When Fatih Terim accepted an emergency call to replace Ersun Yanal as coach midway through Turkey's FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign he was taking on a difficult assignment. Against the odds, he is two games away from reaching the finals in Germany.
Turkey were in danger of losing out to Greece and Denmark in a tight race for the runners-up spot in Group 2. With Terim at the helm, they look a different team. A draw against Denmark in his first match on 3 September gave hope and Turkey proved it was no false dawn by winning away to leaders Ukraine. Turkey had seized the momentum and they clinched second place with victory against Albania.
"Most people didn't expect this achievement though I was confident of success," Terim told uefa.com as he contemplated this week's play-off against Switzerland. "At every opportunity I have expressed my faith in [my players]. I never deny it was a tough task. We played Denmark at home and then travelled to Ukraine and Albania for even harder matches. In this troubled situation they showed their skill and we opened a way to the finals. Since we started working together we have had maybe less than 15 training sessions together so they have done an outstanding job. We don’t want to miss our chance now. There are better teams already in the finals. If we want to play them, we have to be able to defeat anyone in the play-offs. If we can't, we have no job in Germany."
Terim speaks with pride of his side's achievement, something Turkish supporters came to expect from a coach who has raised his nation's footballing profile over the past decade. In his first spell in charge, Terim led Turkey to EURO 96™, the nation's first European Championship final. He then joined Galatasaray SK, winning the Istanbul side four consecutive league titles before lifting the UEFA Cup in 2000, Turkey’s first European triumph. Every Turkish player wanted to work with Terim. Foreign clubs took note.
Decline and fall
Terim moved to Italy and after an initial success at AC Fiorentina took the top job at AC Milan. There things turned sour. He was dismissed after a few games and returned to Galatasaray where he was unable to hit the heights of his first spell. People questioned his contribution to their UEFA Cup victory. Players Gheorghe Hagi, Gheorghe Popescu and Hakan Şükür were now seen as the architects of that triumph, not the coach. Terim's career was in decline. He was sacked in March 2004 and was out of the game for over a year. "I thought about my mistakes and analyzed myself, reconsidering the decisions I had made," he says. "I spent more time with my family and did things I hadn't been able to do because of football."
The break from the game seems to have had a positive effect. The jury was out when the Turkish FA turned to Terim, but he is fast proving his critics wrong, rebuilding his reputation in the process. Terim is best known for his motivational skills, and he is getting the best out of his players again. “Firstly, motivation means nothing unless you physically and tactically prepare your player. Secondly we avoid turning international games into a national cause when we mentally prepare our players. I want my players to be relaxed and enjoy the game, playing to their full capacity."
Terim’s golden touch has turned Beşiktaş JK veteran midfielder Tümer Metin into a match-winner after being overlooked by Yanal. He scored in both 1-0 victories against Ukraine and Albania and in the draw with Denmark. Terim has also got the best out of 17-year-old Nuri Şahin who made his debut in a friendly against Germany and scored the deciding goal in a 2-1 victory. "I have only helped them harness their potential, that's it," the 52-year-old says. "This is their success." Tümer disagrees: "He is a great leader."
Terim is in for the long-haul. He has signed a five-year contract with the national side and is looking beyond Germany to EURO 2008™ and the 2010 World Cup. He helped raise expectation levels in Turkish football and is living with the consequences. "If our teams cannot finish in the top three at tournaments they're declared unsuccessful. This is totally wrong. Consistently participating in such big competitions is as important as reaching higher targets. Compared to past achievements, of course there is a decline in Turkish football. This nation has a UEFA Cup winner and the national team finished third at the 2002 World Cup, so the claims are true. Nevertheless, even if others call this a period of decline I prefer to name it as a recovery or rebuilding period."
Terim could be talking about himself. After a difficult spell his recovery period, like Turkey's, is well under way. He has performed a small miracle getting Turkey to the play-offs; now an even bigger challenge lies ahead. Reaching Germany would end a perceived period of decline in more ways than one.
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