How Besiktas could better utilize their academy prospects

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Updated: January 30, 2020

Let me prefix by saying, this is purely an opinion piece based on observations I have made over the course of many years.

As Besiktas fans we all know the struggles our is going through, it’s been 8 years since the FEDA era, much has changed but many things have stayed the same.

The 2012-2013 season was kicked off with promises of giving chances to our youth players. Sure we’ve seen guys like Oguzhan Özyakup and Gökhan Töre rise to prominence at a young age, but these were obviously not players from our own academy.

In fact, the only academy product that makes regular appearances for the first team right now is still only Necip Uysal, someone who made his debut in 2009. It’s no secret that Besiktas, who once brought forward talents such as Sergen Yalçin, Nihat Kahveci and Alpay Özalan, have a serious deficiency when it comes to bringing up players from their own academy.

It’s easy to say that the club’s academy just isn’t good enough, that the scouting is lacking and other easy excuses. But it’s not like Gençlerbirligi have such a better youth setup than Besiktas do, yet they bring up serviceable players through their academy every year. Talent is not the issue, it’s how you utilize and nurture that talent.

The pressure at a club like Besiktas is immense, look at how players like Cyle Larin (who is doing great in Belgium right now) crumbled under said pressure. Güven Yalçin showed plenty of promise last season and now that things have gotten a bit more serious for him, suddenly he can’t pass the ball across 5m anymore. Is that just because these plaeyrs “aren’t good enough”? Or is there more at play here?

Young players don’t need heaps of pressure on them, they need to be able to make mistakes without getting butchered by the fans or media. I myself have been guilty of this, I’ve been hard on players like Larin and Güven (and I will continue to be), that may seem hypocrite at first but it’s not. Players need to be ready to play for a club like Besiktas. It takes a rare combination of personality and talent to be able to cope under the pressures of playing for a club such as ours.

The ‘Ajax model’

Look, I’m not saying “oh let’s just do what Ajax does” as if it doesn’t take decades to establish that, what Ajax have is a culture, that isn’t something you can implement over night. But I think we mustn’t forget where we come from as Besiktas. The club used to have a culture of working with young players from it’s own academy or scouting players at a young age (Sifo Mehmet, Oktay Derelioglu). I’m not saying, let’s be Ajax or let’s be Dortmund. What I am saying is, we need our academy players to play real football.

And with that I mean, don’t have these young players play football against kids. Have them play against men, have them learn the hard way what it’s like to be a professional football player, let them learn what it takes to be able to even play in the Süper Lig. I’m not saying our u17 year old players, but our u19 year old players would certainly benefit from playing 2000+ minutes per season against real opponents who play for real points, not just for a youth division that has no real meaning when you win it (or don’t win it).

That’s what I mean with the ‘Ajax model’, I could’ve just as easily called it the ‘Barcelona model’, ‘Real Madrid model’ or ‘PSv model’. Because all of these clubs do it and all of these clubs have academy players making regular minutes for their first teams every season.

And sure, Barcelona and Ajax are famous for having perhaps the best academies in the world. But PSV? Yes they have a good solid reputation, but they aren’t a major reference point people use when talking about how to correctly bring up your academy players. Yet they also use this same model and they do it with plenty of success.

So what is this model? Well it’s simple. Ajax, PSV, Barcelona, Real Madrid, all of these clubs have a ‘B team’, for Ajax it’s “young Ajax” for PSV it’s “young PSV”, for Real Madrid it’s ‘Castilla’ and so on. All these clubs have B-teams that play at a professional level. I’m going to use the Dutch example.

Both Ajax and PSV have a team in the second tier of Dutch football. The equivalent of our TFF 1. Lig in Turkey. That’s where their under 19s get their minutes, not in a youth league playing against other kids, but in the second division playing against 30-year old men that have perhaps already had their shot at the big time, that don’t shy away from a hard challenge and that actually are playing for promotion or against relegation. Granted young Ajax & PSV are ‘protected’ they can’t relegate, but they can’t promote either. So no, they’re not really playing for something massively tangible, which take saway little bit of the pressure. But they are however playing against professional atheletes each and every week and this has without a shadow of a doubt improved the level of the u19s from both clubs. initially these teams really strugled, but as the seasons have gone by they have started to be more competitive in the Dutch second tier and that has obviously had it’s effect on the players that come up through their system.

Ajax are a club that bring up new top talents every season, seemingly from out of nowehre, but in fact those players have been getting groomed for a year or two in the second division and that is exactly what I think Besiktas and the other big clubs in Turkey need to do too.

Closing of the U21 league

The Turkish Football Federation made the decision last year that they’d close the u21 league. Which I think is fine, 20-year old payers should not be playing in their own leauge anymore, they should be playing first team football somewhere. So in that regard I sort of applaud the TFF for closing down the u21 league, as it now forces clubs to send those kids out on loan or let them out of their contracts earlier than they otherwise would.

Where I do feel the TFF fell short however is that that’s all they did, they didn’t come with any alternatives, they didn’t suggest a system such as they have in The Netherlands. It seems like they didn’t really have a plan beyond closing the u21 league, they sort of just hoped the clubs would figure things out on themselves.

Trabzonspor have sort of done it before…

There will be those of you who remember the strong ties Trabzonspor had with 1461 Trabzon a few years ago and how a lot of players from Trabzonspor that have come up over the last few years actually got their start there and while most of those didn’t end up exploding on the scene like Yusuf Yazici or Abdulkadir Omur, most of them still carved out decent Süper Lig careers out of it.

