Update: Reports are coming in this morning, August 4th, confirming a move for Altidore to Beşiktaş. This article was originally published on July 29th, 2010.
This is a guest column for TSG by Michael Cecire.
When the rumor mill began humming with suggestions linking 20-year old USMNT vet and ex-Hull forward Jozy Altidore to the storied Dutch club Ajax, US fans were, for the most part, delighted. Likely with a thought to
Damarcus Beasley’s famous run at PSV Eindhoven and the impressive development that brought Michael Bradley to the Bundesliga, US fans were understandably excited about the idea of Jozy with a big club in a highly technical, competitive Western European league.
Another rumor with some heft sees Jozy tied to serious inquiries by Istanbul-based Beşiktaş (pronounced besh-ik-tash). However, it provoked quite less excitement among the US soccer faithful.
In some cases, fans expressed outright bewilderment at what many saw as the club’s relative anonymity in the firmament of international club soccer. But while many Americans (and, admittedly, many Europeans) could not tell you much of anything about the Turkish league or Beşiktaş, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile option for America’s potential at striker.
As a proud owner of a Beşiktaş Black Eagles jersey, there may be some bias in my comments, but the facts speak for themselves. The Turkish league (AKA Turkcell SüperLig) is a tough competition. And while it’s generally a good habit to disregard UEFA’s coefficient system of ranking, Turkey’s enviable spot at 9th in the most recent rankings (one above Ajax’s Holland league, apparently) does justify a closer look.
Beşiktaş occupies the upper strata of Turkish soccer, being one of the so-called “Big Three” of old, big Istanbul clubs that perennially dominant Turkey’s top flight since, oh, time immemorial. Besides Beşiktaş, the three includes Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.
Galatasaray might be familiar to you–especially Socceroos fans–for a lineup that includes both Harry Kewell and Aussie national team captain Lucas Neill. For the rest, you may have heard of guys like Brad Friedel, who made 30 appearances for them in the mid-1990s, and Giovani Dos Santos, who went there on loan this past season.
And Fenerbahçe, which is often held up as the Manchester United (or the NY Yankees – pick your poison) of Turkish soccer, includes Uruguayan international Diego Lugano and had apparently tried to compete with AC Milan for the services of one Oguchi Onyewu after his standout performance in America’s Confederations Cup run in 2009.
Beşiktaş is no slouch.
It has won 11 national titles since it formed way back in 1903 (Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe have won 17 each), and reached the European Cup quarterfinals in 1987 and the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) final in 2003.
But probably more importantly, their 4th places finish last year – after winning it all in 2009 – will give Jozy the opportunity to play against European competition in the Europa League. At the same time, Jozy could benefit (or wilt?) from the intensity of playing for a big club that commands big expectations from a rabidly loyal, swollen fan base in the heart of one of the world’s most exciting and dynamic cities.
Besides the always bruising derbies between Beşiktaş and the other Istanbul clubs, the grip by the Big Three is beginning to wane and a degree of parity is starting to creep into Turkish soccer as clubs become more creative at acquiring talent and foreign signings become both cheaper and simpler. Last year, a surprising run by Bursaspor, a smaller club out of the industrial city of Bursa, marked the first time that a team outside of the Big Three, or Trabzonspor, had ever won the league title.
But should Jozy should make the move to Istanbul?”
That’s a complicated question. Certainly, Beşiktaş is a strong club in a highly competent league, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good fit. More prosaic questions linger: will he get playing time? Is the Turkish brand of soccer a good match? Will Jozy get service from a midfield, something badly missing during his spell at Hull?
If Jozy were to go to Beşiktaş, he’d be in fine company. Real Madrid stalwart Guti has just recently signed with the Turkish giants, as did Portuguese winger Ricardo Quaresma, which should put to rest any questions over the quality of the midfield being fielded by their new manager, former Real Madrid helmsman Bernd Schuster.
Schuster generally employs the standard 4-4-2 and emphasizes a creative, attacking style of play. This will meld well with the tools he’ll have at his disposal, particularly considering that Turkish play is known to be both physical and technical. Jozy, coming off a loan at Hull, has learned to compensate for a lack of midfield service by untying defenses and employing his physical gifts to keep up in the English game. Slotted up top in Schuster’s 4-4-2, Jozy will be able to apply his physical presence well while re-capturing his penchant for goal-scoring and will be in a good environment to develop his technique, as barreling runs can only get you so far on the Turkish pitch.
Playing time is less sure. On one hand, the interest from the Black Eagles for Jozy’s services suggest that they think he has what it takes to be a successful attacker in their formation. On the other hand, their eagerness to buy his contract from Villareal might mean he’s being seen as a project player. However, although Beşiktaş has stout options in their midfield, their forward pool is still a work in progress.
One of the team’s most successful attackers, Slovakian international Filip Holosko, has been faced with bouts of injury and inconsistent form. Brazilian striker Bobo, known to be adept at punching holes through defenses while holding the ball, is a likely candidate for one of the top slots, as is Brazil-born-turned-Turkish player Mert Nobre (nee Marcio Ferreira Nobre). Overall, however, Schuster’s options are generally limited and it’s likely that Jozy’s skills will be put to use fairly quickly to compensate for some depth issues up top.
Finally, although Turkish soccer does not occupy the same level of exposure in North America and Western Europe as it does in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, there’s no doubt that managers and talent scouts have no qualms about poaching the Turkish leagues for players. Many who have cut their teeth in the Turkish leagues have gone on to bigger clubs in bigger leagues – both managers and players alike.
So, should you be rushing out to buy a Black Eagles kit already? Best to wait. Aside from Ajax, which is probably a place Jozy would rather see himself go – if only for the same instinctual biases that many of us have or had – there is now talk that evil Fenerbahçe is also angling for his services. For many reasons, partly selfish and partly because Jozy’s place in Schuster’s lineup would be better assured, I think he’d be better off with Beşiktaş. Either way, there is a life for players after the EPL, and definitely so in a tough competition like Turkey’s. Also, Istanbul definitely beats out Leeds for standard of living …
Addendum from TSG: One thing that will be interesting to watch if Jozy hits Istanbul is the reception at the airport. Turkish fans have a tradition of support their own fervently upon transfer into or back to the league, but conversely showing just how excited they are for a potential non-Turkish transfer by the numbers than come out in support at the airport. Should be–potentially–fun to watch.