National teams comprised of players spread across the globe is commonplace in men’s football. Perhaps it is a sign of maturing in the women’s game that a similar bringing together of a nation’s diaspora is also starting to occur.
Though yet to truly make their mark in women’s football, Turkey is taking the game seriously and has started to put significant resources into grassroots development for female players. At senior level the national team includes players of Turkish-background who hail from a diverse collection of nations including Canada, Australia, USA, Sweden and Germany. In the short term, it is hoped that the experiences these players offer will help lift standards and buoy the next generation of youngsters.
One such player to return to her roots and assist in the growth of Turkish women’s football is Australian-based Gulcan Koca. The Melbourne-born utility was plucked from relative obscurity as a peripheral player for W-League club Melbourne Victory in 2010, and thrust into the midst of a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ qualifying campaign.
Despite being of Turkish parentage it was a culture shock of sorts, both on and off the field for Koca, and also fellow Melbourne-born player Seyma Erenli. “It was a bit scary at the start, although I can speak Turkish, there was still a language barrier,” Koca told FIFA.com. “Everything is very strict and disciplined which I found hard to adjust to because in Australia we are more causal and lenient, so adjusting to Turkish rules and guidelines was very hard at the beginning.
“I was once asked if I had a kangaroo in my back yard which made me laugh. The style of football is a bit different too, it is very technical in Turkey as opposed to physical, whereas in Australia we aim to have both. Going from playing amateur or semi-professionally in Australia, to a strict camp environment and training twice a day, and all that was involved - including meeting the men’s team – was a surreal experience.”
Off the field women’s football is still struggling to gain a foothold in a nation renowned for its passion for the game. “When we tell people we are footballers people are often confused and say they didn’t realise there was a national team,” says Koca.
“Sometimes we are treated more as women rather than footballers which is probably a cultural aspect. The positive is that even though we are treated as females culturally, they (the FA) did try to promote us as being athletes.”
International football sabbatical
The strains of playing in Australia, studying in Melbourne and making regular trips across the globe have, temporarily at least, taken its toll on Koca. For now she is focussing on the current W-League campaign and catching up on much delayed studies in Sports Management, with a view to potentially reinvigorating her international odyssey next year.
On the domestic front, she has developed into an important member of a strong Melbourne Victory side that narrowly fell shy of a maiden crown last season, losing the Championship decider. So too, her game has become more rounded slotting into the centre of midfield, in addition to a fullback role in the international arena.
Koca describes her three-years of international experience as “motivating” having played against some of Europe’s biggest nations in Women’s World Cup and UEFA Women’s EURO qualifying.
“I wouldn’t change the overseas experience for anything in the world.” Among numerous highlights Koca recalls: “Playing in front of a big crowd in England, with their rich football history, was a new experience in my life. It made me realise how developed other countries are.”
Turkey have a challenging task if they are to make an impression in qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015. They recently claimed a 3-1 win over Montenegro but a looming clash with second-placed Wales is shaping as pivotal, with group leaders England already boasting a handy lead.
“To qualify for something would be wonderful,” Koca says. “We are doing well with younger players, and the grassroots is starting to develop. So there is reason for optimism."