SEASON REVIEW 24/25

Welcome back to the sixth and final post in the series ‘Turkish Delight’ where I am managing Gençlerbirliği. If you missed the last post where I reviewed the 23/24 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 we came so close to the title only to finish in 3rd place, our aim had been to qualify for Europe which we’d done comfortably but this year we were aiming higher. I wanted that title and I wanted it now.

Our over achievement hadn’t gone unnoticed, Galatasaray manager Fatih Terim had retired and they wanted me to take over from him. Did I want to takeover from him? No, it would be easier to win the title there but I wanted to do so with Gençlerbirliği.

Financially we were in a really sound place and I was given an £11m war chest to improve the squad further, a world away from the money I’d had to spend at the start of this save. So far I’d only spent small amounts of money on players, my largest transfer had been £1.2m up front, eventually rising to £1.8m. I didn’t want to amend my transfer policy despite the extra funds available, I’d only spend big if I found a player I really felt was value for money.

My first arrival was Costa Rican left winger David Rojas who arrived for £1m from Alajuelense to provide competition for Emircan Gürlük. At 18 he still had a lot of improving to do but was one who I felt would only get better. He would be certainly worth a lot more than £1m in years to come.

It wouldn’t be a summer transfer window if I didn’t sign anyone from Altınordu. I needed an extra centre back who would be happy sitting on the bench, Mehmet Yeşil was that man, at £550k it was another cheap deal leaving me plenty of money in the bank.

I also promoted 4 youngsters to the first team squad. Two goalkeepers who would compete for the number one spot in Hakan Konuk and Bahadır Temiz, attacking midfielder Cafer Bayar who would be the understudy to Burak İnce as well as forward Önder Koç. Out of these I only expected Konuk to be in the first 11 but the others would get the opportunity to impress throughout the season.

With the youngsters promoted and the 2 new arrivals I was happy with the size of my squad as there had been a few outgoings as well which I’ll come onto shortly. I still had plenty of money in the bank but didn’t want to spend it for the sake of it, I was keeping my eye out for a deep lying playmaker as I felt the clubs progress had outgrown Tom Lowery’s but was happy to wait for the right deal.

There was still plenty of time left within the window to get a deal done however this also meant that there was plenty of time for other clubs to come in and unsettle my key men and sure enough this happened….

I was fuming! The president had accepted Galatasaray‘s bid for my main man Burak İnce without even consulting me. I would never have left him go for that much and was certain that if the president had been a bit tougher we could have got at least £20m for him. When I heard the news I went straight to the president and urged him to reconsider. To my utmost surprise he instantly apologised and overturned his decision. Burak was going nowhere for now!

Then this happened….

At £20m I couldn’t really blame the president for accepting, it was fantastic money but I still really didn’t want to lose our most prized asset. I was resigned to the deal going through only for Burak to reject the offer, it wasn’t a big enough move to entice him. I was overjoyed, fantastic loyalty from my main man, it showed just how much he had bought into our project.

Time to get back to work searching for that deep lying playmaker? No no no.
Galatasaray weren’t the only team interested, in came Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth with a £19.5m offer which the president immediately accepted.

Surely the premier league was too bigger lure for Burak to resist?

Wrong! Again much to my surprise he rejected them, it was fantastic news for ourselves but it really looked like it was just a matter of time before he’d be off.

That didn’t put Bournemouth off and they came back with another offer but again he rejected them.

Surely Bournemouth would leave us alone now and accept defeat in their attempts to sign him?

Wrong!

Another bid came in and for a third time he rejected them. Thankfully that would be it, no more bids came in and we managed to hold onto the man who makes us tick.

I was now able to resume my hunt for a deep lying playmaker and it went right down to the wire. It wasn’t until deadline day when I got my man, Fabricio Díaz joining from LAFC. He cost £4m which was much higher than I’d spent in the past but still left money in the bank. He was a good technical player with room to improve and would go straight into the first 11. It was too late to get rid of Tom Lowery, I’d have to wait until January to get rid.

Now for the outgoings, Jacob Montes and Braydon Manu were the biggest names to leave, 2 players that tended to play when I rotated rather than being in the first 11. Then it was just youngsters who hadn’t made the grade or back up players who were surplus to requirements.

The squad was in a better shape than it had been, the strength in depth had been improved and we had a new number 1 and a new deep lying playmaker who would both be in the first 11. We’d need them to hit the ground running after a tough Europa League draw that saw us placed in a group with Sevilla, Ludogorets and Rosenborg. I’d be hoping to sneak through in second, making the assumption that Sevilla would run away as group winners.

So how did we get on?

By the end of October we’d played 9 league games and 3 Europa League games. We’d only gone and won the lot! Domestically we’d been superb, we’d beaten Galatasaray 1-0 at home and had absolutely smashed Trabzonspor 6-0 away. That form had continued in Europe where we went to Seville and amazingly won 4-1! One of the best results I’ve ever achieved in Football Manager. It hadn’t been a weak side either, they’d started with Koundé and Umtiti partnering one another at the back, the likes of Allan and Ocampos in midfield with En-Nesyri up top. Absolutely unbelievable! We sat top of the league and top of our Europa League Group.

