Words by Andy Brassell
It’s easy to feel that modern football is all smoke and mirrors. In recent years, the distance between not only players and fans, but players and media has accentuated considerably, and we live off comparative scraps. If it wasn’t for the odd player breaking the mould and enjoying the odd Twitter joust with the public, they might as well be on a different planet much of the time.
That’s why we – in this first-ever collaboration between The Guardian and Copa 90 – were so lucky to have Galatasaray open their doors to us in late October. The most successful club in Turkish football history took us through exactly how they are run, from top to bottom. We were given the full lowdown of how the football side of the business functions, from meticulously scouting their targets, through current players analysing their own performances, strengths and weaknesses and their personal fitness. Everything, essentially, along the journey from those players being a glint in the scout’s eye right up to the moment where they take the field in the famous red and yellow.
Especially in the context of the Turkish Süper Lig, which is often thrilling but has long been traditionally been tarred with a sense of opaqueness, this means something. For sporting director Cenk Ergün, head of scouting and performance Emre Utkucan and their staff to open their doors and speak to us with such frankness speaks volumes for their desire to innovate, engage and modernise.
Utkucan’s story in particular is an incredible one. A television pundit of some renown on global football for Lig TV, he was appointed as chief scout by former coach Fatih Terim at the age of 32, in 2013. Utkucan, who has been wheelchair-bound since he was a teenager, himself describes Terim’s decision to bring him in as “brave”, but it has turned into quite a legacy on the part of the man they call Imparator – Emperor.
Under Utkucan and his staff, the whole scouting and performance department has been revolutionised, making Galatasaray an even more internationally focussed club. This process has continued with the multilingual Ergün’s move into the sporting director post. It’s befitting for a club whose life stems from a French-established school in the centre of Istanbul.
Their young management’s hope is that whether they’re there or not in the future, that sturdy structure will remain, ensuring the club’s philosophy remains stable. In an age where so many fans have to fight to ensure that their club remains true to purpose, that’s all any of us can wish for our respective clubs.