For years Turkish football has been preoccupied with the now. Teams, fans, pundits obsessing over the next game. It is perhaps little surprise that youth development has been forgotten about. Nothing more than an inconvenience for most club presidents who rarely serve long enough to see the fruits of their labor if they even bothered.
‘In Turkey we don’t like sports, we like scores,’ Ersun Yanal famously said.
Most Turkish clubs are member-owned. The president is picked by the members in a vote. It may seem like an exercise of democracy but it has resulted in being given a three-year term to win silverware. Most teams do not have a long-term plan. It is less risky to buy established players than field inexperienced youngsters.
The results are evident for all to see. Over the past decade the Super Lig has produced just one player that has gone onto have major success in a top-five league, Arda Turan.
For a country with 19 million people aged between the age of 0-14 it makes dismal reading. Turkey has 25 million aged between 0-19, more than several countries total population across Europe. Millions of youngsters that have been ignored.
Altinordu are one of the few clubs that have taken a stand. The club is focused on the long-term goal of creating a completely home-grown team by 2020. The Izmir based side have invested heavily in state of the art academies across the Aegean region.
The model is unprecedented. Unlike the average Turkish side, Altinordu have qualified, well-paid coaches from U10 level upwards. Facilities to rival top clubs in Europe. I was astonished by the attention to detail on my last visit. The kids are taught chess to think several steps ahead on the pitch. The kids grow their own food and help raise life stock to teach them about the importance of nutrition. A team of dieticians, data analysts, sports psychologists and teachers stay on campus to aid the youngsters development.
Most importantly, they develop these players with the view to play them. The recent Galatasaray vs Besiktas derby did not feature a single academy player. Two of the biggest clubs in Turkey played a derby without a single player developed by either club in the starting line-up. This is not a solely a Turkish problem. Few major clubs in major leagues can boast talent they themselves developed. The difference is there are clubs in the likes of Germany and Spain creating the next stars. The same cannot be said in Turkey. You can count on one hand the number of domestically produced players currently at a top-five league. And just the further emphasize what an incredible job Altinordu are doing, two were developed by the Izmir based outfit – Cengiz Under and Caglar Soyuncu.
Under became the first Altinordu developed player to star in a Champions League semi-final last week. In fact he is the youngest Turkish international to play in the last-four – in its current format. The 20-year-old started the first-leg for Roma and featured in the return tie.
Meanwhile, Caglar Soyuncu who is currently at Freiburg has been closely linked with a summer move to Arsenal.
Under and Soyuncu could however, be the tip of the iceberg. Speaking with some of the youth team coaches they made it clear that a gulf in quality is starting to open up.
Just take a look at the youth leagues, Altinordu are dominating from U14-19.
The Red Devils could probably do with playing in the Super Lig group. The youth league format has not been very well thought out in Turkey.
Youth teams play in their senior sides, respective league. Therefore Altinordu are unable to face the likes of Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas who would probably offer a little more competition.
The league tables say it all really. Altinordu are sweeping all aside in the youth ranks. Funnily enough, the club name translates to ‘Golden Horde’ in English. The empire that went by the same name, conquered through horseback. Today’s Golden Horde want to conquer through football.