Euro 2020: Italy back in the fold

IT’S often overlooked that long, unbeaten runs in international football, however impressive they might appear, invariably consist of qualifying phase games against relatively weak nations and calendar-clogging friendlies. Italy, in beating Turkey 3-0 in the Euro 2020 opener, extended their own unbeaten sequence to 28 games, against opponents that were neither makeweight or undeserving of a place in the finals.

Italy were impressive, but we should not be too surprised, even though they created a first in scoring three goals for the first time in the Euro finals! They might have missed out on a place in the last World Cup, but since then, they have reminded themselves who they are and what their role in the game is. Italy is one of football’s blue riband nations and they have a place at the top table. True, they lost their way for a while, but some of the top countries have been through the same experience.

Of Italy’s 28 games unbeaten, 11 have been against teams who are featuring in Euro 2020. Most importantly, Italy have kept 12 clean sheets in 13 matches, demonstrating they have one of their trademark defences installed.

Certainly, Turkey rarely threatened the Italian back line and Gianluigi Donnarumma, AC Milan’s 22 year-old goalkeeper – who is surely bound for the Premier League at some stage – was rarely tested.

Predictability, the pundits in the UK are quick to dismiss Italy, a dangerous practice as they don’t have to possess the very best squad to make an impact. They’ve done it before – in 2012, they reached the final, in 2006 they were World Cup winners when very few anticipated they would reach the business end of the competition. Italy, if they have a cunning plan, can force themselves into contention. You could say that when they are unfancied, they are at their most dangerous.

The armchairs pointed to their unbeaten run “against weak nations” and the age of key players, “when the competition gets into its third week, they will tire”. The “old men” at the back are very accomplished players, fit and clever with the use of their energy. 

Giorgio Chiellini, for example, was all over the field, lending a hand up front – his first half header almost gave the Italy the lead – and he also produced a well-timed tackle towards the end that he greeted like a winning goal. He’s classy and the only disappointment is he’s 36 and won’t be around at this level for too long.

Ciro Immobile may be 31, but he’s one of Europe’s most potent strikers. In five years at Lazio (the Stadio Olimpico is his home ground), he’s scored 150 goals in 219 games and has won the Serie A Capocannoniereaward twice in four years. Some say he hasn’t always performed at international level, but against Turkey, he was sharp, brave and he got his goal, a typical poacher’s strike.

And then there’s the diminutive Lorenzo Insigne, another 30-something who scored the third goal for Italy with a move he’d been practicing earlier in the evening. He’s an earnest player, known as Lorenzo Il Magnifico by Napoli fans. There’s even something Zola-esque about Insigne, and not just because he’s only 5ft 4 inches in height. Even at this early stage of the competition, it’s not hard to see him being one of the men to watch over the coming weeks.

It is early days, and optimism always comes with a caveat or two in football, but Roberto Mancini’s Italy team opened Euro 2020 with a welcome swagger. Turkey, for all their effort, didn’t get a look-in. it bodes well for the next few weeks. The 16,000 fans in Rome must have loved it. UEFA’s officials, including that genial chap who conducts the Champions League draws, must have loved it. It wasn’t just spectator sport returning to its rightful place, Italy were also back in the bosom of international football. 

Photo: ALAMY

Watch the money – Turkey’s currency crisis may make its clubs vulnerable

IT has, in relative terms, been a quiet summer in the Turkish transfer market. The country’s major clubs, usually active traders, are less able to flex their wallets due to Financial Fair Play and the Turkish Football Federation’s ruling over holding clubs and their owners accountable for over-spending. At the last count, around € 23 million had been spent in the market. Clubs have, instead, been relying on better scouting and also signing young, potential-rich players.

There’s a big worry, however, for everyone in Turkey as the local currency, the Lira, continues to suffer a tailspin and to date, its value has slumped 45% in 2018. Although Turkey’s relationship with the US, deteriorating due to President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminium, has been a contributory factor, analysts believe the country was heading for a downturn. Over the past five years, Turkey’s economic growth was virtually keeping up with the likes of China and India.

