to be back at it all over again having been settled in Spain for the previous 12 years.
There’s a tremendous hustle and bustle in Turkey and Istanbul is a special city for football, with the three biggest clubs in the country all there – Fenerbahçe on the Asian side and Galatasaray and Beşiktaş on the European – and the derbies between them are as fierce as you could wish to get; real football. They were big, big games, ferocious; right up there for intensity compared to everything I’d ever been through. The Beşiktaş-Gala games were the craziest of them all. The only games I’ve seen close to that are the rivalries in Morocco.
Pelé had played for Santos at the İnönü, Beşiktaş’s old ground, and said it was one of the most beautiful stadiums he’d ever played in; very close-knit and in a lovely part of town. You could see the Bosphorus right through the stands. The crowd are right on top of you there; tight, like an old Third Division ground. A game here with a full house was really special.
I had offers from English clubs when I left Deportivo. I’d talked to Rupert Lowe from Southampton, talked to Francis Lee and Mike Summerbee about an opportunity at Manchester City while we played a round of golf in the Algarve, but they couldn’t offer me this. Istanbul sounded much more interesting. My brief return to Wales in 1994, which made me realise Britain wasn’t home any more, might have been at the back of my mind, but it was much more than that. A few months into the job in Turkey I even turned down the Liverpool job. I met Peter Robinson and Roy Evans in London. Roy, of course, I knew very well and the idea was a kind of a joint role, but things were going very well for me at Beşiktaş. There were no bad feelings. There was no bitterness from when I thought I’d be taking over at Anfield all those years before. That had long gone. I just didn’t feel like it was the right opportunity for me. I’d been working abroad since 1984. I’d been relatively successful. I’d become European, I’d earned a reputation as a foreign coach and I wanted to keep that going. With all due respect, I knew that I’d get other offers from Spain when I’d finished in Turkey. My rating was high in Spain and there was the lifestyle that I enjoyed too, and I knew I’d find it difficult going back to the UK. I’d settled. A lot of people go abroad and it doesn’t work out for them. They can’t settle. It was exactly the opposite for me. I never had difficulty settling in wherever I went. I think that was because I never took anyone with me. I always went and worked with the local coaches and that helped me an awful lot. It was a big plus because it showed them that I had trust in local people, and it made me less insular. I wasn’t sitting huddled away with my own people, away from the culture all the time. I was on my own and I had to get up and get on with it. In the end, of course, it was Gérard Houllier that took the Liverpool role, but the partnership between him and Roy didn’t last long. Management is not a job that you can share. It just doesn’t work that way.
I’d met the Beşiktaş people in Barcelona at the Hotel Princesa Sofia, just up the road from the Camp Nou. We’d agreed terms and I’d signed a two-year contract. I’d had a call from Serdar Bilgili, who was the vice president of the club. He’d spoken to Bobby Robson, who was at Barça, who put him in touch with me. Serdar was the rising star of the club’s directors and very much in line to take over from Süleyman Seba, who had himself played for Beşiktaş and was the longest-serving president there. When I arrived in Istanbul, I was very impressed with everything I saw. I saw right from the off what a big club this was.
The first part of my brief was to get to the group stages of the Champions League, which had replaced the old European Cup in 1992. Beşiktaş had qualified for the second round by finishing as runners-up in the Süper Lig the year before to Galatasaray, who were the top side in Turkey at the time. Their manager was Fatih Terim, who was considered as the Godfather of Turkish football. He’d made over 300 appearances for the club as a player, been a key part of the national side for 10 years and then returned to manage them both. That Galatasaray team had nine of the Turkish players who went on to become part of the squad that finished a record third in the 2002 World Cup, and any quality they were missing was bolstered by the Romanians in their ranks who included Gheorghe Popescu, Adrian Ilie and Gheorghe Hagi, the last of whom I knew from Real Madrid. They were a very good team who went on to beat the Henry and Bergkamp-era Arsenal in the Uefa Cup final in 2000.