Our impressive form continued till mid January when the transfer window opened. On the 15th December we finally dropped points in the league, a 0-0 draw away at Adana Demirspor. They actually played 39 minutes with 9 men so the fact we didn’t beat them was absolutely shocking but I suppose I’ll let the lads off with their incredible form overall. Other than that we won every other game leaving us comfortably top of the league.

In the Europe League we won the group, we drew with Ludogorets in Bulgaria and Sevilla got revenge on us when they came to Ankara but we still topped the group.

We also breezed through the first few rounds of the Turkish Cup and had a 3-0 lead after the first leg of the sixth round where we were facing Altınordu.

With the winter transfer window opening in mid January it was again an opportunity for other sides to try and unsettle my top players. Our first half of the season had only highlighted further just how good some of our players were. Keeping hold of Burak İnce had been imperative to our start, in the league he had 12 goals in 16 and 6 assists to go with them. Fortunately no one made a massive offer, Dortmund did table a bid but fortunately it was only around the £12m mark which wasn’t enough to tempt Mr President into selling. If they had made an acceptable bid I have no doubt that Burak wouldn’t have been able to turn them down.

You’ll notice I upped his value slightly to try and warn off bids…

Some of my players had minimum fee release clauses which meant that if they were met they were free to talk to whichever team had met it. My number 9 Enis Destan was one of these players and RBL along with Bournemouth, who clearly had a scout based in Ankara, met his release clause but thankfully he turned them both down. Rejecting Bournemouth didn’t surprise me to much after the summer saga with Burak but to knock back RBL was a big call.

Now one player I haven’t mentioned so far in this chapter is wonderkid Hamza Morkaya, he had a £9.5m release clause which I managed to increase to £11.25m with a new contract in November however his agent wouldn’t budge on letting me get it any higher. Manchester United met it and within 24 hours he was on his way to England, a real blow but having signed him for just £1m at least we’d made a real profit.

This meant that a replacement was needed, I promoted back up right winger Fevzi Turhal to the first 11 and signed 16 year old Ömer Gülle as back up from Trabzonspor for £2.1m. I could have spent a lot more but I still wanted to keep with the values that had got us to where we were.

No more players came in although on deadline day I nearly pulled off a double coup. André Almeida who starts out at Vitória de Guimarães had moved to Chelsea but failed to make the grade. He was available at a cut price of £5m, we entered into talks but he was only willing to join on loan where as I wanted a permanent deal so I cancelled it. Then in the last couple of hours I had a £6m bid accepted for arguably FM21’s biggest wonderkid Youssoufa Moukoko who was out of favour at Dortmund. Unofrtunately I was around 30k short of being able to reach his wage demands, by the end of the season he was back in favour and valued at £40m, a big opportunity missed!

One player did leave in Tom Lowery, he joined Swansea at a cut price of £250k due to his contract being set to expire in the summer.

Before we dive into the back end of the season, I’ll cover off the youth intake here. For the third time in four seasons we had a golden generation on our hands according to the preview.

When the intake arrived it didn’t disappoint with multiple players having the potential to go on and break into the first team squad. Hazar İriç was the one who caught my eye but the Head of Youth Development had ear marked Emre Sancak as the one to watch.

Back to first team matters and losing Morkaya could have disrupted our rhythm but we didn’t let it. A couple of wins over midtable sides were followed by a big 2-1 win away at Galatasaray. We backed this up with another 4 wins in a row before we dropped points for only the second time in the season to date with a 2-2 draw at home to Altay. The lads bounced straight back with another 2 wins including a 1-0 win in Istanbul away at Fenerbahçe. This meant that we could wrap the title up in our next game which was again in Istanbul but against another member of the so called ‘Big 3’ Beşiktaş.

In Europe we had a tough draw against German side RB Leipzig, we played in Leipzig first and they beat us 2-0. We had to hope for a remarkable comeback back in Ankara but it didn’t happen, we managed to get a credible 0-0 draw but as we were unable to break them down we were out of the Europa League. It had been a good campaign though and we certainly hadn’t humiliated ourselves.

Despite losing against Altınordu in the second leg of the cup we went through 3-1 on aggregate. The quarter final was a comfortable 7-1 victory on aggregate over Alanyaspor which set up a quarter final with the team rapidly becoming our main rivals, Galatasaray. The first leg was at their place and that man Burak İnce fired home to clinch a 1-0 victory. Following the game Burak İnce was named as the footballer of the year in Turkey, it was such a relief that we’d managed to keep hold of him.

I was going to try and build the tension up for the Beşiktaş game in which we had the chance to seal the title but there was really no need to, we were 2-0 up by half time and comfortably saw out a 3-0 win crowning ourselves as champions with 4 games to spare. We were so comfortable and that summed up the entire season, we’d steamrolled all of the opposition in our path and more than deserved to be champions.