Turkey’s top division, the Süper Lig, is the biggest revenue generator in Europe outside the “big five” leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). Total revenues reached € 734 million in 2017, but half of that is dependent on TV fees. The average revenue level per club is € 41 million, but wages represent 71% of income, a high figure versus Turkey’s peer group.

Fenerbahce president Ali Koc Photo: PA

Turkey’s big three, Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş, have been heavily in debt for some years. Recently, Fenerbahçe’s new chairman, Ali Koç, the youngest son of Turkey’s wealthiest family, revealed that the club was in debt to the tune of € 621 million. The big issue is that a large slice of that debt is short-term, which means it has to be paid back within a year or so. With Turkey mired in a possible economic crisis, it is not inconceivable that the debt will need rescheduling with maturities extended.  Much will depend on how the crisis develops and if it does become contagious.

Fenerbahce are not alone – Galatasaray have 2.9 billion Lira of debt (€ 591 million), but as they are playing in the UEFA Champions League in 2018-19 (Group stage qualifier), they should be able to make some inroads in that deficit. Fenerbahçe are also in the Champions League, but they have to get through the qualifiers to earn that lucrative money.

Galatasaray are Turkey’s best supported club, with gates in 2017-18, a season in which they won the Süper Lig for the 21sttime, up by 91% to 41,000. The club’s vice president, Abdurrahim Albayrah, has spoken out about the current problems in Turkey and how it has prevented a spate of new signings by the champions. “There is a man in America…God damn him…he ruined us,” he said, referring, of course, to Donald Trump. The result of the ongoing currency crisis is that Galatasaray’s debt has increased by 25%. One assumes this is a moving target as the Lira continues to lose value.

Galatasaray have consistently fallen foul of Financial Fair Play rules. In 2014, they were fined € 200,000 by UEFA and were told to break even on football-related trading over a three-year period. In 2015-16, they still hadn’t balanced their budget and were banned from European competition in 2016-17.

Beşiktaş, who have also breached FFP in the past, are still being monitored by UEFA, hence they have been unable to spend big in the summer. Their debt level amounts to € 418 million. They have been in selling mode for some time, but transfer activity seems to be flowing one way. Nevertheless, the club has been acting more prudently since a financial crisis threatened to engulf it a few years back. A new stadium, a couple of league titles and an ambitious strategy of extending the Beşiktaş brand on a global basis all bode well for the future. Fikret Orman, the club’s president, is taking a long-term view: “Becoming a global club is not going to happen overnight but everything has a beginning. He who dares wins. We have a long-term vision and the steps being taking today will lay a foundation for the future.”

More immediately, Turkish clubs have to monitor the country’s currency issues. Servicing high levels of debt that starts to grow could become a major problem for football clubs, no matter how big they are. A lot will also hang on the measures the government takes to combat a growing problem.


Turkish clubs lead the way in stock market growth

scarvesTURKEY’S leading football clubs enjoyed the highest growth rates in their share price in 2016, reveals the latest paper from KPMG’s Football Benchmark.

Against the odds, Turkey’s Borsa Istanbul grew by TL 42.6bn (USD 118m) in 2016. There is some correlation between Turkish market growth and the performance of the country’s top clubs.

Trabzonspor’s share price rose by 124% in 2016 to TL 2.84, while Besiktas was up by 85.2% and Galatasaray by 82.8%. Fenerbahce increased by just 4.8%, largely due to the club being penalised by UEFA under the Financial Fair Play regulations.

KPMG pointed out that in some cases, performance on the field of play is mirrored in the stock price. Manchester United, for example, suffered a 20% drop as they missed out on UEFA Champions League football.

The day of the football club IPO seems to have passed. Only 22 clubs are listed on the STOXX Europe Football, and only one – Celtic – comes from Britain. The index has risen by around 20% over the past year, although has started 2017 in lack lustre fashion.

To see the full report from KPMG, click here