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UEFA Champions League Qualifying: Fenerbahce Having Problems?

Fenerbahce were defeated in the third round of UEFA Champions League qualifying by Swiss club BSC Young Boys on Tuesday.

Fenerbahce’s UEFA Champions League hopes came to a disappointing end as Fenerbahce lost to Young Boys of Switzerland 1-0 in the second leg of the third qualifying round.  After gaining a 2-2 in Bern the previous week, Fenerbahce looked to advance with the second leg occurring at home.  However, Young Boys scored in the first half of the match, and Fenerbahce wasn’t able to respond after that.  As if that wasn’t enough, Miroslav Stoch got his second yellow card and was ejected for a blatant dive.  Fenerbahce looks like a team in turmoil as the season proper has not even begun yet.  Does it look like Fenerbahce might already be in crisis?  Perhaps it’s best to analyze what exactly Fenerbahce needs at this point. 

Many fans have been clamoring for a striker to be brought in.  The consensus points to Asamoah Gyan of Ghana to be transferred to Fenerbahce in order to solve their scoring crisis.  While Fenerbahce might benefit from the transfer of Gyan, it may not solve the problem.  Currently, the club features Gokhan Unal, Semih Senturk, and Dani Guiza.  Guiza looks to be out of shape, and he has been practically begging to leave the club.  Guiza has been a huge bust considering he was transferred for 14 million euros before the 2008-09 season.  After leading La Liga in scoring the season before that, he was expected to be the goal scorer that Fenerbahce had been looking for. But Guiza has never been able to find the form that made him the top scorer in La Liga in the 2007-08 season, and has never fully adapted to Turkish football.  There have been offers from Spain as well as Rubin Kazan of Russia to transfer the player, and it probably would be best for Guiza to leave at this point. 

The second forward at Fenerbahce is Semih Senturk.  Perhaps his case can be best described as a tragedy unfolding before people’s eyes.  Senturk led the Turkcell Super League in scoring in the 2007-08 season, scoring 17 goals.  He then followed this up with a terrific performance in Euro 2008, as he was nicknamed the “lifeguard”, scoring goals that prevented the Turkish national team from losing matches.  The last two seasons, he hasn’t featured as much as his performances from the past would warrant.  Senturk as recently as last season has been featured off the bench, usually as a replacement for Dani Guiza.  It seems that Senturk has lost much of the confidence that made him into a feared goalscorer due to his constant benching.  Evidence that fans wanted Senturk to play more was during a match last season, where after several misses by Guiza, Fenerbahce fans chanted Senturk’s name.  Senturk would be subbed in eventually, but it seemed that he should have started at the beginning of the match.  Confidence can be very fragile when it comes to strikers, and while it isn’t fully known that Senturk’s confidence has returned, coming in off the bench will not help him achieve the heights he previously experienced. 

The third striker in this bunch is Gokhan Unal.  Transferred from Trabzonspor the previous January, Unal has not been able to find the form that had him leading the league in goal scoring in the 2005-06 season.  Unal had some success with Trabzonspor, scoring 16 times in 45 matches, but since coming to Fenerbahce, he had been coming in off the bench, usually for Guiza.  So far this season, Unal has been the primary striker for Fenerbahce.  However, his scoring prowess has not been evident so far in the five official matches Fenerbahce has had so far.  Unal might become a better striker, but considering his performances, he’d be better off coming into a match off the bench.

The biggest weakness that is glaringly obvious to anyone watching Fenerbahce so far is the defence.  The only defenders with class currently on Fenerbahce are Diego Lugano, Gokhan Gonul, and Andre Santos.  In the second leg of the Young Boys tie, Fenerbahce went with Fabio Bilica and Ilhan Eker as the central defenders, Bekir Irtegun as the right back, and Andre Santos as the left back.  Santos has proven himself not only to be a capable left back, but his attacking runs have helped out the offense.  Santos has been a true definition of a wingback since coming to Fenerbahce last year.  While Santos does leave the left side open after his attacking runs, he does play with a determination to get back to the defense.  Fabio Bilica is the most scrutinized defender on Fenerbahce, and for good reason.  His decision making is very poor.  He is prone to make many mistakes as he is defending, and it gives defensive midfielder Cristian Baroni extra work to cover the space that Bilica had left behind, as evidenced last season.

Ilhan Eker was transferred from Genclerbirligi in the summer transfer window.  So far he hasn’t impressed.  It may be early to judge Eker, but so far he doesn’t bring anything of value to Fenerbahce’s table.  Bekir Irtegun is normally a center back, and was played out of position at times last season and in the second leg of the Young Boys tie.  Irtegun is more than anything, a backup, but a backup who doesn’t take advantage of getting the start.  Irtegun, as evidenced in the Young Boys matches, has been very subpar, and he is best suited for the bench as a depth player, coming in off the bench to preserve a lead.  As for Diego Lugano, his performances speak for themselves.  When he was out for a stretch of a few weeks during the second half of last season, Fenerbahce either lost or drew matches.  When Lugano came back, Fenerbahce went on a streak of shutouts that was only broken in the final game against Trabzonspor.  Lugano is a world class defender in a very average defense. 

Gokahn Gonul had surgery over the offseason, and when he was put into the second leg match against Young Boys, he immediately made an impact.  Gonul was known at one time as the “Turkish Cafu”, and he is probably the best right back in Turkey right now.  Gonul defensive efforts have been well known as he is able to play defense, while balancing his defensive efforts with his offensive exploits.  Fenerbahce needs to upgrade in their central defense more than anything.  They have relied far too long on Lugano and his defensive abilities, and when Lugano is out, Fenerbahce’s defense is their Achilles heel.

Fenerbahce has played six matches so far, and their record is two wins, one draw, and three losses.  So now the eyes of Fenerbahce fans will be on head coach Aykut Kocaman.  Kocaman has not had a good start to his tenure so far.  With this debacle against Young Boys, some people might already be calling for his head.  Kocaman may not have been the first choice to be the head coach at Fenerbahce, and while he has had experience with Anatolian teams in the Super League, this is a huge step up for him.  Kocaman is now under the gun as he will be expected to guide the club into the Europa League, now that Fenerbahce is in the Europa League playoff round.  Anything less and he may be sacked early into the season.  Perhaps he was best suited to remain as the director of football, and get someone else to take over as head coach.  However, Kocaman decided to take the job.  He knew straight away that he would be under pressure to succeed.

With all of the issues that were evident after the Young Boys tie in the Champions League, Fenerbahce’s fans better hope that things will get fixed soon.  Otherwise, it may be a long season with nothing to show for it.  Then again, Fenerbahce fans may be panicking way too early in the season.


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