We now see Fatih Aksoy doing well with league leaders Sivaspor, he’s 24 now. Who’s to say he couldn’t be doing that at Besiktas right now had he played 2 years of TFF 1. Lig football first? And sure, you can just loan out players, but you have zero guarantee when you do that. Look at Oguzhan Akgun this season, Besiktas loaned him to Istanbulspor and he barely got any playing time. Hopefully Erdem Seçgin will continue to get his minutes at Ümraniyespor as I believe he could be a serviceable player for us in the future with 40-50 games of first team football under his belt.

Young guys like Kartal Kayra, Ridvan Yilmaz, Erdogan Kaya and Kerem Kalafat have all made decent impressions on us over the last few months, whether it was in the Europa League or in some friendly matches. But all we’ve had so far are impressions, we’ve seen them play only a fw matches. These guys are all between the age of 18 and 20 and are at a pivotal phase in their development. They need consistant playing time, they need to start in matches and it’s not very realistic to expect that all of them will be doing that at Besiktas, at least not with the first team.

That is why I really want to see Besiktas (and the other big clubs) appeal to the TFF to have a ‘B Team’ listed in the TFF 1. Lig or, if that’s not possible, work out a deal with a second division club that are willing to give you playing guarantees.

The latter however isn’t very likely, as without that protected place in the league (no promotion/relegation) a club like Ümrainyespor aren’t going to play 7-8 of our Academy players if they suddenly find themselves in the relegation zone. And what if they’re fighting for promotion? Then you have to sever the ties the following season otherwise you have a conflict of interest. No, the ideal option is the Dutch model, where we have our own team in the second tier (or even third) tier of Turkish football.

And you can always include some legends in this type of project, a man like Samet Aybaba could be ideal to lead this sort of team. You have 6-8 Academy players that start every match and you put 2-3 experienced players with them, maybe someone that had their run with the first team and can help the youngers players, perhaps someone like Necip Uysal when he’d otherwise be let go by the club at the ned of his contract in 2022, he’ll be around 30 by then and this is a way for a player to still see out their entire career at the club without having to leave through the back door. A way for guys like Necip to give back to the next generation.

Fortuna Sittard

With Besiktas recently signing a partnership agreement with Eredivisie side Fortuna Sittard, there may even ben some extra options that could be lookeed at. Initially the deal with Sittard is only for them to perform scouting for Besiktas in Europe, but they also stated that the partnership could be exapnded upon in the future.

That’s where all of this can tie in too. Say you start playing academy players at the u19 level in this ‘Besiktas B’ team. You’re going to have your Necips, that can one day become a serviceable player for the first team, but on rare occassions you’ll also get a Sergen or a Nihat, if you’re lucky. Now obviously you could let them go to the A team and have them start getting minutes there and if they’re 100% ready they’ll undoubtedly begin getting starts sooner rather than later. But you’re also going to have guys that are going to stand out at the B level but aren’t quite going to be ready for the A level. Those type of players might be perfect to send out on loan to a club like Sittard. And sure you could loan them out to another Süper Lig team, but then you again run the risk of them just wasting that player away on the bench (look what Rizespor did with Fenerbahçe’s Baris Alici). But with a club you already have a good relationship with, a partnership even, you’re far more likely to have that player get regular playing time. In fact, going out of their comfort zone and going to a different country will only add to their experience and adaptability, it will also make selling these players to a top 5 league in the future be easier as they will already have proven themselves to being able to adapt to a different culture/environment.

The coaching aspect

And as a final point to the case I am trying to make, there is one more significant benefit that you can gain from adopting this model. That being that this is also a way for a club to not just bring up academy players but also bring up new and promising coaches. Again I will refer to PSV as an example, both Phillip Cocu and Mark van Bommel came up as coaching first at the youth level of PSV and later for ‘Young PSV’. The same thing goes for someone like Frank de Boer at Ajax. This isn’t just a way to enhance your academy players but also your coaching staff. And sure, I suggested using guys like Aybaba early on, but this is a longterm type of plan and the goal ultimately should be to make the club self-sustainable on academy players and coaching staff, where we don’t need to go outside of the club constantly to pay big fees for relatively average players.

Someone like Umut Nayir – with all due resepct for Umut – or Mustafa Pektemek, players that are essentially in a third striker role at the club, shouldn’t be players from outsie the club. This is a role that should probably be getting filled by an academy player. We have a young striker in our u19 team right now named named Alpagut Özeren, he’s got 7 goals in 14 games in the u19 league and is the second highest scorer of the team. He’s your typical tower up front, 1.93 tall and knows how to find the back of the net, as a club we should be able to help a guy like that develop in to at least being good enough to be our 3rd striker (ideally more of course). We should never sign players like Cenk Gönen anymore, we should be giving chances to our academy goalkeepers instead. The players we actually pay transfer fees for should only be superior talent players, the average types you fill up your squad with shouldn’t be coming from outside the club.

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Kaan Bayazit

Editor-in-chief at Beşiktaş International
Freelance sports writer specialized in Turkish football and Beşiktaş. Co-host of the Black Eagles podcast. Frequently featured in World Soccer Digest Japan and many other international media outlets. Following Turkish football for close to two decades. Proud father to Aedin.
Kaan Bayazit
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