What will it take for Tolga Zengin to move permanently to the bench?

Updated: September 12, 2016

Beşiktaş captain Tolga Zengin is still seen as the “number one” by coach Şenol Güneş, despite the fact that this baffles the entire fanbase of the club.

Both gentlemen of course have a very long history together going back over a decade as Tolga was part of Şenol Güneş’ squad in his last two stints at Trabzonspor.

However fans of the Black Eagles have had enough of of the 33-year old goalkeeper and now even recently çArşi have retracted their support for the team’s captain. Despite winning the title with the Black Eagles last season – which was their first domestic league title since 2008/9 – Tolga remains very unpopular with the fans.

The main reason for this is of course the latest two European campaigns in the UEFA Europa Leauge in which Tolga Zengin arguably cost the Black Eagles qualification to the quarter-finals against Club Brugge during the 2014/15 campaign and qualificaiton from the group stages after a very similar blunder against Sporting CP last season.

As long as Tolga is performing “okay”, it seems difficult for him to lose his place. Tolga isn’t exactly a goalkeeper that goes and blunders every match, usually he has relatively steady hands (although it’s more his footwork people are worried about) but once and a while he’ll completely lose the plot and make a massive mistake which unfortunately has come at very inopportune times in the past two seasons in Europe during very crucial moments in key matches.

In the league he doesn’t tend to blunder too often although he certainly made a big mistake in both confrontations with Akhisar Belediyespor last season which fortunately did not end up costing the Black Eagles too much at the end of the season. But here the fans are more disappointed with his alck of “winning points” for the team rather than him actually costing the team points. The fans expect, and I tend to agree with them, that a goalkeeper of a big club wins that team points relatively frequently. But Tolga rarely does that, he’ll save what any normal goalkeeper is expected to save but rarely goes above and beyond and pulls off heroic saves that can turn the tide in matches.

After 3 years with Tolga Zengin it has become very clear to the club’s following that he isn’t a modern goalkeeper, his footwork is without a doubt the weakest aspect of his game. Almost every goalkick, long ball and overall distribution of the ball ends up in possession for the opposition. While the Black Eagles are more than capable of recovering possession quickly in most league games, this still potentially causes major issues for the team as they can struggle to get away underneath the pressure of their opponents, especially in the Champions League where almost every team they’ll face will be either stronger or on a very similar level.

And it’s not like Şenol Güneş is blind to this, he has outed his frustration very clearly during matches in which Tolga’s footwork was causing those exact problems. Against both Akhisar and Başakşehir the coach was visually frustated and even yelled at a certain point “don’t we have a keeper!?” after Tolga blunder that led to an easy goal for Hugo Rodallega in the away game against Akhisar.

So why is he so unwilling to drop him? Is it loyalty? Does he just not like to work with foreign goalkeepers?

Turkish media have been painting a picture of Şenol Güneş that he is very reluctant to work with foreign goalkeepers. And the former French International Sebastian Frey has also expressed that he feels Güneş simply doesn’t like a foreigner between the posts.

But that isn’t entirely true, while coaching Trabzonspor in the mid 2000s he had Michael Petkoviç as his first choice goalkeeper. But in his most recent stint he did keep Brazilian International Jefersson on the bench in favour of Tolga Zengin and Onur Kivrak.

It seems that there is definitely a form of bias towards a Turkish goalkeeper, with Şenol Güneş being a former Turkey International goalkeeper himself which could be part of the reason for this particular bias. In the past he’s been willing to play a foreigner if that was his best option unless there were young talented Turks. At both Trabzonspor and Bursaspor he had a young upcoming talent with Onur and Harun Tekin, who he clearly saw something in and wanted to develop. That can’t exactly be said of a 33-year old Tolga now though.

But what will it take for Tolga to finally be dropped to the bench by Şenol Güneş?

I think there are a few scenarios, one being Utku Yuvakuran really showing promise and Şenol Güneş taking a liking to him and being confident that he can make a top goalkeeper out of him in a relative shot amount of time.

Or the more likely and most painful scenario: Tolga costs us big once again. With 6 heavy Champions League matches ahead of us in the coming months and Tolga’s tendency to cave under heavy pressure and high expectations, a crucial slip up in these matches could see to Şenol Güneş giving the nod to Fabricio.

But in order for him to be dropped Fabricio will also need to have shown in the matches that he did get to play in that he’s capable of replacing him.

I fear it will take a combination of Tolga messing up and Fabricio putting in solid performances when he does get the chance.

And honestly, is there anything worse for a fan to be waiting, no hoping, for their own goalkeeper to mess up and cost his team?


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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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