In defense of Fikret Orman, Slaven Bilic, et al.

Updated: July 20, 2014

It may seem easy to defend the group of people who just secured for Beşiktaş the team’s best signing in recent history (Demba Ba), yet there has been a torrent of criticism for this group for so long that it’s hard to imagine that even this historic of a signing will get the team’s ‘peanut gallery’ to relent.

After the financial mismanagement of the Demirӧren-era, it was never going to be easy for Fikret Orman, a relative newcomer to the Turkish football scene, to get Beşiktaş clicking on all cylinders. The lack of funds certainly wouldn’t help. Early signings like, at first, Mamadou Niang, then the following offseason, Sezer Özturk (who, to be fair, seemed like a good buy to most, at the time), Michael Eneramo, and a few others who didn’t inspire much hope, along with the poor treatment and unsavory departure of Quaresma, a fan favorite, opened the new board to criticism early on.

The hiring of Slaven Bilic satisfied many, not only because of his having a known reputation in the European footballing community, but because of the exciting football he’d gotten the Croatian NT to play while he had been in charge of them. Additionally, the signings of Oguzhan Özyakup, Kerim Frei, and a good batch of young talent signaled consideration for the future, and a potentially much brighter one for the club. With those things in place going into last season, already two ‘groups’ started forming among the Beşiktaş fanbase; Supporters of Fikret Orman and his new staff, and their detractors.

Early into last season, things started looking good. Despite Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe spending big in the previous summer, as has been their habit for a few years now, Beşiktaş was fighting for points, and early on was in the hunt, neck-and-neck with the other Istanbul ‘powerhouses.’ The proponents of the team’s current direction hailed the work of Bilic, and whispers of a ‘Dortmund-style’ system being put in place at Beşiktaş started being heard on fan forums and the like. Looking towards young potential, with a heavy dose of good team chemistry seemed to be paying off, and even Fikret Orman’s detractors started changing their tune, impressed by their team’s bold displays week-in-week-out. The tide was bound to turn, however. Riding that ‘meta-physical’ wave of good fortune and rising confidence could only last so long, and the beneficiaries of the relatively huge transfer budgets of Beşiktaş’ rivals started clicking into place. Fenerbahçe soared into pole position, with Galatasaray faltering at times, but by-and-large exerting their will on the minnows of the Turkish league. Even only three points ahead of Beşiktaş, by the end of the season, Galatasaray’s passing Beşiktaş and retaining that coveted second-placed spot (Entry straight into the Champions League Group Stages) seemed an inevitability. When the curtain was drawn on the 2013/14 season, Beşiktaş ended up in a dispirited third place, and a glaring deficiency had been made clear; the team could not score. Hampered by injuries to Hugo Almeida all season, and lacking the firepower to compensate in his absence, the team only managed 53 goals all season (compared to Fenerbahçe ’s 74!), a tally that was only the fifth-best in the league, only managing to equal a struggling Trabzonspor side. That Hugo Almeida was the team’s leading goal scorer at season’s end, despite missing so much of the season, spoke to the team’s general inability upfront.

The winter signing/loaning of Dany Nounkeu, a player who made costly mistakes that lead to the team dropping points unnecessarily, added to a discontent that had begun to show again, after the team’s nice start to the season fizzled out. Dany’s signing came to symbolize the board’s mishaps, and criticisms of poor judgment, lack of funding/spending, and a host of others started being heard among the team’s fans. This was heightened with the realization that the stadium wouldn’t be ready for the season opener, as had been vocally promised, and then even more so after the whole Yalçin Ayhan/Önder Özen debacle. In truth, the Demba Ba signing couldn’t have come at a better time for Fikret Orman, as criticism was seriously starting to mount. News of the imminent arrival of Manuel Lanzini or Bryan Ruiz have helped to soften Orman’s detractors’ barbs, at least for now.

The fact is, all, or at least most of, the criticism is unwarranted. Creating a ‘Dortmund-style’ system requires a process which can’t happen overnight. The coaching carousel that is Turkish football, where managers come and go, season-by-season, would be a nightmare of a sporting culture for any manager or board who are trying to actually implement a ‘system’ concept. The over-the-top calls for so-and-so “istifa” (translated roughly to “resign”), have almost become commonplace in the stands of any football match, if any given home side is losing, regardless of to whom, how, or why. For Slaven Bilic to install any kind of system, he’s going to need the time to get the players he wants to play the way he wants them to, which means a lot of work in the board room, bringing in the right players, and a lot of work on the training pitches, getting the players on board and ready to go.