Finishing ahead of this Galatasaray side – as was, of course, the other major part of my brief – was not going to be easy. In fact, I had a bit of a disastrous start when we lost 6–0 to them in the pre-season Turkish Sports Writers’ Cup, which used to be the traditional season-opener. We were well and truly turned over. There were no two ways about it. I was frustrated because I felt at the back of my mind that Fatih had been shown preferential treatment here and there by the referees and officials. He was a big rival of mine but I think he became more sympathetic to my cause after that hammering, which perhaps he shouldn’t have, given that we eventually managed to turn the tables on them.
The team I took over at Beşiktaş was not unlike the Deportivo squad I found when I arrived at La Coruña. There was a group of experienced players there whose time was up and it needed some slow rebuilding. A couple of them were good pros who could help me – Ertuğrul Sağlam, the big forward, and the creative midfielder Mehmet Özdilek – but there were others there and they could see the signs early on that maybe it was over for them, and made it a little bit difficult. There was a lot of dead wood.
The right-back captain, Recep Çetin, wasn’t my cup of tea. He was a big Beşiktaş club man, though, so I had to be careful. The old president, Seba, liked Recep because he’d come to the club at the age of 22 and become something of a John Terry or Tony Adams-type figure, but by no means as good a player. He wasn’t a bad player by any stretch, but I wasn’t convinced that his influence was totally positive. He wasn’t the brightest and I wasn’t as struck on him as everyone thought I should have been, but as coaches, we all have these problems with players. I took a fair bit of stick for either not playing him or playing him out of position. I often did that when I arrived somewhere just to see if I could mix things up a bit and find a few ideas that hadn’t been used before to improve the system, the same as I did with [Bernd] Schuster in Madrid.
A bigger problem for me was that the Turkish players, at the time, were not as well schooled in the tactical part of the game. It wasn’t like the youth teams in Spain, England, Germany or Italy where they learned these things every day and the upshot was that you might have found an experienced Turkish player who didn’t know the difference between ideas like zonal play and man-to-man marking. Mostly, the defending in Turkey was only man-to-man. Coaches were afraid to play with a back line of four or three because Turkish players would lose concentration too easily and they couldn’t understand when it was their zone, when they have to take the man, when they’ve got to switch players or when they needed to go back to man-to-man style. We were the first to do it. The press were up in arms but I explained it to them and they seemed to accept what I was doing, but not even at Galatasaray with Fatih Terim or with the other successful German coaches in Turkey before – Holger Osieck and Jupp Derwall – did they try this. Now, of course, there’s no problem with playing that way in the Süper Lig and with the national team as well.
I didn’t have a hand in signing new players. That had all been taken care of before I arrived, so most of them didn’t offer much of a boost to the team. Tayfur was a defensive midfielder who made a lot of appearances for Beşiktaş over the following 10 years, but the big gamble was on the bald-headed Bulgarian creator Yordan Letchkov. Along with Stoichkov, Emil Kostadinov and Krasimir Balakov, he was part of the golden generation of Bulgarian players who’d dumped Germany out of the World Cup in the USA a few years earlier. Yordan Letchkov made a move to Marseille but had fallen out with the management there and hadn’t played for a few months. If the person in charge of recruiting at Beşiktaş had looked, the warning signs were there.
