Welcome back to the fifth post in the series ‘Turkish Delight’ where I am managing Gençlerbirliği. If you missed the last post where I reviewed the 22/23 campaign then please click here to catch up.

Before I start here is a reminder of the 10 challenges that I want to achieve throughout this save:

  1. Win the Turkish Süper Lig
  2. Win the Turkish Cup
  3. Win a European Trophy
  4. Become the first Turkish side to win the Champions League
  5. Become the best team in Turkey on paper (Media Prediction 1st)
  6. Increase the Süper Lig coefficient so it becomes a top 5 European league
  7. Produce 5 homegrown Turkish Internationals (newgens only)
  8. Turn down an approach from one of the big 3 (Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş)
  9. Have a player I sign or produce become Gençlerbirliği’s record goal scorer (Current record is 72 goals by Andre Kona N’Gole)
  10. To beat those b*stards across the city by 5 goals or more

Last season you’ll have read about how worried I was in regards to our financial situation. During our first year back in the top flight we managed to make a profit from player sales whilst still improving the quality of the squad. The wage budget was kept at a manageable level, resisting the urge to splash out on certain signings. This has done our finances the world of good and my initial financial concerns have dispersed however this doesn’t mean that now is the time to get careless. I arrived at the club just after relegation which had really hit us hard as outside of the top flight the prize money just isn’t there. Parachute payments that exist in England and often see relegated sides promoted back to the Premier League at the first time of asking aren’t a thing in Turkey. Having gained promotion back to the Süper Lig there has been a constant flow of money in to the club and we are looking much more financially sound than we previously were. We are no longer in the red and projections show that our finances should continue to improve.

To evidence the improvement our transfer budget last year was a measly £280k, this year its just shy of £6m! The wage budget has improved but still not to a level that would allow us to spend big, my intention wasn’t to spend every penny we had but to invest in the areas that needed strengthening whilst leaving some money left over for the future.

And I did just that! I even managed to conclude all transfer business by July 1st which I was super happy with. There were 9 signings in total making it another busy window but nowhere near as busy as this time last year. This business puts us in a position where going forward I will only need to buy real quality rather than needing to fill gaps in the squad. This means there should be fewer transfers but when I do make them they should be real improvements to the team.

Anyway on with the new signings and I’ll start with the raid of Altınordu, having already signed 3 players from them during this save I added another 4! They have just been promoted having won the playoff final and will be facing off against us this season but they will be doing so with a severely weakened squad thanks to this. Two centre backs join in Rahmi Kaya and Yusuf Arslan, Kaya will be first choice alongside Kızıldağ with Arslan providing back up. Two right wingers join us who will directly compete for the starting spot in this position. Fevzi Turhal is the most senior at the age of 17 but 16 year old Hamza Morkaya will be first choice. Despite his young age, he already possesses more quality than most of my squad, he has the potential to be one of the best players in Europe in the future, his signing was a real coup for the club.

Three more Turkish players joined us, with the number of Turkish players required to be in the squad increasing each year its important that we build with this in mind. Two left backs arrive in Arif Boşluk from Trabzonspor and Ahmet Gülay from Beşiktaş. Both are 20 years old but have the potential to develop into good quality players. This illustrates just how far we still have to go as a club to catch those at the top as we see youngsters who aren’t deemed as good enough by them as players who can really improve our squad. We needed more competition for Gökhan Gül in the ball winning midfield role so Atakan Çankaya also came in from Gladbach.

Finally we make 2 foreign additions, Polish right back Robert Gumny comes in from Augsburg and Italian midfielder Marco Carraro signs following the expiration of his contract at Atalanta.

Things are looking rosy! Well they were until I realised a new rule was being introduced, this rule states that ‘There must be at least 2 under-21 players trained by the club for 2 years between their 15th and 21st birthdays in the starting 11.’ In the squad is one thing but in the starting 11 is a completely different kettle of fish! When I took over I mentioned that the youngsters at the club were awful and I wasn’t wrong, none have developed into players capable of being in our first 11. We have had 2 golden generations but those players don’t quality for this rule yet as it hasn’t been 2 years since they signed. This means 2 of our starting 11 are going to be players I would never normally pick.

