When it comes to the playing staff, signings are a great way to improve the squad, both in terms of quality and depth, and indeed, are becoming the most common way. However, onlookers, especially fans of a club tend to derive great joy when a product of the club’s academy makes it through to the first team, and gains importance in it. With this in mind, we will look at some of the best youth academies across the world of football.
This part of the series looks at the best players to emerge from the academy at Galatasaray.
Galatasaray, widely known as Gala, is likely the most popular Turkish club around the world since it has been regularly featuring in the Champions League or Europa League, and won the latter in the 1999-00 season after beating England giant Arsenal in Copenhagen. In the same season, the Turkish club also won the UEFA Super Cup against CL winner Real Madrid with two goals from ‘’Super’’ Mario Jardel one of which was a golden goal.
Apart from the success in the European tournaments and 20 titles in Turkish Super League, Gala has produced a number of talented players from its academy including Arda Turan, Tugay Kerimoğlu and Emre Belözoğlu. Some of those players went to Europe for pursuing a career there while some were hesitant to go on such an adventure. The Galatasaray Academy has been considered as the best club academy in Turkey. The A2 team of the club has won the A2 League title 5 times in the last 10 years. The most famous product of this academy is without doubt Arda Turan, who is currently playing for Barçelona. Although the academy seems a little arid these days, everyone knows that it will never stop manufacturing.
10 BEST PRODUCTS
Note that these are professional footballers who have played in or after 2000.
OKAN BURUK // SENIOR DEBUT: 1991
‘The Shorty’ was arguably the most vigorous player of his time. While his height (1,68 m, 5 ft 6 in) seemed like a massive disadavantage, with his never-ending energy and greed, he could incredibly compensate for this. He joined Galatasaray Academy at the age of eleven and played for the academy for nine years. After being a professional in 1991, he had magnificent ten years in the club, including six league titles (4 successive ones between 96-00), four Turkish Cup titles, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup victories in 2000. In the UEFA Super Cup Final played in Monaco, he was the ‘Man of the Match’ when Gala beat Real Madrid with a 2-1 after extra-time. Originally he was a central midfielder but could successfully take on many responsibilities from a fullback to a winger. He was also the captain of Turkey’s National Youth Team when they attained glory in the UEFA European Youth Championships in 1992. After his brilliant time at Gala, he joined Inter Milan with his teammate Emre Belözoğlu in 2001 and spent three years at the Nerazzuri during which he played in only 24 games. His return to Turkey was to join another Turkish giant Beşiktaş, where he played two seasons and won a Turkish Cup before rejoining Gala in 2006. He spent two more years at Gala but just played in 19 games. Lastly, Buruk joined İstanbul BB football club and ended his adventure of football in 2010. Being capped 56 times for Turkey, he was a crucial part of the team that surprisingly finished third in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan.
TUGAY KERİMOĞLU // SENIOR DEBUT: 1987
Despite losing the chance to be a part of Galatasaray’s May, 2000 – UEFA Cup and August, 2000 – UEFA Super Cup victories after leaving the team halfway through the 99-00 season, Tugay has been considered as the most stable and successful Turkish player who has played in Europe. After joining Galatasaray Academy from Trabzonspor Academy and being capped many times for Turkey’s national youth teams, Kerimoğlu became a professional at Gala in 1987 and won six titles and four Turkish Cup titles during his 12 years at the club. He played his first European game in the semi-final of European Champion Clubs’ Cup against Steua Bucharest in 1989 when they were eliminated with a 5-1 aggregate score. He helped Gala take Manchester United down in the Champions League qualifying run and become the first Turkish team to reach the group stage in the tournament in 1993. He was an important player for the team between 96-00 during which they had four successive league titles under Fatih Terim although Tugay missed the last one after moving to Glasgow Rangers in January, 2000. Tugay played as a defensive midfielder at Gala and was best known with his long-range, dangerous shots and scored many goals using this ability. After winning League and Cup titles in 99-00 in Glasgow, he joined his former coach Graeme Souness at English side Blackburn Rovers in 2001. He showed a more offensive character during his eight years at Blackburn and won a League Cup in his first season. He was chosen as the most successful player of Rovers for the 03-04 seasaon. In 2007, after Lucas Neill moved to West Ham, Tugay got the captain’s armband at ‘The Riversiders’. He was capped 94 times for Turkey and was also a part of the team in 2002 FIFA World Cup. On 24th May 2009, he retired with the game against West Brom in the presence of 32,000 fans at Ewood Park.
