Jose Mourinho has Fenerbahce looking to the future with hope and optimism

Fans of the Istanbul giants are delighted with the superstar manager's arrival and believe he can end their long wait for the Super Lig title

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Fenerbahce won 99 points from 38 Super Lig games this season. The Istanbul giants from the Asian side of Europe’s biggest city scored a league-best 99 goals and had a goal difference of 68. Fenerbahce lost only one game – at home to Trabzonspor in November.

The side featuring Fred, Dusan Tadic, Michy Batshuayi and captain Edin Dzeko took four points off their main rivals Galatasaray, including a 1-0 away win in the penultimate game of the season, despite being down to 10 men for most of the match.

Lifelong Fenerbahce fan Dincer, 43, from Istanbul, was watching the game with friends in a restaurant. He goes to all Fenerbahce home games.

“When Fenerbahce scored I left the restaurant and spent the rest of the game walking back and forwards,” he told The National. “I was too nervous to go on watching. Twenty minutes is a long time to walk nowhere, but when it was safe to go back to the restaurant I enjoyed the moment with my friends knowing that we had won and Galatasaray had not won the league.”

But Fenerbahce didn’t win the league. Galatasaray did, with 102 points. Fenerbahce’s six drawn games cost them. Their May 19 win at Galatasaray prevented their rivals winning the league at home and took the title race to the final week of the season, but Galatasaray ultimately retained the title.

Fenerbahce haven’t been Turkish champions for a decade and keep finishing second. Even if that’s 32 points ahead of third as was the case last season, it’s still second.

Ismail Kartal, in his third spell managing the club, stepped down last week. A popular coach, he was making way for what happened next which made global headlines: the appointment of Jose Mourinho on a two-year contract.

If history is anything to go by, he’ll be fortunate to see that out. Fenerbahce have changed manager 26 times in the past 24 years, yet his appointment was treated with the type of hysteria which Turkish football fans do best. Over 30,000 Fenerbahce fans waited for him at their home this week. Mourinho, ever the showman, had the personality to satisfy them and soothe the pain of losing the league to their greatest rivals.

“Normally, a coach is loved after victories,” said the Portuguese after flying from London where he saw his former club Real Madrid win the Champions League final. “In this case, I feel that I am loved before the victories. I promise you from this moment, I belong to your family.

"This shirt is my skin. Since the moment I met the president, I wanted to play for you, because you are the soul of the football club. I want to be the coach of all of you. From the moment I sign my contract, your dreams are now my dreams.”

The crowd, including Dincer’s friends, roared approval.

“When he said: ‘I belong to your family. Your shirt is my skin’, well, we love this,” he said. “We need this intense from-the-heart feeling. Mourinho’s words were perfect. We need a title, 10 years is too long. Mourinho is one of the best coaches in the world, with many titles so I was very excited. He brought that excitement to Turkey when he came over.

“Our last coach was an incredible man, a big Fenerbahce fan too, but he was not showing enthusiasm that Mourinho showed. I spoke to my friends who I got to the game with and we sent each other Mourinho videos. He feels like the right guy with the right, tough style to work for us on and off the pitch. He will bring his experience and together with the president and fans we will get the title for the first time in 10 years.”

Mourinho, who blew a kiss to delighted fans, is well-known for his pragmatism.

“I don’t care,” Dincer said. “History remembers the winner and if Mourinho is defensive then no problem. Winning 1-0 every game will not be a problem.”

Mourinho, 61, knows the passion of Fenerbahce fans well. He took Manchester United there for a 2016 Europa League game, which Fenerbahce won 2-1 with two sublime goals amid a raucous atmosphere from the 50,000 crowd. Fenerbahce need something different to become champions and Mourinho could be that something. He’ll bring in his own players to supplement a very good team which includes three former Premier League players.

“Fred was a star,” said Dincer of the Brazilian former Manchester United midfielder. “We didn’t lose with Fred. Three points Fred. The team is more confident with him, running and in the right spot. Tadic is also spectacular, Edin Dzeko too.”

Mourinho’s move to Rome in 2021 elicited a similar reaction. He taps into the psyche of fans and gets them onside – then he targets the trophies he feels he can realistically win. Roma won their first European trophy in 2022 and only lost a second one on penalties in 2023. Mourinho is a collector of trophies.

Mourinho can bring fire and tension – not that Turkish football is short of that. The atmosphere for big Turkish games is as loud as the best stadiums in the world, a pressure cooker where some big-name players struggle.

Mourinho’s task is a simple one: win the league. Fenerbahce’s fans feel that the world is against them – the referees, the authorities, the lot. A recent example concerns the 2023 Turkish Super Cup against Galatasaray. The game is usually held at the start or the end of the season. Last season, it was moved to be played in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in December, causing a backlash among fans.

Both teams flew there and left without completing the match because of a controversy over the wearing of t-shirts featuring Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The Turkish federation rearranged the game in their own country for April, outraging Fenerbahce as the new date was four days before their key European game against Olympiakos. Fenerbahce fielded their under-19 team in protest. The players then walked off the field after one minute as Mauro Icardi scored with the referee abandoning the game and Galatasaray being awarded a 3-0 victory.

"For the past 20 years, Fenerbahce Sports Club has been fighting against an unjust football system in Turkey. The Fenerbahce community continues to demonstrate a stance against the unfair system in Turkish football through both sporting and legal means," Fenerbahce said in a statement:

While official statements usually play matters down, in Turkey things are done differently. Galatasaray fans still serenade former manager Graeme Souness nearly 30 years after he planted his team’s flag in the centre circle of Fenerbahce’s stadium after a game, and it’s in this fervid environment that Mourinho will next work.

Fenerbahce are holding their presidential elections on Sunday, with candidates publicly stating that they’ll work with Mourinho. How could they go against the prevailing mood?

“Nobody is talking about the title Galatasaray won,” Dincer said with a smile. “Everyone’s talking about Jose Mourinho and our elections.”

And that’s exactly how Fenerbahce fans like it right now. They’d like it even more if Mourinho can deliver a league title.

Updated: June 07, 2024, 7:07 AM