By Türker Tozar
Galatasaray SK fans have never found themselves harking back to former glories quite so much. The 14-point gap between them and Turkish Super League leaders Besiktas JK at the midway stage of the season was the largest margin by which they had trailed since the competition began in 1959. They are in danger of failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 1995.
Unsurprisingly coach Fatih Terim, whose side were eliminated from this season's Champions League at the group stage by Juventus FC and Real Sociedad de Fútbol, has opted to take action. Captain Bülent Korkmaz, Arif Erdem, Hakan Ünsal, Frank de Boer and Elvir Baljic were all dropped in what Terim described as "a step taken to make the squad younger". The excluded players did not join the winter training camp in Antalya, and De Boer left to link up with twin brother Ronald at Rangers FC.
Bülent was the most unexpected victim of the cull, with the decision to axe him proving unpopular among many of the Istanbul club's supporters. The 35-year-old has been with Galatasaray for over 20 years but has refused a chance to step up into coaching. Terim said: "I offered him a chance to be my assistant until 2005 and work as a coach after that date. But he refused and told me that he wants to continue playing."
Hakan Ünsal, who had rejoined Galatasaray from Blackburn Rovers FC two years ago after Terim's return to the helm, said he was disappointed rather than surprised by the coach's decision to dispense with some of his most experienced players. "I wish they had told me earlier," he said. "I will continue training until I find a new club."
The second part of Terim's plan has been the injection of new blood. Turkish international striker Necati Ates has arrived from Adanaspor AS and 21-year-old defender Emrah Umut from second division Karsiyaka SK. Necati could well partner Galatasaray's most consistent forward this season, Hakan Sükür.
While the veteran remains a stalwart of the side, Terim is working on bringing young players up to the Turkish international's standard. Orhan Ak, Sebastian Tamas and Ömer Erdogan have all broken into the lineup recently and the trainer is experimenting by using players in new positions, particularly in defence. However, with Galatasaray's UEFA Cup campaign set to resume on 26 February with the home leg of their third-round tie against Spain's Villarreal CF, time is of the essence.
Initial results have been disappointing. In their first game of the new year, on 23 January, the new-look Galatasaray were held 0-0 at Diyarbakirspor. Later in the week, their Turkish Cup campaign ended in humiliating fashion with a 5-0 defeat by Super League strugglers Rizespor. It was Galatasaray's record loss in the competition, and to make matters worse goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón was sent off and João Batista departed injured after all three substitutions had been made.
Saturday's 3-0 home win against Gaziantepspor has lifted confidence levels, but the question remains: will Terim be able to carry on without his old pros? In order to focus on youth, Galatasaray have sacrificed experience and leadership at the heart of their team. Whether the young conscripts can grow to fill the boots of their seasoned predecessors remains to be seen.
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