FATİH AKYEL // SENIOR DEBUT: 1996
Fatih Akyel was a ‘traveler’ during his football career, having played for 12 different teams in 15 professional years. After he was transferred to Galatasaray Academy from Altınayspor, he became professional in 1996 and spent 5 fabulous years including 4 Turkish Super League titles, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup trophies. He was the assister of the golden goal scored by Mario Jardel in the 2000 UEFA Super Cup Final in Monaco. As a right back he was mostly known for his well-directed, well-timed crosses and strong physical condition. He could also play as a centre-back and as a winger. After Gala’s golden era in 96-00 period, Akyel moved to Spanish side Real Mallorca where he played just for 263 minutess and then came back to Turkey in 2001 with a surprising move to Gala’s rival Fenerbahçe and stated that he has been a fan of Fener since his childhood which caused Gala fans’ eyebrows to raise. He won two league titles in Fener and started his second European journey with Bochum. His performance and condition gradually decreased and he played for many different teams including Trabzonspor, PAOK and Kasımpaşa until eventually ending his career in 2010. Although he played his last game for Turkey’s national team when he was just 26 years old, he was capped for 64 times which puts him in the 13th place in the list of all time most capped players. He would be leading in the list now if he had maintained his top performance after his time at Gala. He is also the player having the most time in 2002 FIFA World Cup with 635 minutes played.
SABRİ SARIOĞLU // SENIOR DEBUT: 2003
Although being notorious for his poorly directed crosses and shots among the fans in Turkey, Sabri has always been a fighter for his team. After joining Galatasaray Academy in 1999 when he was fifteen years old, he made his professional debut against Trabzonspor on 4th of May, 2003. He is still playing for the Turkish side and has played 41 times this season. Including the academy period, Sabri has been in the club for 17 years. His best qualities are his speed, versatility and never ending energy. His playing positions include full-back, midfielder and winger. Sabri has played 430 games for Gala, which puts him 7th place in Gala’s most appearances list. During this time, he has won six Turkish Super League titles, three Turkish Cup titles and four Turkish Super Cup titles. At the beginning of 14-15 season, Sabri was left out of the squad by then manager Cesare Prandelli but he rejoined the squad after a short time in October, 2014. He has played in every age group of Turkey’s national team and has been capped 44 times for Turkey’s national team including a semi-final success in EURO 2008 in Austria-Switzerland.
EMRE BELÖZOĞLU // SENIOR DEBUT: 2003
As an another key element of Gala’s UEFA Cup and Super Cup victories, Emre was one of the two Turkish players who was in Pele’s list of 125 greatest living players (FIFA 100) in 2004 (the other was Rüştü Reçber). After joining Gala Academy in 1992 from Zeytinburnuspor, he played four years in academy until finally becoming professional in 1996. Emre was a more delicate player and had a more offensive style when compared to his midfield fellows at Gala times, Okan and Suat. He has always emphasized Gheorghe Hagi’s effect on his evolution, they played together for five years at Gala between 96-01 period which was the golden era for the Turkish side. His left-foot which he has used like a super-power, corroborates this effect. At those times, he was one of the most talented and promising young players around the Europe. After playing 107 games and winning 9 titles at Gala, Emre joined Italian side Inter Milan with teammate Okan Buruk on a free transfer. The fans were disappointed that the club did not get a transfer fee but also satisfied to see such a young and talented Turkish player in one of Europe’s top clubs. He spent four years at Inter and will mostly be remembered for his astonishing performance against Lazio on 7th December, 2002 when he scored two magnificent long-range goals in Rome to make it 3-3 from 3-1 and secure one point for the team. After Italy, Emre joined Newcastle United in June 2005 where he spent three years, played 80 times and won the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 2006 before joining Gala’s biggest rival Fenerbahçe in 2008 which was a shocking move since everyone was expecting him to join his old club. It would not be odd to say that his European experience fell short off the mark since his talents were exceptional. Just like Fatih Akyel, Emre also said that he had been a Fenerbahçe fan since childhood. He played 7 years at Fenerbahçe including a 6 month loan at Atletico Madrid. In his 201 games at Fenerbahçe, he scored 29 times and won six titles before leaving the club in 2015 to join another İstanbul side Başakşehirspor. Emre was capped 85 times for Turkey’s national team and was an important part of the team when Turkey took the third place in both 2002 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2008.
