For the most of its history, Turkish football was not able to accomplish success which would match the passion of the local fans. Granted, the passion of Turkish fans quite often tends to cross the line that separates the civilized society from wild hooliganism. Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind of many when Turkish football is mentioned are the events that marred the football skies and entered the dark side of world news.
The only two major international successes for Turkish football took place on the turn of the century, when Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup in 2000 and when the Turkish national team won the bronze medal in the 2002 World Cup. But unfortunately for Turkish fans, those events are only the occasional flashes of brilliance in the sea of mediocrity of Turkish football.
Where Are They Now?
In the recent years there has been a dramatic increase of foreign players joining Turkish football clubs. Foreign players who were not exactly moving to Turkey to finish their careers, but players who still had a lot to offer on the highest stage. It looked like things were starting to improve in this football crazy country, but the other facts are suggesting otherwise. Turkish football still faces a lot of struggles.
Last season, the controversial Passolig e-ticket system was introduced and it immediately caused the boycott by many Turkish fans. E-ticketing system was introduced in April of 2014, in an attempt to stop the ever present violence on the Turkish terraces in the 2014/15 season. The fans’ issue with this system lied in the fact that if they wanted to attend games, they would have to acquire the Passolig card, which was only available after sharing own private information with private companies. Fans saw that as a breach of their privacy and refused to attend the games, so they watched their beloved clubs with their friends at the bar. Probably only the broadcaster that owns the TV rights for the Turkish Süper Lig, Digitürk, was happy with the way these events unfolded.
To put things into perspective, Besiktas’ usual home attendances used to be around 40,000 per game, before the Passolig card was introduced. Last season, with the Passolig card, the attendances dropped to be about 3,000-5,000 per game.
Yıldız Holding’s food brand Ülker invested over $215m in Turkish football over the last decade and they had every reason to worry about the situation in Turkish football last season. They didn’t wait with their action. In January of 2015, Yıldız Holding decided to withdraw their funding from the Turkish football.
It was predicted that Yıldız Holding’s decision wouldn’t have a massive impact on the greatest Turkish football clubs, the big Istanbul trio, Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas or on the Süper Lig itself. And so far that does seem to be the case.
Their decision was expected to hurt the smaller clubs in the Süper Lig. But even “the big boys” shouldn’t be care-free. The impact of the Yıldız Holding’s decision could with time cause a slow domino effect that would force the Turkish football into financial ruin and force it to start from scratch.
Corruption is another big problem in Turkish football and the general opinion in Turkey is that the authorities refuse to address the issue due to political importance of football in a country absolutely mad about the game.
The climate around the Beautiful Game seemed to be everything but beautiful.
Turkish Football Yang Has Some Fight Left
This summer several well respected players, with still a lot to offer in the biggest football leagues, decided to join clubs in the Turkish Süper Lig. It is unusual for them to make such an interesting career move at these, rather turbulent times in Turkish football.
Didier Drogba, Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder, Roberto Carlos, Florent Malouda and Raul Meireles are just some of the players who decided to continue their career paths in Turkey in last few years. For a regular football fan these decisions seemed unusual, but they didn’t seem to be anything more than a drop in the ocean. This summer alone Robin Van Persie, Nani, Mario Gomes, Samuel Eto’o and Lukas Podolski have all joined Turkish clubs. Now the Turkish football got the attention from the world of football.
There are several reasons for such an “inflation” of foreign superstars to join the Turkish clubs this summer.
Foreign Players Quotas
The first key factor was the decision from the Turkish FA to change the rules regarding the number of foreign players allowed in a team.
Turkish football fans can’t really brag about producing world class players that constantly play for world class teams. Arda Turan, who recently joined FC Barcelona, is arguably the most successful Turkish player abroad, ever. This is really not good enough for a football crazy country with population of about 75m. Players like Nuri Sahin, Hamit Altintop and Hakan Calhanoglu are all German-born Turkish players, and when you add Mevlut Erdinc, Omer Toprak and now retired Yildiray Basturk it becomes very clear that Turkish national football team is very dependent on foreign-born Turkish players. There is no way this system can work and produce results in the long term, especially when you take into account that many foreign-born Turkish players, like Mesut Özil, Ilkay Gündogan and Emre Can, decide to represent the country of their birth at the international level. Germany can produce so many quality players, because they have about 10 times more qualified coaches than for example England does. Situation in Turkey is even worse. For every qualified coach in Turkey, there are 10 qualified coaches in England.
Turkish Football Federation (TFF) decided to fight the unsatisfying number of quality players produced in Turkey by limiting the amount of foreign players in the Süper Lig. In this attempt they tried to force the clubs to invest in youth development, which would eventually strengthen the struggling national team in the long run. The TFF agreed on a rule to limit the number of foreign players in each team to 10, with the maximum of 6 players in match day squad. This rule did not sit well with the rich Turkish clubs, because it made it even harder for the Turkish clubs to compete in European competitions and therefore to attract foreign players and potential investors.
Fenerbahce and Galatasaray were very vocal in their demands to change this rule. Finally, after series of meetings and negotiations between the Turkish FA and the Turkish clubs, the rule was changed and now each Turkish club can have compared to the old rule a staggering number of 14 foreign players in their team.
This way the clubs now got had a place in their teams for those players on the pitch and not in the stands, and this is way this rule change was key for incoming foreign transfers.
Turkish national team football future seems to be on the losing side of this rule change. The Turkish Football Federation has to find another way to improve the investment in the youth development, the one and only proven way to improve the production of top class local players.