We had no time to celebrate as the second leg of the Turkish Cup semi final was next. Although we didn’t manage to score on the night we still found our way to the final thanks to a 0-0 draw meaning we had overcome Galatasaray 1-0 on aggregate. Back in the league and the question was whether or not we could go unbeaten all season? The answer was we couldn’t. We won our next 2 before losing away at Göztepe in the game before the cup final. I had played a weakened side but it was still disappointing to lose our unbeaten record in our 2nd to last league game.

In the cup final we faced Fenerbahçe. Club captain Gökhan Gül was suspended but other than that we had a full strength side.

The game was a bad tempered affair that lacked quality. Over the 90 minutes both sides only managed to create half chances and failed to break the deadlock. The main incident occurred with 9 minutes to go when their right back Nazım Sangaré cynically pulled back Emircan Gürlük who had got the better of him, it was his second yellow card and he was off. Before extra time I had the chance to get the players together and I really put the boot in. We’d been poor but we now had the upper hand with a man extra and had to take advantage. We dominated the first half of extra time but it wasn’t until time added on that we struck, a Fabricio Díaz free kick headed home by Enis Destan. Into the second half and Destan had the chance to double our lead when he was pulled down in the box. He stepped up but a brilliant flying save from İrfan Eğribayat denied him and kept the game alive. This fed fire into the 10 men and suddenly we were up against it with Sardar Azmoun finding a yard of space in the box but thankfully for us he could only fire against the foot of the post. An onslaught followed but we stood firm, we’d done the double! What an amazing season it had been!

Our final league game was a 1-1 draw with Gaziantep. What a campaign we’d had, we’d absolutely ran away with it in the league, ruffled some feathers in Europe and won the cup too. I couldn’t have been prouder of the boys and it shows that just because money is there, it doesn’t mean you have to spend it.

Despite not winning either of our last 2 league games we’d still won the league by a huge 15 points. In the 4 seasons that I’ve been playing this save the highest total prior to this has been 82 by Fenerbahçe last season.

The squad as a whole has been fantastic this year, I’ve already waxed lyrical about Burak İnce so now I’m going to focus on 3 other players. Firstly Enis Destan, 36 goals in 34 starts in all competitions with 10 assists as well. Need I say anymore? Secondly Emircan Gürlük, another of the Altınordu boys, the winger has contributed 12 goals and 17 assists, fantastic. Finally my new number one, academy product Hakan Konuk has kept 22 clean sheets in 38 games since moving to the first team. He is improving by the game and it is only a matter of time before he’s the Turkey number one.

Here is an overview of the entire squad, some superb performances across the board. The only players who didn’t get above a 7 as an average rating were youngsters who aren’t quite ready for the first 11 yet.

Now lets check in with my progress against the 10 challenges I set at the start of the season.

ChallengeProgress
Win the Turkish Süper LigComplete
Win the Turkish CupComplete
Win a European TrophyEuropa League second round 24/25
Become the first Turkish side to win the Champions LeagueQualified 24/25
Become the best team in Turkey on paper (Media Prediction 1st)Predicted 5th 24/25
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 20 level – Utku Dinçbudak, Taha Cengiz Mankır
Capped at under 19 level – Cihangir Baran, Önder Koç
Capped at under 18 level – Cafer Bayar, Baybora Terzi, Enes İşler
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 69 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.

I now have 3 out of the 10 challenges complete but despite there being a long way to go I have come to the decision to end this series here. I’ve really enjoyed managing in Turkey and hadn’t even considered quitting this save until around January this season. I was loving it at first but this season turned into a lot of pressing continue and not much else! Domestically we are now far and away the best side in the division. I didn’t expect to topple the big 3 this quickly and certainly not by such a distance. When managing in other countries such as Ukraine its been harder to topple the best side as they are just so good in comparison to the rest of the division, Turkey appealed to me as there were a group of big sides however the issue here is that none of them are that superior that they are a real challenge to catch. This is something that I’ll definitely consider when picking a new country to manage in when starting a new save in the future. With a budget of £19.5m for next season we are only going to get better. The main challenge left is to improve in Europe but with the domestic campaign taking up the bulk of the playing time I’ve lost my motivation to continue so I’m going to leave it here.

I would definitely recommend managing in Turkey, a club of similar stature to Gençlerbirliği are ideal for someone who enjoys a one club save that doesn’t go further than about 5 seasons. For those of you wanting a longer save you need to either go further down the pyramid or add in save rules like only signing Turkish players. The changes to homegrown rules definitely mean you need to focus on youth development. I’ve been lucky in that 3 out of 4 youth intakes have been golden generations which has definitely helped me out. Altınordu are a team I’d definitely recommend to be, you’ve seen how I’ve signed players from them every year and they already have a Turkish only policy in place.

Thank you for taking the time to follow this save, I hope you have enjoyed it and understand my reasons for leaving it here. Having done a one club save I’m now going to move onto a journeyman challenge and have a go at Doctor Benjy’s Glory Hunter challenge. I’ll be back with the details in the new year, have a good Christmas everyone.

Cheers

The Last Throw.

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