It took Letchkov a while to get back to match fitness when he did arrive and he was influential on occasions, but I didn’t have the best relationship with him. He was a very talented, very experienced player, obviously, but with a low work rate. People generally felt that he was a bit lazy in his approach, so fitting him into the side wasn’t easy, and that kind of attitude doesn’t go down well in a squad either. He was a difficult character too, which didn’t help; he was very introverted. His fellow Bulgarian in the squad, Zlatko Yankov, might have kept him company but they were very different players with totally different personalities and, after about six months at Beşiktaş, Letchkov announced that he didn’t want to play for the club any more and he went back to Bulgaria. It dragged on in the background. He started training with other teams elsewhere, was banned by Fifa and ordered to pay Beşiktaş for breach of contract. He didn’t get on the field again until 2001 when he played for CSKA Sofia and his reasons for it all were that he and his wife couldn’t settle in Turkey. But this is football. It’s a demanding profession and players fail to settle in all sorts of places. It shouldn’t have been difficult for Letchkov. Sofia’s only a relatively short hop over the border from Istanbul. I think he just wanted to get back, having realised he’d made a mistake in going to Beşiktaş in the first place. He wanted a way out and he thought that he was big enough to do that, bigger than the club itself.
With the club’s high-profile signing out of the picture, then, it was very much a case of looking at the young players that there were and trying to bring them through with the help of some of the seasoned pros. Yusuf Tokaç was a skilful little midfielder and there was Nihat, who was a big success as a forward and whom I later took to Real Sociedad. He made his debut with me at 17; an explosive player with a terrific right foot. He scored some spectacular goals and was a super lad who, rightly, did very well. I pushed them through along with two young midfielders named Serdar Topraktepe and Hikmet Çapanoğlu.
Daniel Amokachi was a popular player at Beşiktaş as well. He’d been signed the season before after a short spell at Everton and it was a kind of environment that suited him. He was a big-name player in Turkey. He liked to pick the ball up and run at people. He could whack one in from 30 yards and then miss two or three from five yards, but he was quite a bubbly type of character and good to have around. There were problems with him here and there. He had a back injury that had him in and out of the side that first season, and I had to ban him for a game or two after he came back a few days late without saying anything following Jay-Jay Okocha’s wedding in Nigeria over the Christmas break, but we got on OK. You had all sorts of problems like that in those days, particularly as there weren’t as many flights as there are now. You’ve got to stop people taking liberties like that even if you don’t want to because, if you don’t, you’ve got 15 or 16 other players looking to see what’s going to happen, to see what you’re going to do. And you can’t tell the press when you’ve got a problem like that with a player. You’ve got to suffer in silence and they’ll often presume it’s a great big bust-up when it’s not really. You can’t tell people why you’ve dropped your best player because then the problem gets more public and more heated, and you might find that you’re finished with that player completely. You might feel let down at times by certain individuals, but you have to manage all that. It can get very complicated in charge of a high- profile football team and having to make these decisions. The public don’t always know why you’ve made them and they think they have the right to know and, in a way, they do. They’ve paid their money, but if you tell them the truth then you’re throwing stones at your own greenhouse. It’s often better off for everybody’s sake if the fans don’t know.
What you have to do at times, though, is make allowances. The Africans going home from Istanbul or the Brazilians from Spain is not the same as going over to Bulgaria or nipping back to Portugal. So, you might not be as heavy-handed in your punishments.
Between the problems with Amokachi and an early injury to Ertuğrul, I was relying on a young Turkish forward named Oktay Derelioğlu to come up with the goals. Oktay had had his break-out season in the previous year but just a few weeks into training in 1997 his young wife committed suicide. I remember Amokachi coming up to me on the bus and telling me that she’d shot herself, like it was something that happened every day over here. It hit Oktay very hard, of course. He was an important player for me over those years I was there but he left Beşiktaş shortly after I did, and he never really settled anywhere after that.
We cruised past Maribor to reach the Champions League group stages. It was a tough tie against what’s often been a good footballing side, and we could only manage a 0-0 draw at home, but we then won 3-1 away from home in the second leg which took us into a series of games with Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and IFK Göteborg. We started with a 0–2 away loss to Giovanni Trapattoni’s Bayern team of Oliver Kahn and Lothar Matthäus. We gave a very good account of ourselves despite the result and then won the next game at home to PSG 3–1. That was a good night. It was Ramadan and I remember coming out of the tunnel to the noise. They sacrificed a sheep on the pitch before the start of the game. It was a pretty hostile environment. Oktay scored twice and Ertuğrul once. After a home win against Göteborg we went second in the group. They had a very stubborn, square and solid defence with the great Swedish keeper Thomas Ravelli doing the heroics but Oktay’s early goal was enough. If you’re in Bayern Munich and PSG’s group it’s going to be very difficult for a Turkish team to progress, though, and those were the last points we picked up.