Bilic has shown some weaknesses; early on he played guys like Muhammed and Kerim Frei sparingly, but as the season progressed, and more was on the line, he seemed to err on the side of caution a bit too much, not giving those younger guys any playing time, and also organizing a fairly defensive, slow unit tactically. Another example, Pedro Franco couldn’t get any playing time at all until a series of injuries to central defenders necessitated it, and no other options were at Bilic’s disposal. The success of Franco in becoming something of a defensive talisman for the side showed just how valuable ‘taking a gamble’ on a younger player with a high potential can be, even in the short-term, if the drive to succeed is there, as it clearly was in Pedro Franco’s case. The young Colombian defender put in one solid game after another once he was installed into the first team.

Those criticisms aside, however, Bilic guided the team to an entertaining season in which there were fleeting moments where we felt, especially early on, that we might be in sTӧre for something special. When clicking properly, the side showed a flowing, wing-heavy attack that seemed indefensible, again, when things were clicking. The lack of talent, or at least depth, up front, however, proved to be Bilic and Beşiktaş’ undoing. That he got a little ‘conservative,’ tactically and in terms of his choices for the starting eleven could seem natural, given the pressure placed on managers in Turkey to succeed now, or die trying, and having the ‘istifa’ chants ring out whenever things turned sour surely didn’t help, even if they were mostly reserved for Fikret Orman, rather than Slaven Bilic himself.

Here are the facts, as they exist today: Beşiktaş has a host of young talent, with Oguzhan blossoming into a real gem, a bevy of young(ish) talent on the wings (even without Tӧre, Olcay and Kerim Frei remain). Sivok (previously the team’s defensive anchor) is returning, fully fit, to play alongside a Pedro Franco who, again, looked quite solid last season. Now, with a formidable talent up front in Demba Ba, not to mention the potential for one or more of the trio of Manuel Lanzini, Bryan Ruiz, and/or Gokhan Tӧre joining the team in the near future (or re-joining, as is the case with Gokhan Tӧre, who was with the team on loan, to great effect, last season), this team is looking a lot more dangerous than it has in a long time. When Simao, Quaresma, Manuel Fernandes, and Hugo Almeida joined the team a few years ago, a sense of optimism could be felt among Beşiktaş fans; it had seemed Beşiktaş had finally reached a level that their fans had long strove for them to reach; it seemed they might be a team that could ‘compete in Europe.’ That dream failed. The long, spiraling descent that brought Beşiktaş to this current state was a tumultuous one, and an unpleasant experience for everyone in the ‘Beşiktaş community.’ With that said, a new sense of optimism is creeping into the picture, for Beşiktaş and its fans (at least some of them), and this time, it’s a hope, for this season—for this year’s European challenge, and the domestic one as well—but also, and more importantly, for the ‘bigger picture.’ The future is looking brighter and brighter, and it’s starting to look like the vision that Slaven Bilic has had for this team since he arrived is starting to pan out, at least on paper. This team isn’t in ‘win now or fold’ mode, and if the young talents they have can be nurtured and developed properly, this team could develop a foundation for great things in the near future. Even this coming season offers hope, at least, for some exciting, more attacking football. One couldn’t fault Bilic for playing slightly defensively, given how little talent he to play in attack.

Now it’s time to see if all that talent on paper can measure up on the actual field. With hopes again restored, the pressure on Bilic and co. will be even greater and more intimidating, but with all of the talent he has at his disposal, he may be much better prepared to weather the coming storm than he was previously. What fans need to remember, however, is that what happens this season, as thrilling as it may be, is not the endgame; with this current group of talented, young players, longevity and development, as individuals, and as a unit, are what fans need to be looking for.




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Sinan Schwarting

Sinan is a life-long Beşiktaş fan. He hosts the Black Eagles Podcast, as well as writing fiction (he is just completing his first project - look out for it!), and forever suffering as a Knicks fan.
Sinan Schwarting
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