Fatih Terim: His nickname is emperor

In his homeland, his nickname is “İmparator”, and in Italy, “Imperatore” — “The Emperor” — a fitting nickname for Turkey’s most famous football coach: Fatih Terim.

After sacking their Croatian coach this week, Terim has returned to the biggest team in Turkish soccer – Galatasaray. It will be his fourth spell at the Istanbul club.

“Where were we?” he tweeted when the news came out.

There is something of the Napoleon Bonaparte about Terim, even a physical resemblance. Both are about the same height, with hugely inflated egos. Both enjoyed grand victories, as well as disastrous defeats. Unlike the real emperor, in Terim’s case at least nobody dies when he loses. Though judging by Terim’s temper, you wouldn’t know it.

The 63-year-old former Fiorentina and AC Milan coach steered Galatasaray to four consecutive Turkish Super League titles between 1996 and 2000 and also won the UEFA Cup in 2000; the biggest achievement in Europe by any Turkish club.

Authoritarian in his approach, Terim does not suffer critics well, both those writing about him and his own colleagues.

Fatih Terim

His most recent scuffle was with Rüştü Reçber, one of Turkey’s best ever goalkeepers and chosen as one of the best 100 players alive by Brazilian footballing legend Pelé. Reçber now writes for Hürriyet, one of the biggest newspapers in Turkey, and has dared to criticise his former mentor several times and each time it ended in a vicious public dispute.

Reçber had called for Terim’s resignation as national team coach after he was filmed in July fighting with a restaurant owner. The restaurant owner later bragged he had punched Terim in the face and said the “Emperor” had fled scene. The restaurateur was later detained and is now facing charges. Terim has friends in high places, including veteran political heavyweight Mehmet Ağar, interior minister during the 1990s when many extrajudicial killings took place.

Reçber said Terim had sent him an email full of insults and even threats. Reçber tried to take his former coach to court, but judges dropped the case, saying Terim was using his “right to reply” to the former goalkeeper’s criticism.

Eventually, Terim had to resign as coach, but did not stay out of work for long.

“Legendary coach of Istanbul heavyweights Galatasaray, Fatih Terim is back to manage the lions,” Daily Sabah said.

Fatih Terim

Terim is of very humble origins. Born in 1953 in the southern city of Adana, his father Talat was a Turkish Cypriot who emigrated to Turkey. Having lost a leg at a young age, Talat Terim struggled to make a living as a street vendor.

Fatih Terim does not speak much about his early life and the days when they struggled to make ends meet. What we do know is that Fatih Terim calls father, 92-years-old now, every Friday “to have his blessing”.

While his father was called “lame”, it was Fatih’s legs that made his fortune. His father wanted him to study at a mechanical vocational school, but Fatih wanted to play football.

Terim began his professional career for his local team, Adana Demirspor, in 1969. While other players were paid pro bono, Terim secretly received a salary, as he was the poorest on the team. In 1974, he joined one of the three biggest team of the country, Galatasaray. He joined as a striker but soon changed to become a defender.

In his almost a decade-long career at Galatasaray, the team became Turkish Cup champions twice, in 1976 and 1982, and won the Turkish Super Cup in 1982. Terim was larger than life, spitting at referees and winning the hearts and minds of supporters. And soon after he made it to Galatasaray, Terim began playing for the Turkish national team, earning 51 caps by the time he quit as a player in 1985.

When he quit, Terim quit in style, landing in a helicopter for his testimonial. But he was not quitting football. Terim attended coaching courses for two years and became “Emperor” in the making.

Terim embarked on his coaching career at the capital’s Ankaragücü in 1987 and then for Göztepe in the Aegean city of Izmir. In 1990, he took charge of the Turkish under-21 team and won the Mediterranean Games in 1993. By 1996, when Terim began coaching Galatasaray, he had learned his trade and began his record-breaking run of Super League titles and the 2000 UEFA Cup victory.

Fatih Terim

Building on that success, Terim left for Italy to coach Fiorentina and a year later he had a short but tempestuous spell coaching AC Milan.

By 2002, Terim had returned to Galatasaray, and in 2005, he was appointed as a head coach of the Turkish national team. Terim led the squad to the semi-finals of Euro 2008 where they lost to Germany. Terim was nevertheless awarded the manager of the tournament title.

Terim took charge of Galatasaray for the third time in 2011 and won the Super League and the Super Cup in 2012. In 2013, Terim became interim manager of the national team again and for a while did both jobs. But at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Terim parted ways with Galatasaray and concentrated on the national side.

Terim is the master of reinvention and now leads Galatasaray for the fourth time. What next?