EMRE ÇOLAK // SENIOR DEBUT: 2009
Another left-footer, another Emre… Emre joined Gala Academy in 2004 with an interesting story. He was training with the Beşiktaş Academy but since the training center was too far from his house, he went on his journey with the team of his neighborhood, Atışalanıspor. After a 7-0 loss to Gala’s A2 game in 2004, Emre, only thirteen years old, drew the attention of Gala’s trainers and was transferred to Gala Academy in exchange for 20 coats and 5 footballs. After joining the academy, he became an irreplaceable player for the youth teams with his effective left-foot and play-making skills and was considered as a big potential. Arda Turan, another brilliant product of Gala Academy, was his idol. Emre can play as a play-maker, winger and midfielder. After playing different age groups in the academy, he became professional in 2009 and in his very first game with A team in a Turkish Cup game, he scored two goals, a penalty and a free-kick. In that game, the penalty kick and the free-kick were going to be taken by other players but guess who gave the chance to Emre? Yes, it was Arda, the captain. After this amazing start, Emre has never been able to become a stable player of the team which was the expectation of many fans. But he is still 25 years old and has a capacity and quality to turn expectations into reality. In his 7 years with the club Emre has played in 179 games, scored 19 times and won 7 titles with the club. He was capped 100 times for Turkey’s youth national teams and 2 times for the Turkey’s national team. On May 27th, 2016 Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna announced that they reached a 3 year agreement with Emre who becomes a free agent after 15/16 season. This means that, next season he will be playing against his idol Arda Turan in La Liga.
BÜLENT KORKMAZ // SENIOR DEBUT: 1985
Bülent Korkmaz, the Paolo Maldini of Galatasaray and Turkey. He joined the Gala Academy at the age of eleven in 1979 and played for the academy for six years, sometimes as a central midfielder but mostly as a center-back. After his academy stint, he became professional in 1985 and for that season, coach Mustafa Denizli used him in European competitions but not in the league games which cause him to get called as ‘’European Bülent’’. It was not a bad nickname for him since he was going to be one of the most crucial players of Gala’s golden era including UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup victories. In the final of the UEFA Cup in Copenhagen against Arsenal, he severely injured his shoulder but went on playing with a bandage and helped the team beat the Gunners, which made him the symbol of that victory. He was best known for his aggressive game style and his good control on the ball. He never left Gala despite getting a number of offer from top clubs of Europe and played for the team for 26 years, including his academy years, until he retired at the end of 04-05 season. The club offered him to retire his number ‘3’ jersey but the captain refused this. Apart from ‘European Bülent’ nickname from his early years, he was also called as ‘The Great Captain’ and ‘The Warrior’ by Gala fans. He was capped 102 times for Turkey’s national team and secured third place in 2002 FIFA World Cup with the team. After his retirement he went on his career as a coach and also directed Gala in 2009 for a short time.
SEMİH KAYA // SENIOR DEBUT: 2009
Although he is only 25 now, Semih Kaya has had a number of severe injuries including brain softening, cruciate ligaments and more. However Kaya, which translates to ‘’stone’’, was stubborn enough to survive all this misfortune and become a crucial member of Gala since 2009 when he made his senior debut. He is a central defensive player who can also play as a right-back and well known for his aggressive and solid style which reminds one of Bülent Korkmaz, The Warrior. After playing for Petkimspor, Helvacı Belediyespor and Altay in his early years, Kaya joined the Gala Academy in 2006 for a 8,000 Euro transfer fee after aggressively and successively playing in a game between Altay and Galatasaray in which he also played against Emre Çolak, with whom he became teammate and won titles together at Galatasaray later. He played in the academy for three years including a title with the A2 team he was captaining. From 2009 to 2011 he was on loan at Kartalspor and Gaziantepspor for two years which enabled him to get experience and move back to Gala with confidence. During this period before joining to Kartalspor, Gala made a deal with Denizlispor for the transfer of a player, including Kaya’s permanent move to Denizlispor. However, the youngster rejected this saying he doesn’t want to leave the team but he could go on a loan transfer and this story ended with a loan move to Kartalspor. After returning to the team, Fatih Terim gave him the chance he was waiting for and he took it in a perfect way starting to be the new warrior of Gala. In his last five years at the team they’ve won the league three times and got six other titles in Turkish Cup and Turkish Super Cup. Although he is not in his best form these days, he is without doubt a promising talent and already in the radar of many big European clubs.