We lost 2–1 in Gothenburg in a ridiculous game. The referee blew up against Beşiktaş for a penalty that should never have been and then sent off my goalkeeper, Marjan Mrmić, after 64 minutes before sending off Ravelli as well. We were well beaten in the next game at home to Munich. They were a top, top side. The playing surface at the İnönü wasn’t the best and didn’t help us, but I certainly wouldn’t use that as any kind of excuse. The other teams had to play on it.
With PSG winning that same night, we were out of it before the final group game. We did well and were in with a shout for a while but, as I say, it would have been a major shock in those days for a Turkish team to get through a group like that.
We ploughed away and plodded on in the league. It was a slow kind of progression. The young players were starting to perform and we were still very much in the title race as winter drew near. Fenerbahçe were in the lead but they’d dropped points right before our derby game with them. We were breathing down their necks. Not long before the match, though, it was announced that our form striker, Oktay, had to go off for his national service with the army, which was part of his agreement. The only trouble was, while he was away, he was put on heavy drills and came back with damage to his knee ligaments. I was incensed. He’d obviously been worked really, really hard before this big game and I had my ideas that maybe this was not by accident, but you’ve got to be careful. You can’t criticise the army in Turkey, as I soon found out. It’s a criminal offence.
At the press conference before the match I said that it was a strange coincidence that we happened to be missing our top player in a big game like this. How can it possibly be that we’re playing a big match on the Tuesday and Oktay has to go away on Sunday and Monday to do military service? Someone in the club or somewhere should be saying no, that we need him for that game and he should go another time. So, I said that someone somewhere had made it happen.
There were a few differences in the press as to exactly what I said after that but, what with those inconsistencies, the fact it was all through translation from English and back, and that it was 20 years ago, I don’t remember for sure, but it’s very possible that I made comparisons to the old communist regime from the Soviet Union, which didn’t help matters.
By the time I was in charge of Beşiktaş, you could do anything in Turkey but the army was sacrosanct and, to be honest, it was ignorance on my part, but in front of journalists in a press conference when you’re frustrated that your top player can’t play in a big game, then strange things can and do happen. I just felt that Oktay was representing his country as much by playing with Beşiktaş in Europe as he was doing his duty with the army. He was out there in Paris, scoring goals, and in the international team and everyone around Europe was talking about him. I wasn’t necessarily against him doing his service, but I felt he ought to have been protected while he did. The room went so quiet. They all knew it was such a big story and they wanted to get every word but I was very, very angry and wanted to make this point because Oktay was my player. I’d developed him. I turned him into a player that would fight and play for the shirt. Oktay had become really motivated. So, for him to come back injured like that made me very angry and I did not want this to happen again.
Of course, the papers were up in arms. The military high command got involved and sent a memorandum to the president asking for an investigation. I wasn’t the most popular person in Turkey that week. The Beşiktaş president Süleyman Seba was a decent fellow but he was upset about this. He’s the most Turkish Turk I’ve ever known, so it was something that was difficult to deal with. Over the years, I have had the tendency to put my foot in it like that on more than one occasion and in more than one country, so it wasn’t altogether a new experience for me. In the end, I apologised in a statement read to the press that said: “I have no business with the military. I showed no disrespect to anybody. I merely felt sorry for the injury to Oktay, who is a member of the national team, and I expressed that. I am a person who loves Atatürk. I apologise.”
