Turkey's Süper Lig is a disaster

How the Turkish FA lost control this season & what they can do to reclaim it 🇹🇷

Fenerbahçe defender Bright Osayi-Samuel punching a Trabzonspor fan who ran onto the pitch last month

Last Sunday, Galatasaray played their own reserve team in the Turkish Super Cup after Fenerbahçe players had walked off the pitch.

Fenerbahçe, who had qualified for the match after winning the Turkish Cup last season, fielded their U19 team for all of one minute, before conceding to Galatasaray’s Mauro Icardi and walking off the pitch. Their decision to forfeit was in protest of the Turkish Football Federation’s (TFF) scheduling of the match, which was originally slated for December in Saudi Arabia.

  • Fenerbahçe had asked the match to be rescheduled ahead of Thursday’s Europa Conference League quarterfinal clash with Olympiakos Piraeus.

  • Their request was denied, so they opted for a more favorable scoreline by quitting in the opening moments (0-1) instead of forfeiting altogether (0-3).

The protest is symbolic of the clubs’s dissatisfaction with the TFF, but more broadly serves as yet another ugly mark on the record for what has been a season filled with controversy in Turkey’s top-flight. Fenerbahçe’s defiance sends a crystal clear message that things need to desperately change in Turkey. 🇹🇷 

A season filled with controversy

The events of Sunday night were fairly normal by Süper Lig standards this season. Just weeks before, Fenerbahçe players and security forces were attacked by Trabzonspor supporters who took exception to the visitors celebrating on their center circle after a 3-2 win.

The TFF only handed Trabzonspor a six-match spectator ban and a fine of 3,112,000 Turkish Lira ($97,059 USD) for the incident. The club later appealed and their ban was reduced to just four matches with a fine of 448,000 Turkish Lira ($14,000 USD). 12 fans were arrested. 👮‍♂️

Mind you: this was an event where home fans violently attacked visiting players. Both FIFA and the TFF called the incident “absolutely unacceptable,” but have failed to enact any permanent changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again. After the incident, Fenerbahçe held a meeting to discuss the possibility of leaving the Süper Lig, and even Trabzonspor’s manager called out the severity of the broader situation.

We are going through a period where Turkish soccer is now completely fed by chaos, where tensions are constantly high, and where we cannot use the sport’s healing power.

Trabzonspor coach Abdullah Avci

This is not the only violent incident to happen during a Süper Lig match this season.

A culture of disrespecting referees

In December, Faruk Koca the president of Ankaragücü punched a referee in the face after his team conceded a late equalizer to Çaykur Rizespor.

Referee Halil Umut Meler suffered a facial fracture in the incident

Koca was arrested and received a lifetime ban the next day, and the TFF suspended the league for nearly a week following the attack. But, outside of the performative act (Koca resigned anyways), the TFF did not punish the club nor do anything to address the underlying reasons why managers and presidents of Turkish clubs openly criticize referees.

“Everyone involved in this incident will pay the price,” said TFF Chairman Mehmet Buyukeksi after the incident. But did they really?

The Ankaragucu fans who invaded the pitch alongside Koca were not punished, and aside from having to play their next five games behind closed doors, the club avoided any significant repercussions and is likely to remain in Turkey’s top-flight for next season.

Lesson not learned: The “punishment” might have actually had an adverse effect on the league. In the very first game that play resumed following the incident, İstanbulspor president Ecmel Faik Sarıalioğlu withdrew his team from the pitch after they were denied a penalty call against Trabzonspor, resulting in the match being abandoned.

There are mistakes made in our country that are not made in Europe.

Sivasspor manager Servet Çetin

The culture of blatant disrespect towards officials runs deep in Turkey, yet the TFF is not taking adequate measures to address it, and it’s risking the future of Turkish soccer.

Is there any hope?

While the issues in Turkey’s domestic league are well documented, the fall of the Turkish national team in recent years has flown a bit more under the radar. In 2016, Turkey were 16th in the FIFA rankings. They’ve since dropped to 40th after failing to qualify for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

This downfall is not due to a lack of talent. Plenty of Turkish players are getting regular minutes at some of Europe’s biggest clubs, like Hakan Çalhanoğlu at Inter and Orkun Kökçü at Benfica.

Like the Süper Lig, off-the-field issues have plagued the national team, which treads a delicate balance between sport and politics. Former manager of the national team and “Emperor” of Turkish soccer, Fatih Terim, resigned in 2018 after getting into a brawl at a kebab shop (where else?), leaving a power vacuum in the federation that exists to this day. 🍖 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at an exhibition match

The violence and dysfunction in and around Turkish soccer is sadly a reflection of the general social situation in the country. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, himself an amateur player in his youth, exerts near total control of the country’s key institutions, and soccer is no exception.

Unfortunately, the prevailing sentiment of mistrust and injustice plaguing the country’s political circles extends to the pitch, and things will likely stay that way until Erdoğan is out of power.