Vladimir Latunov indulged his jubilant Legia Warszawa players in copious bottles of vodka as the squad raucously celebrated becoming the most successful club in Polish history. But the elation would soon end as the Russian manager’s achievements didn’t go unnoticed.
Latunov’s first league title in 2021/22 was Legia’s 15th, setting a new national record. However, there was much work to be done to strengthen a squad not only to defend the title but also to try and navigate who Champions League qualification rounds due to Polish Ekstraklasa being ranked 35th in Europe.
The manager began rebuilding by nailing down new contracts for the club’s exciting prospects but a 1-0 win in the first leg of the Champions League first qualifying round was overshadowed by an interview with Turkish giants Galatasaray. Two days later, the Turkish side approached with an offer.
Legia had a bank balance of £14.9 million, with £10.1 million for transfers and a wage budget of £191,000-per-week. Galatasray approach with £52 million transfer budget and £1 million-a-week in wages. Latunov signed a three-year deal worth £18,000, more than quadrupling his wage, and Galatasaray paid £110,00 in compensation to Legia. A third season and a third club for Vladimir Latunov!
This is a huge job for Latunov, having cut his teeth during two years in Poland with Zaglebie Lubin and Legia, now moving on to a new country for the first time. But has the big club come too soon for him?
Welcome to Galatasaray
Galatasaray has 22 league titles, most recently in 2018 and 2019, and 16 Turkish Cup titles, also most recently in 2019, but no trophies during this save. They won the Europa League in 2000 but will only be in the Euro Cup II having finished fourth in the Turkish Super League in 2021/22. The board expects Latunov to play attacking football and develop home-grown footballers, challenge for the Super League title in 2023 and then win it next season.
Key players at Cim Bom are Brazilian centre-back Marcao and Nigerian midfielder Peter Etebo, 36-year-old goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, and Mbaye Diagne is a decent option up front.
One exciting talent is 21-year-old former Dortmund midfielder Sergio Gómez, who signed on a free last season. Others are homegrown talents 19-year-old defender Emin Bayram, 20-year-old striker Erencan Yardimci and 19-year-old midfielder Bartug Elmaz.
Latunov made his mark in Galatasaray by raking in a record transfer income of £23 million for some of the club’s ageing, not good enough players, which took the bank balance past £100 million. He then set about strengthening his new squad by returning to his former club, signing goalkeeper Cezary Miszta for £2 million. He also identified the left-back position as a key weakness and filled with transfer-listed PSG player Layvin Kurzawa for £3.9 million.
He then pulled off a bit of a coup in snapping up Argentinean striker Nahuel Ferreyra, who was being chased by Liverpool and PSG, for just £2 million rising to £4.5 million from River. Then, for the second season in a row, he bolstered his midfield with a Shakhtar player in Ukrainian international Victor Kovalenko. However, one issue to be aware of is the maximum 12 non-Turkish players in a matchday squad and 7 in the starting 11.
Straight into Europe
Latunov’s first task as Galatasaray manager was to tackle the Euro Cup II qualifying stages, which began against Swiss side Luzern with all three starting attackers out injured. Things didn’t start well as Luzern scored with their first shot inside six minutes, but striker Yunus Akgun equalised from a corner a minute later then Erencan put the Turks ahead with his first goal for the club on 19 minutes. Yunus scored the only goal to edge Galatasaray into the third qualifying round.
Next was Olexandriya, who were gifted a lead from the penalty spot after a ridiculous challenge by Kurzawa. Midfielder Younes Belhanda levelled on the hour mark then Erencan rounded off an excellent team move to win it three minutes later. Olexandriya got a red card after 7 minutes, then Galatasaray ran riot through a Gómez brace, Younus Belhanda, Diagne, Erencan, Kovalenko’s first for the club and substitute Yunus to win 7-0.
Next up was another side within the Soviet Surge stratosphere, Viktoria Plzen. Diagne had an absolute blinder, scoring inside four minutes then going on to bag a club record four in a 4-0 win, which was enough despite a 2-1 second leg defeat. The reward for that was a group with Aberdeen, CFR Cluj and Young Boys.
