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Why 19-time Turkish champs Fenerbahce face relegation

FOOTBALL By BBC | January 22nd 2019
Players fight at the end of the Turkish Spor Toto Super league football match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce on November 2, 2018 at the TT Ali Samiyen Sport Complex in Istanbul. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

Fenerbahce are in crisis.

One of Turkey’s most successful clubs and a former European giant are looking up from the bottom of a league they used to dominate.

“At the beginning of the season, if we had to write the worst scenario, no one could have predicted the current situation,” club president Ali Koc said.

The Istanbul side sit in the relegation zone, second from bottom in the Turkish top-flight - the Super Lig - and 22 points behind leaders Istanbul Basaksehir.

“This is the big story everyone is talking about,” Turkish football expert Bagis Erten said. “Although there is a championship race, Fenerbahce is the best subject to talk about - will they survive?”

It is a remarkable fall for the 19-time Super Lig champions after a second-placed finish last season - only Galatasaray, with 22 domestic titles, have a better pedigree.

Fenerbahce have never been relegated and since the league started in 1959, the lowest the team has finished is 10th in the 1980-81 season. They have not finished outside of the top four since 2002-03. 

Imagine Liverpool or Arsenal being in the Premier League relegation zone this season and you’ll get the picture.

“They have young players that are not allowed to play much, average foreign players and older guys. It’s not working, said Erten.

Dutchman Phillip Cocu, who had won three league titles with PSV Eindhoven, was sacked in October after just four months in charge at Fenerbahce - losing five of his 10 league games.

Erten said: “Could you have expected better from a different manager? Could Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp have done any better? I am not so sure. With that kind of team you do not expect them to be successful.

“The results were terrible. The board wanted to make it work, Koc wanted to make it work. But Cocu lost the connection with players, the fans. He was like Jose Mourinho at Manchester United - a good manager but no one believed in him.”

A 3-0 defeat against Akhisarspor in December was so bad, Koc reportedly cancelled his players’ flights home and made them make the five-hour bus journey back to Istanbul.

Former Turkey manager Ersun Yanal returned to the club in December for his second spell in charge.

Fenerbahce’s problems also stem from Uefa financial fair play rules (FFP), which limit the club’s spending power.

FFP ‘break-even’ rules require clubs to balance spending with their revenue.

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