Fatih Terim at Fiorentina and Milan: A Turkish Grand Tour

2000 was a great year for Turkish football. Beside Galatasaray’s UEFA Cup and Super Cup victories, Turkey reached the quarter final at Euro 2000. Tugay Kerimoğlu and Muzzy Izzet led an exodus in joining the top European leagues, and after the tournament, four more players transferred to the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga.

Beside the players, there was one more name who made his mark. After Euro 96, he signed a contract as manager of Galatasaray, and during his four year tenure, won four league titles, two domestic cups, and most importantly, the UEFA Cup against Arsenal in May 2000. By the end of 1999-00 season Fatih Terim was ready for a new challenge.

Meanwhile in Florence…

A formidable 12 match run in the Champions League was a big part of Fiorentina’s season. Giovanni Trapattoni’s team reached the second round, finishing seventh in the league. By season’s end his contract had expired, subsequently becoming the manager of Italy after Euro 2000. Vittorio Cecchi Gori had chosen Italian managers since becoming the chairman in 1993, but this time he had one more option – an internationally winning Turkish coach. Terim signed his contract with Fiorentina. 

Fiorentina was already a special club for Turkish football. Can Bartu was a Fiorentina player between 1961-1964 and was the first ever Turkish player to play in an European Cup final. Contrasting Bartu’s time, it was possible to watch Fiorentina’s matches every week in Terim’s time.  Galatasaray fans now had one more team to support, and the Turkish football fans had one more team to follow. Cine 5 took the rights to broadcast the Serie A matches, and Fiorentina became the most popular foreign team in Turkey. The name “Cecchi Gori” would now be heard more than ever.    

“There is a month until my first training day at Fiorentina, and on that day I will be speaking Italian,” exclaimed Terim to Italian journalists. He started to take Italian lessons from Donatella Piatti, an Italian journalist who had been living in Istanbul for many years. When the first day of training came in July 2000, he was already conversing in the local language with his new players.

Having lost the first round of the UEFA Cup against Tirol Innsbruck and only gaining 11 points in the first nine weeks didn’t meet his, or the club’s expectations. But the 2-0 win against Inter on week 10 was a new beginning. Having then collected 13 points in five matches – as well as a 4-0 win against Milan – Fiorentina shot up to third in the league.

With the team’s improved performance fans were waving Turkish flags and writing Terim’s name on the banners at the Artemio Franchi. However, no one could imagine what would happen just a month later. Starting with the 4-1 defeat against Lazio, Fiorentina got only two points in the next five matches. They found themselves in the middle of the table by Week 20. However, there was an even bigger problem in the club.  

Cecchi Gori had debts in the film industry, which would effect the club sooner or later. The transfer of Gabriel Batistuta to Roma was just the beginning. He wanted to sign Boudewijn Zenden and at least three more players for a wide rotation system, but the only reputable transfer was Nuno Gomes. Financial crisis and unkept promises started to effect the team’s performance. 

By February the dialogue between the chairman and the manager worsened. The 2-2 draw against Brescia saw Roberto Baggio’s brace end an era of the Viola. The argument between Cecchi Gori and Terim after the match meant that it was the end. He resigned on the 25th of February 2001, saying “I can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.” Fiorentina finished 9th in the league and won the Coppa Italia with their new manager Roberto Mancini. However, the club – and Cecchi Gori – found themselves bankrupt, and Fiorentina were sent down to Serie C2.

Meanwhile, Milan entered into their own darkness. There was no sign recognisable of the 1999 Scudetto winners, and manager Alberto Zaccheroni met his fate, being replaced by Cesare Maldini as caretaker. The following season was another disappointing finish, this time in sixth. Milan needed a new beginning. 

Terim had previously gotten the better of the Rossoneri, inflicting a major league defeat and knocking them out during the semi-final of the Coppa Italia. The manager who beat Milan with great style and class then found himself appointed. Terim became the manager of Milan. 

He had little budget or transfer problems with his new team. Milan signed Rui Costa, Filippo Inzaghi, Andrea Pirlo, Javi Moreno, Massimo Donati, Martin Laursen, and Ümit Davala. It was Milan who now took place in Turkish headlines, rather than the Tuscan capital.

Milan gained results in the big matches of the early weeks of the season. Wins against Fiorentina, Lazio and Inter were remarkable moments of Terim’s Milan career. However, the team dropped many unexpected points. Just two weeks after the 4-2 win against Inter, the 1-0 defeat against Torino was already the end. After ten rounds, Milan were fifth in the league.

During his off day on the fifth of November, Terim was in Istanbul for a conference and he learned that he was sacked. Some said that there was miscommunication with his players; some said that Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani wanted to appoint an ex-Milanista. The following day Carlo Ancelotti became the manager of Milan. 

Terim went back to Galatasaray in 2002. His tenure in Italy might seem like just a snippet of his 33-year managerial career, but it was unforgettable for him and all Turkish football fans. Terim never forgot Italy, and Fiorentina and Milan fans had not forgot him either. 

Then in 2011 he was seen as the pundit for the Derby della Madonnina on Turkish TV. The San Siro was back chanting his name, calling him Grande Terim, and asking for photos and autographs. That night, Milan beat Inter 3-0 after a great match, just like they did in his 2001-02 season.    

La Viola TV did an interview with Terim after a friendly between Galatasaray and Fiorentina. He was asked about his thoughts on his ex-team, and said the following:

“They both are my teams. Not only Galatasaray, but also Fiorentina. I never forgot Fiorentina, the city and the fans. They will always remain as an important part of my life.”

He was at the Franchi years later to watch their match against Cagliari. He saluted the fans, who then gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name, just as they did some 20 years ago.  

His Fiorentina and Milan days were long gone, but as in many past loves, the emotion still lives on.        

Words by Onur Bilgic