It sounds like something a PR department would come up with but I really am a big fan of Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s founding father. I’ve read with great interest his history over the years and that was a useful thing to be able to say. If you’re in a country like Turkey and you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, you should pick up a few things about the place. Thankfully, it all blew over fairly quickly in the end. There were a lot of people who wanted to make more of it than they really needed to have done.
The president of Fenerbahçe, Ali Şen, got himself involved in the run-up to the game and for a while afterwards too. He came out and said that he’d have sent me packing were I manager of his club. So, I called him a clown to the media, said that we all laugh at him and he’d won nothing in football compared to me. I never shied away from any kind of thing like that. It was all part of the game out there. They
could be like children sometimes in Turkey with the way they argued and, when in Rome, sometimes you need to do as the Romans do. It’s not always objectively the right thing to do, but you’ve got to understand where you are and that you can’t let people walk all over you. I was black and white all the way. You’ve got to support your own team over there and it can be pretty ferocious. ‘Galatasaray özel, choc uzel Fenerbahçe çok güzel, ama en büyük Beşiktaş,’ – Special Gala, very special Fenerbahçe, but the best Beşiktaş. That was the line I used out there. I didn’t speak much Turkish but I could manage that and they called me Gally Hoger – Welsh coach.
I didn’t always know what the press was writing anyway because I didn’t speak the language and I wasn’t there long enough to learn it. I couldn’t read an article and tell you what they were saying, which was a disadvantage, so I had to have Tayfun Ozusakiz, my translator, with me all the time to fill me in. That’s why I say that you’ve got to have your confidence in these people. You don’t want people leading you the wrong way to get you to say something because they’re trying to move you out.
Ultimately, the derby against Fenerbahçe finished as a 2–2 draw, but we had the ball in the net on three other occasions, only for all of them to be adjudged offside. That speaks for itself. I don’t think I’ve ever participated in a game where there’s been three goals disallowed for offside. I had to be restrained by security guards at half-time when I went to have a go at the ref, and I was subsequently sent to the stands. It was a natural spontaneous reaction. Sometimes you can’t always get the best view from where you are, but if someone disallows three goals for offside in a big Istanbul derby, when one of your players has already been taken out before the action, then it does raise your suspicions. I don’t know any coach worth his salt that wouldn’t complain about that.
We faded away in the league that year and finished sixth, but we had to change a lot of things and it wasn’t really until the second season that we had any kind of consistency about us. Where we did succeed in 1997-98, though, was in the cups. We beat Galatasaray in the Turkish Cup final on penalty kicks. Hagi missed the first for Fatih Terim’s side after both legs of the tie had ended 1–1, and they never recovered from there. We had a young goalkeeper that day, Fevzi Tuncay, who’d kept us in the game with a string of saves in that second half before shutting out Hagi at that vital moment, and then we played Galatasaray again in the Super Cup – called the President’s Cup – a few months later in the capital Ankara.
Fatih Terim was probably the most successful coach in Turkish history and he was a cute customer. He was a trickster and he’d get away with little psychological plans of his. I never really trusted him. Any goodwill that he might have shown us after that opening friendly defeat of the season had long since dried up after our tussle in the league and after we’d taken the Turkish Cup off him too. What I remember most about that Super Cup game was when we went out into the tunnel before kick-off. The Galatasaray team should have been waiting there with us but they weren’t out yet. I was looking at my watch. We’d been told to be in the tunnel 10 minutes before the start of the game. We were there 12 minutes before and when there was seven minutes to go – and Fatih’s boys still hadn’t lined up – I turned my players round and told them to go back into the dressing room. Just as we were going back in, Galatasaray began coming out and both Fatih and the match delegates told us to stay there or we’d get a fine, but I told them: “No, no, I don’t mind about any fine. Carry on back to the dressing room, lads. They can stand out here and wait four minutes for us and then we’ll come out when we’re ready.”
It was just to let them know, we’re here and don’t mess about with us. Fatih, I think, was used to getting his own way. It was important that my players knew they were just as big as their opposite numbers. I think it gave them the feeling that we weren’t going to let them trample over us, and we went out and we beat Galatasaray 2–1.