The first position will be in goal, Djigui Diarra will have to be sold and 20 year old Atalay Gökçe who is rated 1.5 star will have to be our first choice keeper for the foreseeable future, he does have potential but he has a lot of improving to do. Fortunately in both golden generations goalkeeper was our strongest position so as soon as they meet the rule, they will be taking over.

The second position will be filled by one of Ahmet Tuzcu and brothers Musa and Abdullah Şahindere. It will be a case of selecting who can do the least damage!

A number of players exited during the window, this included the late departure of back up right back Marko Živković who kicked off when I wouldn’t give him the wage increase he desired. He hadn’t been a player that I’d been looking to sell however following his meltdown I felt that I was left with little choice. It meant I needed one more signing before the window shut so in came Bayern Munich youngster Angelo Brückner.

Here is a full list of the players who left, the first image is transfers out and loans, the second is those whose contract expired and I chose not to offer them a renewal. One player not on there was Enis Destan, a number of bids came in for him over the summer, mainly from Fenerbahçe who had been relentless but we managed to keep hold of him. It wasn’t looking good at one point as the president accepted an offer from Huddersfield Town only for him to overturn his decision after I pleaded with him to see sense. This was a huge relief, to lose one of your best players against your will is always bad but as a Bradford City fan it would hurt even more to lose them to our dog bothering neighbours across West Yorkshire. In fairness to Destan he didn’t moan once and signed a new long term contract before the window shut.

Over the summer West Brom offered me the chance to move home and manage them but I was committed to the project I’d taken on in Ankara and wanted to see it through. In the previous post I spoke about how we’d moved to a 4-2-3-1 formation and this is what we would be starting this season with. I hoped it would bring the best out of Burak İnce who would be playing the attacking midfield support role and enable us to have better possession in more dangerous areas.

The aim for the season was to have a push for European qualification, we’d been 13 points off it last season so I wanted us to be much closer and if possible actually achieve it. I mentioned before about the rule change which meant I had to play 2 of our youngsters, well for some reason when we started the season it allowed me to play just 1 and proceed with 1 on the bench. I have no idea why but it meant I had only had to play the young keeper and not sacrifice one of my better players in other positions. It may be an error in the game as it clearly says in the first 11 but I’m certainly not complaining!

We couldn’t have got off to a better start, 5 wins out of 5 saw us go straight to the top of the league. Our new right winger, 16 year old Hamza Morkaya had 5 goals already and an average rating of 7.88, what a signing he was going to be! The main man up top last year Enis Destan had started slow, perhaps due to all the speculation surrounding his future during the summer but fortunately back up striker Santiago Hoyos had come in and shone, particularly against İstanbul Başakşehir where he bagged himself a hat-trick and took home the match ball. We were brought back down to earth with an away defeat at Alanyaspor but stayed top. After this I couldn’t have asked for a better response as 2nd placed Galatasaray came to town and we smashed them 4-1, Hoyos keeping his impressive run in front of goal going. Another 2 wins and a draw kept us top after 10 games by 4 points although 3rd place Fenerbahçe who were 5 points back had a game in hand. It had been a fantastic start to the season but could we keep it up?

We didn’t stay top for long, defeat away to Fenerbahçe saw them take over us but we didn’t let it knock us off our stride. Our good form continued and we didn’t lose another game before the turn of the year. We smashed Trabzonspor 4-1 at home and our results were starting to attract attention. Göztepe sacked their manager after a bad start to the season and turned to me but I said no, it wasn’t a tempting offer in the slightest. My favourite moment was when Beşiktaş arrived in the capital and we sent them back to Istanbul empty handed after a 3-0 victory which lead to the sacking of their manager. We were still second and it had been a great first half of the season, it would be difficult to maintain this but European qualification was ours to lose. Left winger Emircan Gürlük had his good form rewarded by earning his first cap for Turkey, he was developing into an outstanding player. In the cup we breezed comfortably through a couple of rounds, I was hopeful we could make it to the latter stages.

