Ertuğrul Sağlam

Toshack was crucial for me. His reputation as a technical trainer may be controversial, but I learned a lot from him as a human being. Above all else I learned patience. I learned to bow to the decisions of another person. It changed my whole outlook on life.

Day 15, 2010, will go down in history as one of the most momentous dates in Turkish soccer history. It was ten to ten in the evening. I was at Şükru Saracoğlu Stadium in Kadıköy where Bursaspor had just done the unthinkable. They had demolished the prevailing view that a fifth-place team could never become champion. And the architect of that success was, in the words of one fan, ‘a man’s man’, Ertuğrul Sağlam.
He is a man who has encountered a lot of life-changing experiences. Many ‘fateful moments’ in life. The crushing disappointments, the patient waiting, the critical choices had all laid the groundwork for scoring the highest success in the Turkish League with Bursaspor’s modest cadres. Thanks to hard work, faith, intelligence and, of course, an amazing family upbringing, Ertuğrul Sağlam had made it!

When did you first start soccer?
I started playing soccer in fourth grade. I was born on the Black Sea, in Zonguldak Ereğli, and I went to Cumhuriyet Elementary School there. When I became goal king in an inter-school tournament, I was invited to join the Erdemir Ereğlispor academy. In high school I played on the National Youth Team.

After playing center forward, weren’t you disappointed to become a stopper under Toshack?
Of course I was. I went up to him and said, “Look, I shot 75 goals in the last three seasons. I had 19 goals last season alone. Why are you putting me on defense?” And he said, “That’s how I want it. Just do your job!” I was shocked. It was a matter of life or death. But I made my choice and stuck it out. Toshack was a very important person for me. His reputation as a technical trainer may be debatable, but I learned a lot from him as a human being. First of all I learned to be patient. I learned to bow to another person’s decisions regarding me. It changed my outlook on life.
And all that must have played a role in the Bursaspor victory.
Absolutely. My group of players here has always respected me. And I’ve been open with them from the start. I’ve always talked with them in critical periods.  They would never have respected my decisions if I hadn’t taken on the job I was given with Beşiktaş and earned the respect of the people. I’m a very fortunate trainer in that regard. As a team we worked hard and we believed in ourselves. And of course the prayers of those who believed in us also came into play in critical periods.

You scored a great coup. Mourinho has rocked the world as well. What part does the trainer play in a team’s success as you see it?
I’d say a hundred percent. One trainer comes along and makes a team champion, another comes along and the team is relegated. Forming a team and bringing out the players’ individual skills is very important. It’s the job of the technical trainer to ensure teamwork and overcome problems. Mourinho and Materazzi’s warm embrace at the Inter-Bayern final, for example, was an excellent demonstration of trainer-player cooperation.

Making Bursaspor champion is a great success indeed. But is capturing that kind of success with Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe or Galatasaray more difficult for a Turkish trainer?
No. They always enter the competition in the front ranks anyway. I told my players that we could be champion, or that we would at least fight for it. It was crucial that we ended the half-time with the Beşiktaş defeat. From that moment on both the city and the club management started expecting us to win. They had more faith in us.

At the level of football, is your team the best in the league?
We were the fourth or fifth team in terms of player quality. But we knew how to exploit the weaknesses of the other teams. We knew their problems when it came to playing as a team and we zeroed in on those weaknesses. We made sure we played as a team. My players gave their very best and we proved something in Turkish football. Namely, that having a lot of stars is not enough for success. It’s important what kind of performance you can get out of them. It’s not the team with the most stars but the team that plays together best as a team that becomes champion in this world.

And you managed to win despite all the pressure that was on you…
Actually we never passed that pressure along to our players. They worked hard to put pressure on us. But we trained good-naturedly as a team while their players were bickering among themselves and revelations about their private lives were appearing by the day.

Did you get any offers from the big clubs after the season ended?
I got offers from close to ten teams in Turkey and abroad. I have a contract with Bursaspor for another two years but those clubs could easily have afforded to pay the indemnity. I don’t want to leave my job in Bursa half done.  An Anatolian league is going to play in the Champions’ League for the first time. I want to experience that honor. The people of Bursa, the fans, the city - they motivate a person to do his best. That’s why I never thought of leaving. Bursaspor banners were even flying along the Bosphorus!

You had some extremely critical matches on the road to the championship.
Yes. The match in which we beat Beşiktaş at İnönü, for example. It was a very emotional moment for me to return to İnönü after having left Beşiktaş. I was very moved by the reaction of the players and the spectators. When we were ahead 2-1, I took Sercan out and put Ömer in as center forward. A lot people said, “What’s that man doing?” But we won. We defeated Fenerbahçe 2-0 the same way. But one of the most important turning points was the cup rematch we played with Fenerbahçe. All week long I kept saying, “If they score two goals against us in two minutes, we’ll do the same to them!” And we did! We got ahead 3-0 but then were eliminated in the last second. The match we played with Galatasaray was one of the best of the season. In the end we deserved to be champion. But I should add that Fenerbahçe also deserved it at least as much as we did.

We’re going to see a brand new Bursaspor in the new season, I think.
We are strengthening our cadres. Vederson is a player we wanted. We weren’t interested in Riquelme and Nonda. We’re going to calculate our revenues and get quality players in the positions where we need them. Everybody is going to play to defeat us now. But we’ve gotten used to that in the last 10 weeks. So, all we want to do is be at the top of the competition in the new season.

What does Ertuğrul Sağlam do besides football? Where does he go with his family, for instance?
I haven’t had a vacation in a year and a half. Although I rented a house in Bursa, I’ve lived at the training camps for the last year and a half so that I could be on the job the minute I wake up and get to bed the minute I’m done. All my trips have been on business. I’ve been able to take maybe a week’s vacation with my wife and kids. They complain a lot, but at the same time they accept that this is the way our life is.

Are there any places you miss or would like to go?
My father came to Ereğli from the village of Zigana in Torul township of Gümüşhane province. Zigana is a beautiful place. It looks like the Swiss Alps. I love every place in Anatolia. Akçakoca, Samsun...