Money makes the world go round
Galatasaray regulary features in the Deloitte top 20 rich list, while Fenerbahce is often close to the top 20. This makes the team able to pay large sums of money for foreign players. But on the other hand the biggest Turkish clubs Besiktas, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Trabzonspor are still on the list off 22 clubs with the highest debts, according to Stoxx Europe Football Index. This means that Turkish clubs are very dependent on their future income.
This is where the TV rights revenue comes into play as another key element in this story. In the last 20 years the TV rights revenue in Turkey has risen 16-fold, making the Süper Lig the sixth most lucrative league in the world.
Turkish satellite provider Digitürk has the TV rights for the Süper Lig for this season. The original deal between the Süper Lig and Digiturk was signed in the January of 2010. The deal confirmed the selling of the TV rights for the Süper Lig to Digitürk for four seasons, starting in 2010 and finishing in 2014, for the total sum of $321M per season. On the 21st of May 2012 both sides agreed to extend the deal through 2017.
After the deal was extended Digitürk announced that the updated deal will be worth $450M per year.
In the spring of 2015 BeIN Media Group, the extended arm of the media giants Al Jazeera, has bought the Digitürk. At the moment of the deal, Digitürk had about 3.5M subscribers. The financial details of the deal were not publically released, but the experts suggest that BeIN had to pay between $1B and $1.2B to aquire Digitürk. BeIN always had their eyes on Digitürk, since their goal was to spread their impact also in the massive Turkish market.
This deal means that, the Qatari businessman, Nasser Al-Khelaifi is now the boss of both French football giants Paris Saint-Germain and the BeIN Sports, owner of the Turkish Süper Lig broadcasting rights until 2017, since BeIN will now take over the Digitürk deal with Süper Lig.
Paris Saint-Germain became a key figure in the French and European football only when Al-Khelaifi’s Qatar Sports Investment fund purchased the club from the City of Lights. PSG’s rise to stardom, with the help of massive financial injections from Qatar Sports Investment fund, was instant.
This summer there were even speculations that Al-Khelaifi was ready to let PSG’s key star, Zlatan Ibrahimović, leave the French capital and join Galatasaray in attempt to make the Turkish Süper Lig a bigger brand in football world. This move would have been a smart management decision from Al-Khelaifi, since his superstar striker would leave, but not for another Champions League contender. On the other hand his BeIN deal with the Turkish Süper Lig would get a recognizable face, maybe even bigger than the league itself, as it seemed to be the case in French Ligue 1 since Ibrahimović signed for PSG. This transfer didn’t happen in the summer transfer window, but January transfer window is just months away and anything can happen.
Clubs in Turkey expect an even bigger TV rights deal from 2017 onwards, now that a massive company like BeIN will be the interested party, so they have grounds to believe that their debts should be sorted. With a little more ease regarding their debts clubs in Turkey decided to make the TFF happy with investing a lot of money in infrastructure and bringing in qualified coaches from the best teams in Europe. This way the Turkish football finally made a step in the right direction, development of the local talent.
Tax The Rich, Turkish Edition
At this point Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s earns in France after taxes about $350k per week. Galatasaray wouldn’t have any problem matching that salary, especially when we take in consideration the Turkish income tax system, the third key part of this story.
According to current Turkish income tax laws, Süper Lig players have to put aside only 15% of their income for taxes, while the tax rate for the managers is set at 35%. Just to compare, public sector workers in Turkey are expected to pay about 27% income tax. This huge and unjust gap in income tax structure causes unrest in Turkish society and at this moment, there is a proposal for a new income tax low. If this new law gets implemented, cuts made on payments will increase, depending on the income, and football players will surely no longer have the income tax rate of only 15%.
This makes the Turkish Süper Lig tied as the country with the 2nd lowest income tax rate for football players in Europe, higher only than Bulgaria at 10% and tied with Lithuania at 15%. The difference here is that the Turkish Süper Lig is incomparably stronger than those two leagues.
Highest income tax rates for footballers in Europe can be found in Sweden, where the income tax rate for the rich is set to 56,9%, followed by Portugal with the income tax rate for the rich set to 56,5%, Denmark with the income tax rate for the rich set to 55,6% and Belgium with the income tax rate for the rich set to 53,7%. The biggest football leagues in Europe have income tax rates for football players much closer to Sweden than to Turkey. Income tax rate for the football players in United Kingodm is set to 45%, in Germany it is set to 47,5%, in Italy it is set to 47,9% and in France it is set to 50,3%.
With this financial help from the government, Turkish clubs have an advantage over other rich clubs in Europe, and they have a decent chance to grow and reach the level of competitiveness with other European top leagues, and then, maybe hooligan culture will not be the first thing that springs to mind when somebody mentions Turkish football.
What Might the Future Bring?
It is true that the Passolig system is still in power, that the biggest Turkish clubs are still in big debts, that the hooliganism is still going strong and the security threat in Turkey is bigger than ever.
Turkish clubs still went on this massive spending spree because, well they could. The Süper Lig foreign players rules were eased, they have every right to expect a massive income from the future TV rights deal with the BeIN Sports, they can pay a lot less on due to the current Turkish income tax law and they have to play catch up game with each other to remain the title contenders.
Quite simple really.
The before mentioned three key elements are giving the Turkish clubs and Turkish football a bigger gloves to fight for their place under the sun. They are playing a risky game which may or may not pay off in the end. But at least they finally have a plan to rise above their mediocrity of the times past and search for glory in the future. It might just work.