He stands in the pouring rain with a cigar in his mouth, a purple baseball cap turned backwards with his shirt off. Fatih Terim is undertaking his first training session in charge of Fiorentina.
It’s the summer of the year 2000. Months earlier, he had led Galatasaray, the team he’d played for and captained between 1974 to 1985, to a historic triumph over Arsenal in a penalty shoot-out in the UEFA Cup final.
After winning four consecutive league titles and two domestic cups, they had become the first Turkish club side ever to lift a major European trophy. It was the crowning glory of Terim’s first spell on the bench at the old Ali Sami Yen ground.
His reputation was arguably at its highest point, although that is worthy of debate considering Terim also qualified Turkey for their first ever international tournament, the 1996 European Championship, and later, in a different stint, led his country to the semi-finals of Euro 2008.
His biographer, Ahmet Cakir, described Terim in his book “O bir Imparator” ["He is an Emperor"] as the “most famous Turkish personality of the last 30 years.” He certainly deserves recognition as one of the greatest coaches of his generation.
At Fiorentina he inherited a team with a broken heart following the sale of their talisman Gabriel Batistuta to Roma. He got them playing the best football in Serie A at the time and reached the Coppa Italia final. Unfortunately, Terim never got the chance to contest it.
Combustible owner Vittorio Cecchi Gori came shouting and bawling into the dressing room after a match against Brescia, angry that Leandro hadn’t been brought on earlier. Terim had previously refused him entry. He was dismissed for supposedly trying to create a “state within a state”.
Roberto Mancini has Terim to thank for his first shot at management. He stepped in as caretaker and, with most of the work done for him, won the Coppa Italia.
Fiorentina’s victims in the semi-final, AC Milan, had been strongly suspected of approaching Terim and turning his head. It had become a source of tension and Terim’s reluctance to extend his contract at Fiorentina infuriated Cecchi Gori, precipitating his exit from Tuscany.
Still, it must be said Milan’s interest was longstanding. Cesare Maldini had travelled to Istanbul in 1999 while Terim was still at the helm of Galatasaray. Struck by what he’d seen from Hakan Sukur in a performance against Milan, he was there on a scouting mission to watch how he got on in a match with Real Mallorca before lodging a bid.
Maldini visited Galatasaray’s Florya training ground for a closer look and got talking to Terim about the player. After providing Sukur with a glowing reference, he digressed and explained to Maldini how he would make Milan play if he were their manager. Terim made a real impression.
There was no doubting he was the star at Galatasaray, quite literally the architect of their success. Terim had picked the paint colour at the training ground and made recommendations on how the trees and surrounding bushes should be pruned. He set the syllabus at the club’s academy and even had a say on the clothing the players’ wore.
Reporting back to Silvio Berlusconi after his trip, Maldini said: “More than a player, we could use the coach of that team. Keep an eye on him.”
Milan was Terim’s “big dream.” It turned into a nightmare. He was sacked in November 2001. Maldini may have sponsored him, but, in truth, Berlusconi’s heart had never been in it. His was set on Carlo Ancelotti instead.
Back at Galatasaray for a third spell as coach in 2011, Terim sought to revive the spirit that made the club so successful in the late `90s after the club’s worst league finish in its history. He brought back icons of that team, like Claudio Taffarel, Hasan Şaş, Ümit Davala and Tugay Kerimoğlu to be a part of his staff.
The Aslan or Lions, as they are known, found their roar again, winning their 18th league title and qualifying for the Champions League group stages for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
“Our objective wasn’t to become champions this season or to reach certain goals very fast,” Terim explained. “When we started off we just wanted to play European football again. That is one of the reasons why Galatasaray was established: to compete in Europe. The founder of the club, Ali Sami Yen said: ‘We will compete in Europe and we will be successful’.”
The rediscovery of their identity makes Galatasaray a similar threat to what they once were on the continent.
Thoughts inevitably turn to when they knocked out tonight’s opponents Manchester United in the second round of the European Cup in the 1993-94 campaign. Lost in the ‘Welcome to Hell’ narrative was how significant a result that was for Turkish football, rivalling Fenerbahce’s 2-1 defeat of Manchester City in the same competition in 1968 and exacting revenge for the couple of 8-0 drubbings England had meted out to Turkey in the `80s.
“Many years ago Galatasaray enjoyed victory over Manchester United,” Terim said after the draw. “I hope we can repeat that.” The question is: can they realistically expect to?
Galatasaray certainly have some fine players. Goalkeeper Fernando Muslera appears to have ironed out the inconsistencies that marred his time at Lazio. Playmaker Selçuk İnan merits appreciation beyond the Bosphorus and will be one to watch at Old Trafford. Felipe Melo is trying to shrug of his hard man tag and went some way to justifying the dubious decision to award him the No.10 shirt by at least getting into double figures in his first campaign in Turkey.
Up front, there’s former Bolton centre-forward Johan Elmander and a lot is expected of Burak Yilmaz, the top scorer in Turkey last season with 33 goals for Trabzonspor. He’s one of the few players to pull on the shirts of each of Istanbul’s Big Three. The surprise so far this season, however, has been Umut Bulut. Unable to find the net with any sort of regularity at Toulouse, he has been reborn under Terim and can’t stop scoring.
The concern for Galatasaray, perhaps, lies at centre-back. A serious knee injury suffered by Tomas Ujaflusi last month forced them into finding a new partner for the very promising Semih Kaya. They brought in the Brazilian Cris. While the former Lyon captain is hugely experienced in the Champions League, the sensation remains that he is by now long past his best.
Still, Galatasaray visit Old Trafford while top of the table and unbeaten in Turkey. “Let this be a good campaign for the entire Galatasaray community,” Terim said. “Europe missed Turkey, and Galatasaray too. I hope it will be a long European adventure.”