Life in Turkey had gotten off to a flyer, with Vladimir Latunov’s third club in three seasons sitting top of the Turkish Super League heading into 2023. But things were about to get interesting with key players running out of contract and on the move.
January began with a few older foreign players depart, including Peter Etebo going to China for £15 million, which was a new club and national record sale. However, the next day Atletico came in with a derisory bid for key player Sergio Gomez who already had 19 assists for the season. Latunov requested £60 million only for the Spaniards to meet the midfielder’s ridiculously low minimum fee release clause of £17.75 million. So the transfer records were again broken.
That forced Latunov into the market, mainly for a few Turks to provide backup and meet the league’s requirements. But a like for like replacement for Gómez arrived in American/Mexican Efrain Alvarez, who’s far from the finished product but broke the club record transfer with a £17.5 million deal from Man City that could rise to £40 million. Some support for him also arrived in Bulgarian attacker Marin Petkov. Also arriving was an American pal for Alvarez in 20-year-old midfielder Gianluca Busio.
On the pitch, things continued to go well with a 3-0 win at home to Kasimpasa with Victor Kovalenko running the show. Free-scoring striker Mbaye Diagne had a goal disallowed in the first minute at Altay but did get on the scoresheet five minutes later and the visitors raced into a 3-0 lead inside half an hour and, of course, finished that way. Diagne then bagged his 30th of the season as the side laboured to a 1-0 win over Goztepe, which racked up 13 successive wins.
That continued with a 2-0 win at home to Sivasspor, in which 19-year-old midfielder Bartug Elmaz scored his first senior goal, to set a new Turkish Super League record of 14 straight wins. Diagne managed to miss two penalties in four minutes at Ankaragucu but got on the scoresheet after the break as the run extended.
A huge clash at home to Trabzonspor followed, and the visitors took the lead with their first shot and only shot on target. But Cim Bom fired back with Petkov and Alvarez’s first goals for the club sandwich another from Diagne. The man is a beast!
The winning streak ended courtesy of a very dubious penalty that earned Goztepe a 1-1 draw in early February. But winning ways were restored as a Diagne hat-trick and a brilliant Alvarez free-kick sealed a 4-0 win over nine-man Erzurumspor.
That sent them into a huge clash with rivals Besiktas in fine fettle and that showed as left-winger Berkay Ozcan scored early on, Alvarez continued his fine start by doubling the lead and Nahuel Ferreyra scored in injury-time to seal a dominant 3-0 win.
Euro Cup II
The knockout stages of Europe’s ugly cousin competition put Galatasaray up against Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira and young striker Ferreyra continued to show his promise with a hat-trick in a 4-1 win – which sealed progression in the one-legged tie.
Another Portuguese side followed with a trip to Braga, in which Layvin Kurzawa gifted them an early opener and a centre-back got sent of to confirm a 1-0 defeat. The same scoreline also saw Galatasaray go out at the semi-final stage of the Turkish Cup. But Latunov took that as an opportunity to focus on the league and keep players fresh.
Targeting the Turkish Title
With 13 games remaining in the Turkish Super League, Galatasaray were top of the pile on 66 points and a mighty 12 clear of Fenerbahce and 13 ahead of Trabzonspor, who’d slipped to a few recent league defeats.
The title assault began with a classic match at Alanyaspor. It started well as Diagne chose to pass despite a glorious scoring opportunity to create a tap-in for Berkay. Gokhan Tore got them back into it but Berkay and Diagne scored two goals in a minute for a 3-1 lead at the break. Tore scored again late on but couldn’t prevent a 3-2 Galatasaray win for 20 league games unbeaten. Fenerbahce thumped Trabzonspor 5-1 the next day.
That gave both sides confidence going into a huge clash at Fenerbahce. The hosts dominated early and gained the advantage through Enner Valencia three minutes before the break. But a stern telling off inspired the visitors and Diagne raced through to bag his 40th goal of the campaign on 62 minutes to claim a solid 1-1 draw. That maintained a 12 point lead with 10 games to go.
Fenerbahce faced another tough test at Besiktas and again drew 1-1, and Galatasaray took full advantage with a 2-1 win over Konyaspor. They sent out title warnings in a 5-0 win at Yeni Malatyaspor, with four goals scored by subs, then a 4-1 win over in which Petkov and Diagne both scored first-half braces, which moved the latter onto 43 goals for the season!
A run of three consecutive 1-1 draws, on the back of Diagne being ruled out for five weeks with an ankle injury, saw the lead cut to eight points with four games to go. But that ended with a 2-0 win on Latunov’s birthday that put the title just one point away.
And that’s all that was needed as yet another 1-1 draw at Kasimpasa was enough to seal the Turkish Super League for Galatasaray! That also sent Vladimir Latunov into the Russian Hall of Fame for the first time.
The title was celebrated in style with a 6-0 thumping of Altay, in which Berkay scored four and set up another. But the season ended with a 4-3 loss at Goztepe in which the defence was awful but Diagne bagged a hat-trick in what’s likely to be his final game for the club. That took him to an incredible 46 goals for the season, which ties the all-time Galatasaray record!
The season concluded with Galatasaray top on 92 points, 10 clear of Fenerbahce and Trabzonspor and 22 ahead of Besiktas. They scored 93 foals and conceded just 23. Diagne finished as the top scorer in the Super League with an amazing 37, which was 14 more than anyone else, and the best average rating of 7.38. While Berkay had the most assists with 13 and Cezary Miszta kept 14 clean sheets in just 22 games.
Vladimir Latunov had a dreamy first season in Turkey, winning the league at a canter to confirm titles in consecutive seasons in Poland and Turkey.
Free-scoring striker Diagne won fans’ player of the season, centre-back Emin Bayram won young player of the season, and attacking midfielder Alvarez won signing of the season. Diagne also won the Footballer of the Year and Turkish Super League Player of the Season, then won the European Golden Shoe. What a player! But, he’s continually refusing to sign a new contract. Impressively, Emin finished the season with a 96% pass completion ratio from 51 appearances.
This level of success so early in this save – a Polish FA Cup plus titles in Poland and Turkey – was unexpected. Latunov was expecting to start out small and slowly build his reputation. But it’s worked out that he’s landed himself one of the biggest jobs available in Eastern Europe inside two years and already won one of the biggest competitions in the region!
Join us next time when Vladimir Latunov has a decision to make over whether to stay in Turkey and face his first Champions League challenge or cast his eye elsewhere in Eastern Europe!