When Fatih Terim took charge of the Turkish national side for the first time in 1993, the team was still waiting to make its first appearance at the Euros. In fact, the Turks had appeared in a major tournament only once before – the 1954 FIFA World Cup in Switzerland that ended in a group stage exit after a play-off loss to eventual champions West Germany.
Turkey’s underwhelming history against illustrious opponents was a serious worry for the young Terim who had managed the national under-21 team for three years before taking the role with the senior side. Recalling his first press conference in a 2013 interview to The Blizzard, the now 62-year-old manager revealed the flaming spirit that has characterised him on the touchline. He told the media, “There’s only one word that I won’t say — patience. This country already had too much patience. If I do badly, you won’t let me continue anyway, so I’m not going to tell you ‘patience’.”
The national football authorities’ patience was never really tested as three years later, Turkey made their first appearance at the Euros in England. Although Terim left the job after the tournament, the national team reached the World Cup semis six years later. Terim’s second tenure as Turkey’s manager brought another semi-final appearance. It came at the 2008 Euro in Austria & Switzerland, ending in a thrilling encounter that finished 3-2 to Germany.
Terim resigned a year later when Turkey’s qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup ended in failure. However, the allure of managing the national side could only keep him away for a while. Last year, when Turkey seemed set to miss out on the upcoming Euros in France, Terim was reappointed and he oversaw a remarkable turn in form. A 3-0 win over Netherlands was followed up by a 2-0 defeat of group leaders Czech Republic and a 1-0 victory against runners-up Iceland. This sequence of results ensured Turkey qualified automatically to the Euros, thereby escaping the playoffs.
Terim, called the ‘imparator’ (The Emperor) in his country, had once again shown that he could unify a squad in relatively little time. His redoubtable reputation would have only helped his efforts. Terim is a highly-respected figure at home who enjoys widespread popularity.
The style of play inculcated by the Adana-born manager only adds to his aura. Terim has been known to encourage a high-intensity approach that brings attacking football with flair. He enables creative footballers to make decisive contributions by allowing them the freedom to flourish.
Terim sets the current Turkish side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The standout feature of the team is the trio of attacking midfielders who support a lone striker. Arda Turan, Hakan Calhanoglu and Besiktas’ Oguzhan Ozyakup are the creative outlets in the side. Ozyakup is a product of Arsenal’s academy and he particularly shone in qualifying with nine goals and six assists. Bayer Leverkusen’s Calhanoglu is a supreme dead-ball specialist coming off another impressive season with his German club. Although Turan has failed to cement a spot in the Barcelona eleven, he remains the undisputed leader of the side.
The striker’s role will be contested by veteran Burak Yilmaz and Cenk Tosun. Tosun seemed set to lead the attack at the Euros but his failure to cement a spot at Besiktas this season may allow Chinese Super League star Yilmaz to regain his position.
Yilmaz’s childhood friend Selcuk Inan is the vice-captain. He will form the double pivot with the young and stocky Ozan Tufan. The 21-year-old Fenerbahce midfielder is among the young stars that have been promoted to the senior team by Terim in his third tenure.
The back four will see the experienced duo of Hakan Balta and Mehmet Topal as centre-backs. Both of them were part of the Turkish side that made it to semi-finals at the 2008 Euro. The right-back position will be filled by one of the most impressive performers in the qualifying campaign, Gokhan Gonul who averaged four tackles per game (whoscored.com). Left-back Caner Erkin made his debut 10 years ago at the tender age of 17. He has already chosen to move to Inter Milan from Fenerbahce after this tournament. The defensive line will be supported by the reliable goalkeeper, Volkan Babacan.
This youthful side, though, will have its task cut out. Turkey finds itself in Group D that contains Croatia, Czech Republic and defending champions Spain. Although a third-place finish could possibly be enough to reach the round of 16, points would be hard to come by in what is arguably the toughest pool in the tournament. Terim’s decision to not call up Leverkusen’s Toprak seems a strange one since central defence is an obvious area for worry. Familiarity with one of the group opponents, though, should come in handy. When Turkey met the Czechs in qualifying, it lost 1-2 at home before defeating them 2-0 away in the penultimate round.
Thanks to Terim, Turkey no longer suffers from an inferiority complex. One can be sure that when the tournament begins, the team will believe it can match any side on their day. The Turkish public has a lot of time for Terim and his methods. Now it’s the team’s turn to show that his ideas remain valid to this day.