First taste of Turkish Super League
Vladimir Latunov stepped into the Turkish Super League for the first time with a trip to Sivasspor, who are expected to be a mid-table side. And it proved less exciting in a 0-0. His home first game was against Ankaragucu, which was equally dull as a Diagne penalty nicked a 1-0 win.
A big rival game followed at Trabzonspor and Latunov’s men made a flying start with winger Berkay Ozcan’s first of the season but conceded and a tame second half faded to a draw. Diagne continued his bright start with two more goals in a 4-1 win at home to Gaziantep.
That was followed by a huge local derby at Besiktas but an injury-ravaged and exhausted squad slipped to a 1-0 loss, Latunov’s first in Turkey. Wins over Alanyaspor and Hatyaspor led into another huge game with the Istanbul Derby at home to Fenerbahce, who won seven of their first eight. But an early goal from Diagne proved crucial despite the visitors having the best of the game.
A 3-1 win at lowly Konyaspor sent Latunov’s side to the top of Turkish Super League for the first time. The good times continued to roll with a 5-0 thumping of Yani Malatyaspor inspired by a Diagne hat-trick that took him to 20 goals from 17 games and 13 in 11 in the league. However, that good form saw Diagne get too big for his boots, deciding that now was the time for the 30-year-old to move to a bigger club. The 30-year-old then had the gall to tell Latunov that it was his responsibility to ensure he got a transfer for a minimal fee.
However, that didn’t stop his quest for goals as he bagged twice in a 5-1 win at Genclerbirligi, who of course scored with their only shot, with Gómez claiming a hat-trick of assists. Three players were called up for the Winter World Cup – Etebo, Diagne and Muslera – which gave Latunov and the rest of his players six weeks off.
Winter World Cup
Major casualties at the group stage were Turkey, who got knocked out by powerhouses USA and Tunisia. They weren’t alone as world champions France missed out to Serbia and Portugal and Germany went out on goal difference to South Korea and Iran respectively. In round two, Tunisia and Serbia beat Holland and Belgium on penalties. And in the quarters, Croatia beat Denmark 6-0, Brazil beat Spain on penalties and England and Italy snuck past Tunisia and Serbia.
England beat Italy 1-0 and Croatia beat Brazil 2-1 to set up a 2018 semi-final rematch in the 2022 final. England got revenge and became world champions, winning 1-0 through a Harry Kane penalty.
Back to Turkey for festive football
Cim Bom resumed the season four points clear of Denizlispor and Fenerbahce after 12 games, then a squad of players massively lacking match sharpness swiftly had four games in 10 days. Latunov was pleased with his quick adjustment to life in Turkey but still couldn’t speak any Turkish.
The league resumed with Galatasaray visiting seventh-placed reigning champions Basaksehir. A Diagne penalty was enough for a 1-0 win in a really poor game. Next up was Samsunspor, who had Latunov’s former midfielder at Zaglebie Lubin sent off after 12 minutes. Very dubious! Latunov’s new side dominated, made the breakthrough with a beautiful Kovalenko strike, and wrapped it up with substitute Ferreyra’s first senior goal.
Latunov decided to tinker with his tactic to shift Gómez into an attacking midfielder role and it worked a treat as the Spaniard put in his best performance. He created the opener for Kovalenko, won a penalty and curled in a late free-kick in a 3-0 win over Denizlispor, earning a 9.1 rating.
The Russian reached 100 games in management on New Year’s Day 2023 with a trip to Antalyaspor. Gómez shone again, nipping in to score in the 14th minute as Galatasaray rained in 19 shots in the first half. A common theme continued with another penalty early after the break, which set up another Diagne double, and Gómez doubled his tally late on.
That ended a busy festive season of football with Galatasaray looking good at the top of the Turkish Super League on 41 points from 16 games. Cim Bom have only lost one league game, scored 37 and only conceded seven. While Diagne is by far the top scorer in the league on 19 goals, although his contract expires at the end of the season and he won’t sign a new one.
Euro Cup II group
The group began very nicely with a 5-0 win over Cluj led by Berkay’s first half hat-trick and Bartug’s first for the club. An easy win over Aberdeen and a draw in Cluj sent the Turks though but two big defeats against Young Boys, who are apparently world-beaters, sent the Swiss through as group winners.
Join us next time to see how far Vladimir Latunov can take Galatasaray in his first season in Turkey and the third of his Soviet Surge.