SUAT KAYA // SENIOR DEBUT: 1986
Another Kaya, another ‘’stone’’ at Gala, Suat Kaya was a central midfielder and was well known for his energy, courage and determination. After playing for seven years at Gala academy he became professional in 1986 and played only three games before ending his first Gala period and joining Konyaspor. He spent five years between 87-92 at Konyaspor, played in 109 games, scored 13 goals and finally returned to Gala and started his second Gala period in 1992 at the age of 25 as an experienced midfielder. During his eleven years at the club, he won eight Turkish Super League, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and many other national titles. No other player has won more Turkish Super League titles than Suat Kaya, Hakan Şükür and Bülent Korkmaz, each of whom has won eight titles together in the same team. Although being a regular player for Gala, he was never a regular for Turkey’s national team and just played in 15 games. It is not an abnormal situation when you think that Turkey had countless midfield options of high quality at those times. After playing in 355 games and scoring 44 goals during his career, Kaya retired in 2003 and has coached a number of clubs since then.
ARDA TURAN // SENIOR DEBUT: 2005
Arda Turan is undoubtedly the best product of the Gala Academy. He joined Gala Academy in 2000 at the age of twelve after playing three years at Altıntepsi Makelspor, the local team of his neighborhood, Bayrampaşa. He has always emphasized that playing in the lanes of his neighborhood with friends helped him improve his football technique. He is best known for his dribbling skills, vision and ball control. He played 56 times and scored 17 goals in his five years at academy. After becoming professional in 2005, he joined Manisaspor on a loan transfer for the second period of the 05-06 season and scored in his very first Super League game. He spent a successful six month spell in Manisa under Ersun Yanal and returned to Gala at the end of this season. On May 9th, 2006 he scored two times and made one assist against Mlada Boleslav in the qualification round of Champions League. On July 10th, 2009 he was announced as the captain of Galatasaray, when he was just 22 years old, which makes him the youngest one in club history. After winning a Super League, a Turkish Cup and a Turkish Super Cup title at Gala, the youngster got on the radar of big guns in Europe. Atletico Madrid won the transfer race with a fee of €12 million which makes Arda the most expensive Turkish player transferred to Europe from Turkey. He scored his first goal at Atletico against Celtic in the Europa League on November 30th, 2011 and his first league goal was against Osasuna on 11th December. In the UEFA Europa League final, Arda made an assist to Radamel Falcao and they won the cup with a clear 3-0 win against Athletic Bilbao. He made another assist to Falcao when they faced and beat Chelsea in UEFA Super Cup Final on August 31th, 2012. After winning Copa Del Rey in 12-13 season with the team, a golden year was about to start for Arda and Atletico. Undoubtedly, 13-14 season was a magnificent one, in which they won their 10th La Liga title after eighteen years and played the final of the Champions League against Real Madrid despite losing the game 4-1 in which Arda could not play due to an injury. Arda was ranked 38th in “The 100 Best Footballers in the World” by The Guardian in 2014, the only player on the list to be born in Turkey. On July 6th, 2015 Arda was transferred to Barcelona for €34 million, plus €7 million in variables and won the league in his first season despite not being able to play until January, 2016 due to Barça’s transfer ban. Arda was capped 90 times and scored 16 times for Turkey and he was one of the best players of EURO 2008 in which Turkey played semi-final.
Written by Burak Katar
He is a research assistant at İstanbul Arel University, specializing in Translation Studies and a true football fan supporting Galatasaray and Liverpool
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