*Published in October 2015 issue.
After a successful career in football, you did commentating in BBC’s Match of the Day. Which one was easier?
In one position, you are getting criticized, as for the other one, you are expressing your opinions. You can easily upset people when you say what you see. And sometimes vice versa. Playing football is as much fun as it is tough; trainings every day, matches on weekends… Besides, as a commentator, you can easily say that no chance should be missed, but you don’t realize how difficult this is unless you are actually on that pitch. Still, the pleasure of being on the pitch is unlike any other. Nothing in the world can give me the enthusiasm and joy of playing football. Not a thing.
Does having a football background give you an edge over other commentators?
I believe viewers prefer commentators with no professional background since they also learned football as they did; by watching. But I think, we are the only ones to fully make out what goes on in a match since we witnessed and experienced those moments directly.
What would you like to say when comparing Turkish and British medias?
I am not sure if it’s still the same, but it was easier for Turkish media to reach out to players back when I was there. There were reporters who were in close relationships with specific teams and report only on those teams. Here, journalists report whatever they see. It’s not the relationships that matters, it’s the people. Oh, let me tell you about a peculiar incident in Turkey that this reminds me of; I once went to see a doctor for the pain in my knee and he said it was ok after he checked it out. Then, out of nowhere, a reporter came into the room and started taking my pictures. This can never happen in England. Everyone should have some boundaries.
Some of the ex-professionals in Turkey are reluctant about statistics in football. For example, your former team mate Metin Tekin always says: “What matters is not how much, but how.” Do you agree with that?
Now the game is much more reliant on statistics than it was before. Teams should do so much; players must run that much… A player is considered off his game when he can’t meet some specific numbers. Personally, I don’t agree with that. I look at the pitch and decide who is playing what and put in use those numbers to strengthen my verdict at the very end. It is not always accurate when you decide that player performed well, simply because he ran 11 kilometers on the pitch. It might very well be that he lost so many balls and had to run that much to try to win the ball back. How can you decide that just by looking at some numbers?
Turkey was not a well-known football country at the time you were transferred to Beşiktaş. What was the reason behind that choice?
Gordon Milne was the main reason. He had personally contacted my club for me and I needed a team to play regularly back then.
A couple of years ago, in his interview with Caner Eler, John Barnes spoke about the racism in English football during the 80’s. Did you ever feel this kind of discrimination? Could that be another reason for you to come to Beşiktaş?
Yes, I did feel it every so often but racism was not one of the reasons behind my departure. I was just in need of a new location for a year to gather up and focus completely to the pitch and Beşiktaş gave me this opportunity at that time.
Do you think racism was a reason why you didn’t get enough national caps in the 90’s?
I do think that, to be honest. I was chosen as the Players’ Player of the Year in 1996, which I think is a great honor. It is wonderful to be considered for an award as such by your colleagues. However, I wasn’t involved in a single national match that year. I can’t think of any other place where the player of the year does not play a single minute -unless he is injured or something like that- in a national match.
You were loved by the Beşiktaş fans here. After that, they easily bonded with black strikers like Amokachi, Nouma and Ba. Do you think you have an influence on that?
I had really good times in Beşiktaş. I would have liked to stay more but QPR called me back. Players like Amokachi, Nouma and Ba had also enjoyed this great atmosphere here. It was a great chance for them.
Finally, as a former footballer and current commentator, what is your opinion on the title challenge in the Premier Division this season?
Manchester City seems really strong right now but we still have a long season ahead. Chelsea had an awful start, we just have to wait and see how they will proceed from now on. Manchester United is also an interesting team but if I have to say something right now, I can say that City is much more close to the title.
And what about Arsenal? When will they be in a title challenge?
As soon as they start spending some money.
Translated by: Baran Yağmurlu.