We didn’t play well in that first half of the Super Cup. Alpay Özalan was one of the best centre-backs in the country; a young guy. I liked him very much. I supported him, I encouraged him and I told him what a good player he could be if he concentrated. He could play in England, or anywhere in Europe if he worked hard, and he deserved it, but Alpay was terrible in that first half. No focus, no concentration and, because I’d heard a rumour that Fatih Terim wanted to sign him and because of the way he was playing, I was getting angrier and angrier while I was watching from the bench. So, I went into the dressing room just before the half-time whistle to wait for the players. Alpay came in laughing. I closed the door behind him, went right up to him, grabbed him by his shirt and really gave it right to him. Alpay’s a big guy but the more I laid into him, the smaller he got. Normally, I’m very calm. That’s not something I’ve done very often. It must have been quite a funny scene with me shouting in English and my translator, Tayfun, in between us speaking the Turkish equivalent to Alpay. I get the feeling Alpay would have understood anyway. He always made sure he tried hard after that. Everybody did.
Two trophies was a pretty decent haul, and I was rewarded with a contract extension and the chance to make changes for that second year. Beşiktaş needed to go places. I moved out some of the older players, including the captain, Recep, and brought in a few foreigners of my own who’d impressed me from what I’d seen of them in the Spanish league.
I loaned a Nigerian centre-forward called Christopher Ohen, who’d been on the books at Real Madrid as a youngster and had been playing with Compostela. I signed José ‘Chemo’ del Solar, a Peruvian midfielder whom I’d known from his time playing in Tenerife, and Jamal Sellami, the Moroccan captain whom Noureddine Naybet had recommended to me. He was just the type of holding player I needed to tie the team together. Last of all, there was a local lad, Ayhan Akman, who was a promising Turkey international; a No 10-type witha lot of quality. I liked him. I’d seen him the season before playing for Gaziantepspor – a side from a city in the south of the country.
We started well that second season, the 1998-99 campaign. We were a better side in the league and very quickly found ourselves at the top of the table fighting it out for the championship with the usual suspects. We’d have got there sooner had it not been for a two-game stadium ban after some crowd trouble in our draw against Gaziantepspor. The referee made a series of poor decisions and this can be incendiary in Turkey, where the emotions run high as it is. Fans ran onto the pitch and there was some general confusion between them, the referee, the linesmen, the opposition players and some of our own as well; pushing and shoving and all sorts. Our defender, Alpay, who later played for Aston Villa, got himself a five-game ban for his own assaults on the match officials, but these were normal things in Turkey. If they didn’t happen to you, they happened to the opposition.
We didn’t get so far in Europe. It was the Cup Winners’ Cup once again and while we did a comfortable job on Spartak Trnava from Slovakia in the first round, we went out at the next stage to a John Carew-inspired Vålerenga. We’d lost by a single goal in Norway as they pumped the ball long to the six-foot-five giant every chance they could, but then it all seemed to be going OK when we were three goals up at half-time in the home leg, thanks to two from Oktay and one from Tayfur, with Ohen doing a lot of good work. We then conceded three to the Norwegians in the space of 11 minutes, which was just crazy given that we had the best defence in the league.
Domestically we started the season with a 15-game unbeaten run, and it was only a loss to our old enemy Galatasaray in December that cut our lead at the top down to two points. We were going really well. We were going to win the league. And then Real Madrid came in for me.
I was happy at Beşiktaş and the club were happy with me. I’d survived there nearly two years, which isn’t easy, and I’d become part of the footballing scenery in Turkey, but I got a call from Lorenzo Sanz, the Madrid president, whom I’d known from when he was there working under Ramon Mendoza as a director. He was a different character from Mendoza; shrewd and experienced at the club. Guus Hiddink had been in charge for a short spell but Lorenzo could see that Guus had not managed to get control of a dressing room of superstars drunk on their successes after achieving the club’s long-awaited Champions League win the season before. Madrid were sixth in La Liga and struggling, really struggling, and Sanz wanted someone who knew the place to come and sort things out.
