Here’s a question for you. Former Premier League players Gael Clıchy, Emre Belozoglu, Emmanuel Adebayor, Eljero Elıa, Demba Ba, Gokhan Inler and Robınho were all simultaneous members of which Turkish side in 2019? If you got the answer İstanbul Başakşehir F.K. without Wikipedia, then you should be proud of yourself. Or ashamed. Or a combination of the two.
With a swathe of players from the top five leagues spending the twilight years of their careers in Turkey, it’s no wonder the league gets the reputation for being one of the oldest around.
And with the team average age (when weighted for minutes played) of just under 29, it’s safe to say that the Turkish Super Lig is not the best place for youngsters.
Team average age (weighted by minutes played):
League Team Average Age (Weighted By Minutes Played) French Ligue 1 26.4 German Bundesliga 26.5 English Premier League 27.0 Italian Serie A 27.6 Spanish La Liga 28.0 Turkish Super Lig 28.9
When compared to the top five leagues in Europe, the Turkish Super Lig has a far higher average team age. In fact, out of 315,657 total minutes this season in the top Turkish league, only 12,320 minutes were given to players under the age of 21 (ie. players born after Jan 1. 1999)
That’s just 4% of total minutes given to U21 players. 4%!
Comparing that to the top five leagues in Europe paints a stark picture:
Percentage of minutes played by U21s in Europe’s top five leagues, compared to Turkey:
|League||Percentage of U21 minutes|
|Turkish 1. Lig||16.7%|
|French Ligue 1||16.3%|
|Italian Serie A||9.5%|
|English Premier League||8.1%|
|Spanish La Liga||7.3%|
|Turkish Super Lig||3.9%|
It’s in France where youth is really given a chance to blossom, with over 16% of all available minutes given to U21 youngsters. Even Spain, where 7.3% of minutes are allocated in this way, vastly outperforms the Super Lig. Turkey’s second tier looks much better though, with 17% of all minutes being given to U21 players.
In the Turkish top-flight, there are only five U21 players who have played more than 10 games in the first 16 matchdays with an average minutes-per-game of 60 or more.
Again comparing with the top five European Leagues highlights the lack of U21 game time in Turkey. In the Premier League, the number of U21 players to have played at least 10 games with a minute-per-game average of above 60 minutes, is 14. In LaLiga there are seven players who fit the criteria and in Serie A, there are nine. The German Bundesliga and French Ligue 1 look in much better shape with 15 and 25 U21 players matching these minimum requirements.
Out of the total 39 teams in the top two tiers of Turkish football, there are four teams who have not fielded a single U21 player in any of their games. There are however, a small minority who rely heavily on their young talents.
Which Turkish clubs give the most minutes to U21s:
The top seven of those teams to have given U21 players the most minutes come from the Turkish 1. Lig, with Beşiktaş leading the Super Lig teams.
Are there any youngsters out there, at all?
While Ankaraspor’s Ali Ülgen is the only U21 player in Turkey to play 100% of his available minutes (1,440 minutes in 16 games), it is Bursaspor’s youngsters which really catch the eye.
Bursaspor, of Turkish 1. Lig, have given the most minutes to U21 players across the two tiers of Turkish football and are blessed with the youthful talents of Ali Akman, Burak Kapacak and Batuhan Kor.
Akman, born in 2002, has scored nine goals this season and also has two assists to his name. Kapacak, born in 1999, has five goals and three assists and Kor has also scored five goals in his 858 minutes of 1.Lig football. Totalling these up, 61% of Bursaspor’s goals (19/31) and 23% of their assists (5/22) have come from their U21 players.
When it comes to developing young Turkish talents, Altınordu has a continental reputation already. Leicester City’s Turkish duo of Cengiz Ünder and Çağlar Söyüncü came from their academy, and looking at the data, it appears there’s more where that came from. They’ve given around 3,900 minutes to their U21 players so far, and Altınordu’s youngsters have repaid the faith, providing 13 goal contributions (8 goals and 5 assists) out of Altınordu’s overall 22 goals and 13 assists so far this season.
From the Super Lig, Abdülkadir Ömür of Trabzonspor is the U21 player with the most playing time (1,050 minutes), squeezing in a goal and three assists during these minutes. His teammate, Serkan Asan, has played the second-most minutes of any U21 player (1,047 minutes).
Looking purely at goal contributions in the Super Lig, although Antalyaspor ranks the highest, with three U21 goals and two U21 assists, unfortunately, that is as high as it goes for the time being.
The future is brighter
But why is this the case? Well, the Turkish Super Lig player registration regulations have been modified far too frequently in the last two decades, making it impossible for clubs to set a defined strategy when it came to nurturing young talent. The erratic changes in those regulations were often demanded by the clubs themselves, so they are not the ones to complain. But this instability has definitely negatively affected the ability of young prospects to graduate from their academies. The fact that the current regulation stipulates that 14 players out of a Turkish club’s 28 must be Turkish nationals, further hurts the prospects of young foreigners making an impact.
A newer regulation change was agreed and set to start at the beginning of this very season, but it was then postponed to the next season due to the pandemic and ongoing contracts of a high number of foreign players. The upcoming new regulation will force Turkish clubs to field young players and also include academy players in their match squad and also starting lineups. This will be interesting to watch. Will this lead to an influx of young talent moving up the Turkish pyramid, forcing their way into first-team lineups? Cynics will argue that there’s not exactly a queue of them lining up.
For now, we will wait and see how the new regulations affect the U21 players in Turkey and hope for a positive impact.
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