I mentioned that Beşiktaş had sacked their manager, well guess who they wanted to replace him with? I instantly turned them down, the first of the 10 challenges I set complete. There was no way I wanted to leave Gençlerbirliği, especially not for one of the big 3 in Istanbul.

The winter transfer window was quite a quiet one with no new players coming in, after a succession of busy transfer windows I felt it was time for some continuity even though I did have £1.5m available to spend. I sold a couple of players who were surplus to requirements and allowed young goalkeeper Bahadır Temiz from our first golden generation to go out on loan and get some game time. Some offers did come in for a couple of our better players but they were nowhere near a price I’d consider selling for. PSG scared the hell out of me when they bid for Emircan Gürlük but it was just the one offer, I’d expected them to come back with a higher bid but it never appeared. Fenerbahçe tried to prize away my main man at the back Arda Kızıldağ but again it was a low bid not reflective of his value. A year ago I expect both players would have wanted to leave but after talking with me they were both happy to stay, a sign of just how far we’d come.

During January and February we played 7 more league games, we won 6 and drew 1. The draw was away at Galatasaray, we’d nearly taken all 3 points only for them to snatch an equaliser in time added on. We were now 6 points ahead of them with 8 games to go but the gap to Fenerbahçe in front was now 4 points. We still had to play them at home, we were definitely going to qualify for Europe as we had an 18 point cushion, the aim now was to push Fenerbahçe as far as we could in the race for the title.

In the cup we had to do it the hard way in the 6th round after losing 1-0 at home to Samsunspor in the first round but a comprehensive 4-0 win in the away leg saw us through. Into the quarters we went and we got the hardest draw possible, top of the table Fenerbahçe. They beat us 2-1 at our place in the first leg, we managed a draw in the second leg but it was too little too late and went out on aggregate.

In the next game week we were handed a huge boost when Galatasaray beat Fenerbahçe on the Friday night, if we beat Çaykur Rizespor on the Saturday the gap would be down to one with the top of the table clash the week after. We struggled to break them down but finally did so on 71 minutes when Arda Kızıldağ headed in a Burak İnce corner, all we had to do was see it out. It was looking good then we got caught out from a set piece, sloppy marking allowed Selim Ilgaz to steal in at the back post and tap in an 88th minute equaliser. We pushed forward trying to get a late winner only to get caught on the break and in the 94th minute Ilgaz was hauled down when through on goal and Bryan Dabo stepped up to smash home the resulting spot kick and steal all 3 points for Çaykur Rizespor. We’d completely messed up a massive opportunity and were now looking over our shoulder at Galatasaray who were only 3 points behind.

Next week Galatasaray played first and won their match putting them 2nd on goal difference. Our game wasn’t until the Monday night, we were able to put a strong team out with only right back Robert Gumny missing through injury. A win would be huge, a defeat and our title dreams would be over.

To say it was a cagey opening would be an understatement, the first highlight didn’t take place until 22 minutes in when their midfielder Ege Erdem found himself in acres of space from a free kick but fortunately fired straight at Atalay Gökçe. This saw them burst into life and they created a number of chances in the next 5 minutes but we managed to hold firm. We then started to come into the game and just on the stroke of half time a long ball forward by Rahmi Kaya was brought down by Enis Destan, he turned and ran at the defence going past Kim Min-Jae who lunged in to stop Destan getting his shot away. He completely missed the ball and took Destan‘s standing leg, stone wall penalty. Destan dusted himself down and got up to slam the ball home, 1-0 to us at half time. Could we hold on?

At half time they brought Pelkas on for Kahveci, their manager Vitor Pereira was clearly looking for more from their team. He didn’t get the reaction he wanted, we started the half the better side and after a long goal kick, Destan got the wrong side of Çağlar Durmaz who hauled him down and received a second yellow card, Fenerbahçe were down to 10 men with 38 minutes still to play. We were favourites now but really needed that second goal to give ourselves some breathing space. We should have had it a minute later when we created an overload down the right but stand in right back Angelo Brückner fired over from a good position. From this point on the game really fizzled out, we were happy to look after the ball and they couldn’t break us down with a man less. We secured all 3 points creating a wide open 3 way title fight with 6 games to go.