Now, Real Madrid is not just any kind of job. When they come for you, you’ve got to go. Things had been going very well for me but while there’s uncertainty everywhere in football, there was a particular uncertainty managing in Turkey. I always had the feeling that if we lost two or three games on the bounce, I’d be on my way. So, it made a lot of sense to go.
I was coming up to two years in Turkey and that’s normally enough for those of a Western European temperament. It’s a volatile atmosphere over there. The people in high positions in football clubs there often act spontaneously, coming to regret their decision the morning after. They’ll realise a few days later they’ve made a mistake, but they should know better. You’ve got to be there and live it 24 hours a day and you’ll get the idea. Arguments blazing up out of nothing outside your hotel or wherever; you’ll sit there and watch it happen around you, things that you wouldn’t see in other parts of Europe. Wherever you go, you’ve got to realise that the rules are different and be prepared for what happens. The ideal thing to do is not react too strongly. The lack of patience and the difficulty of trying to explain to people can be wearing, even though you might know you’re right. Even if your words get blown up into a big reaction, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You have to hope that in the time after, the player or person in question will come to see your side of things, or hopefully the events of the future will prove your point. You put your point over and hope it has the required effect.
I would have to say that the Turkish fans, and the Moroccans, are the craziest. They are the most fanatical supporters I’ve ever worked for. I enjoyed that because I was reasonably successful in those places and won trophies, but I had seen the other side of it after difficult performances. Things could get really heated out in the stadiums. Fire bombs, missiles flying onto the pitch left, right and centre; really desperate stuff. You have to find your own way of coping with that. During one derby game away at Galatasaray I remember a drinking bottle whizzing past my head and landing on the turf. I picked it up, pretended to drink from it and waved my thanks to the opposition fans who’d thrown it. I stopped myself from actually taking a sip from it because I wasn’t sure what the liquid inside was.
Things get particularly nasty when the fans aren’t happy with what they see. Then the players know they need to keep a low profile – maybe more so than the managers. There are places you might have to steer clear of; they had to be very careful where they went and what they did. Fortunately, I was successful, but I wouldn’t like to have been unsuccessful.
There is an inferiority complex in Turkey with football and you see it especially in the press. It increases that sense of pressure. More than in other places in Europe, they expect results too quickly. Board members and supporters are manipulated by this, so there is never enough patience for foreign managers and foreign players. If they do not succeed immediately, it is a disaster and this is why many do not succeed in Turkey. The big clubs want success in six months. Sometimes managers get sick of it and they leave, and sometimes they are pushed. If you look at Vicente del Bosque, he came to Beşiktaş in 2004 and after seven or eight months he was gone because they said he doesn’t know anything about football! Then he left, and a couple of years later took over the Spanish football team and won the World Cup and the European Championship. It’s ridiculous. So, that is the main problem with football in Turkey, but it is getting better.
The fans on the streets were always friendly to me and have been since I’ve left, and I’ve come across Turkish fans everywhere I’ve been. I had no idea at the time of how many Turkish people live in Germany, not until we played a pre-season tournament in Cologne that first year. We were sold out for every game with the stands packed full of Beşiktaş ultras in their black and white strips. Again, ignorance on my part, but that’s what managing in these places is about – learning things, and I learned an awful lot during my time in Istanbul. It was very much a successful spell in every sense of the word; winning two major trophies and travelling into Europe with a Turkish side is a good experience – to go at the head of a Turkish expedition like that and to travel to Germany, France; there’s a responsibility there and massive support wherever you go.
It’s not for everyone. Not everybody can cope with that kind of crazy atmosphere, the unpredictability and often fiery tempers, but if you can’t take the heat in Turkey, well, then you don’t stand a chance in Madrid.