In Mustafa Denizli, FIFA.com had the pleasure of interviewing one of the most successful coaches in Turkish footballing history. Up for discussion with the experienced supremo were his insight on coaches’ attitudes towards young players, his footballing philosophy and the FIFA U-20 World Cup as an opportunity for rising starlets.
Born in 1949 and a native of Izmir, the majority of his Denizli’s playing career was spent at Altay Football Club where, over the course of his 18-year stay, he earned the nickname ‘Big Mustafa’. Altay were one of the strongest teams in Turkey during the Denizli era, however, his biggest achievements in the game were yet to come.
After turning his hand to coaching, Denizli has gone on to become the only coach ever to win the domestic league with each of the heavyweight trio of Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas. Denizli has also worked in Germany and Iran, taking full advantage to absorb the teachings of different football cultures.
Boss of the Turkish senior national team in 1987/88 and between 1996 and 2000, the second spell including a run to the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2000, in Denizli’s most recent coaching assignment last season he guided Caykur Rizespor to promotion to Turkey’s top tier.
FIFA.com: With the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 nearing its end, what has stood out for you?
Mustafa Denizli: The absence of Argentina and Brazil raised a few question marks at the start of the tournament, however, we have had some fantastic games. The quality of football on display has been impressive.
France and Uruguay are set to face each other in the final, but who do you think are the favourites?
For me, France are the favourites. They look organized and on an individual level they have more quality.
This is the first time Turkey has hosted a football tournament of this magnitude. What impact do you think it will have on the country’s ability to host similar tournaments in the future?
The experience gained will help us when hosting future tournaments. I remember being part of the Turkish squad when Turkey hosted the 1967 European Youth Championships and I can safely say that Turkey 2013 was much better organised. The stars of the future have been given a chance to showcase their talent on the world stage.
We have had the opportunity to watch various footballing styles from across different continents. What do you think Turkish football will have gained from this experience?
I don’t think we need these kinds of tournaments to discover different footballing cultures from around the world anymore. This is because we can all watch football from across the world on TV nowadays, you can even watch matches from Japan, for example, whenever you want.
How would you assess Turkey’s campaign, given they were knocked out by finalists France in the Round of 16?
We were unable to really gel as a team. In the past Turkish youth sides have done well in these competitions, but this time we did not play as a unit. This hindered our performances and, of course, we were a bit unlucky to come up against France – who could end as champions – so early in the knockout stages.
What will the young players who participated in the tournament gain from competing in Turkey 2013?
Footballers can always improve, so playing in an youth World Cup will serve as a platform for some of these young players to go on and play in the senior World Cup in the future. The tournament will also help some of the lesser-known players earn lucrative moves abroad. Take the Iraqi squad, for example. Imagine you are a young Iraqi footballer, playing through the kind of hardship they have had to. This tournament could end up being their gateway to a major league.
As someone who has coached in Iraq’s neighbouring nation Iran, did the young Iraqis’ campaign take you by surprise?
No, it didn’t surprise me, as I had a number of Iraqi players in my team whilst coaching in Iran. This wasn’t a one-off: we’re talking about a nation that won the [AFC] Asian Cup [in 2007]. Iraq once again have many talented players and they have shown that “football gives birth to stars”.
As a long-serving coach, how would you define your footballing philosophy? What does the game mean to you?
To me, football means love, competition, passion, desire, will to win and sharing. Football draws us in. We all have differing and sometimes conflicting opinions about football, much as when different people see the same show at the theatre. Football has a wide reach, with people of all ages from any country in the world able to share their opinions on the game. When my daughter was just four-years-old she would ask me why I’d left certain players out of the squad. Football brings people together.
We’ve seen that there are similarities in the way Spain, Uruguay, France, Portugal and Korea Republic play the game, but how does a nation go about creating its own football identity?
I do not agree with this statement. Football is always changing, indeed, national-team squads can change quite a lot in the space of four years which means their style and philosophy is always changing. Players and coaches must always be open to change, as football evolves over time. Barcelona are a good example of this, given that over the last couple of years teams have developed ways of stopping them. Once you create a successful system, all your opponents will analyse it and look for ways to counter it. Clubs and coaches must always be willing to change in order to become or remain successful.
As a coach, how would you approach the young players who are competing in this tournament?
In life, you can buy everything except for experience. The Orson Welles song I Know What It Is To Be Young (But You Don't Know What It Is To Be Old) perfectly defines what experience is about. These players competing are 20-years-old or younger and so are bound to be inexperienced. Therefore, the coach must be able to pass on their own experience and knowledge to the young footballers. But football is a game of intelligence too - sometimes you will see young players who play like they have years of experience behind them. A players’ footballing intelligence can compensate for a lack of experience. This is why we sometimes see a player with seven years’ experience who looks more mature than one who’s been playing the game for 17.
Finally, do you have a message you’d like to send to the football fans reading this?
Football is not just about winning or losing and, in my opinion, England and Germany are the two nations which best adhere to this philosophy. The fans there will follow their hometown clubs anywhere in the world in order to support them. We here in Turkey need to make sure we enjoy every aspect of this tournament, as something like this may only come around once in 40 years.