Turkish football has been dominated by Istanbul’s Big Three – Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas for decades.

As a result, this week’s revelation that Henry Onyekuru’s Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas have all been forced to seek help in paying off crippling debt sent a shiver through the recession-threatened country.

The trio, as well as Ogenyi Onazi and Anthony Nwakaeme’s Trabzonspor, make up the bulk of the $2.6bn debt owed by Turkey’s top clubs. These four clubs have won all but one Super Lig title since the league’s formation in 1959.

The Istanbul clubs also have huge support across the country, where their fans often outnumber those of local clubs even in the capital Ankara.

As Turkish Football Federation (TFF) Chairman Yildirim Demiroren put it on Monday, the present unpleasant situation is a culmination of years of financial mismanagement coupled with a bleak economic outlook in Turkey.

Collapsing Turkish currency isn’t helping footballing matters

Top-flight clubs have been particularly hard-hit by the tumbling lira (Turkish currency) – which lost nearly a third of its value against the dollar last year – 20 percent inflation and a sharp rise in interest rate as they struggle to pay big-name foreign stars signed to please their fanatical supporters.

These overseas players command hefty transfer fees and wages paid in foreign currency.

The clubs’ falling balances have seen them jettisoning some of their marquee signings. Besiktas recently released Portuguese defender Pepe six months before the end of a two-year deal reportedly worth $11m. The experienced stopper has returned to his native Portugal to team-up with Super Eagles’ Chidozie Awaziem at FC Porto.

Before leaving, he reportedly helped the club out by paying some of the staff’s wages.

During last summer’s transfer window, most Super Lig teams looked to cheaper homegrown talent to refresh their squads rather than emulate the big-money deals of seasons past which saw stars such as Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie come to Istanbul.

In part, these expensive foreign players were hired by club presidents elected by members often numbering in tens of thousands for terms of a few years.

Critics say this, coupled with a lack of transparency, encourages presidents to opt for headline-grabbing signings to secure re-election.

Turkish clubs have also come under the spotlight of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations which, since 2011, have sought to keep football clubs’ spending in line with their income.

In October, UEFA ordered further investigation of Galatasaray’s finances after the club had earlier paid a $7m penalty for breaching the rules.

Turkey’s most successful side was banned from European competitions during the 2016-2017 season for previous offences.


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