We then had the international break where Arda Kızıldağ got a well earned call up to the Turkish national side. In the next round of fixtures we all played on different days. Galatasaray went first and lost, we were up second and were playing second bottom Hatayspor, we drew 0-0, we just couldn’t break them down, another missed opportunity. Then it was Fenerbahçe‘s turn and amazingly they also drew 0-0 at home to Samsunspor, it was as if no one wanted to win the league! Normal service was then resumed as we all won the following week. Trabzonspor away was our next test, they were in 4th so it didn’t get much harder than this, an Enis Destan double guided us to a 2 all draw but the other 2 both won leaving the title race still wide open with 3 games to go.

Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray won, we lost. Our defeat was 1-0 at home against Gaziantep thanks to a Nouha Dicko goal. They were now up to 4th leapfrogging Trabzonspor, it had been one of those days, our xG had been 3.04 compared to theirs at 0.75 however xG means nothing if you don’t stick it in the net. With that we were left needing a miracle, Fenerbahçe could seal the title with a game to spare and they did just that. We drew away at Beşiktaş which saw us drop to the 3rd for the first time in months. We ended the season with a win but so did Galatasaray, I’d have snapped your hand off if you’d offered me 3rd at the start of the season but despite the overachievement with how the season had panned out there was an air of disappointment. We missed out on the Champions League and instead headed into the Europa League.

On reflection it was a fantastic season, we’d made huge strides forward and now had a settled squad and much improved finances. We had gained 26 points more than the season before and not just qualified for Europe but challenged for the title.

My player of the season was Burak İnce, he was instrumental to our success with 17 assists from attacking midfield. The formation change to 4-2-3-1 had been to get the most out of him and he certainly hadn’t disappointed. Arda Kızıldağ was outstanding at the back as ever but my next shout out goes to Hamza Morkaya, signed in the summer from Altınordu he contributed 9 goals and 10 assists, he only turned 17 in January. He was named 10th in the NxGn which looks at the top 50 wonderkids in the world, he will be one we really want to hold onto.

Here is an overview of the squad as a whole. Santiago Hoyos started the season on fire and had 17 goals from 11 starts at one point, he then completely went off the boil but fortunately Enis Destan then rediscovered his shooting boots.

After having a golden generation 2 seasons in a row, this year we were predicted an average intake which is what it was. Again goalkeeper was predicted to be the best position however when it came through there was 1 stand out player and he was actually a striker. Enes İşler looks a great talent, hopefully he doesn’t disappoint.

Before we finish lets have a quick look at my progress in relation to the 10 challenges I set at the start of the series. We now have 1 complete and hopefully can tick at least 1 more off next season.

Win the Turkish Süper Lig3rd place 23/24
Win the Turkish CupQuarter Final 23/24
Win a European TrophyQualified for Europa League 23/24
Become the first Turkish side to win the Champions LeagueNot yet qualified for the Champions League
Become the best team in Turkey on paper (Media Prediction 1st)Predicted 11th 23/24
Increase the Süper Lig coefficient so it becomes a top 5 European leagueStarted 13th, currently 9th
Produce 5 homegrown Turkish Internationals (newgens only)Capped at under 21 level – Hakan Konuk and Bahadır Temiz
Capped at under 19 level – Utku Dinçbudak, Önder Koç
Capped at under 18 level – Taha Cengiz Mankır
Turn down an approach from one of the big 3 (Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş)Complete
Have a player I sign or produce become Gençlerbirliği’s record goal scorer (Current record is 72 goals by Andre Kona N’Gole)Enis Destan currently on 33 goals
To beat those b*stards across the city by 5 goals or more4-1 win away 21/22 best effort so far. Ankaragücü are still in the second tier.

Thanks for taking the time to read another of my posts, I’ll be back soon with the next season review. Hopefully we can improve again and win some silverware next time around.


The Last Throw.


One thought on “SEASON REVIEW 23/24

  1. Pingback: SEASON REVIEW 24/25 | On the Break

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