After watching his 800th game as a player and coach for Galatasaray just one night previous, we’re sat, somewhat nervously, in the office of the man they call ‘The Emperor’. Fatih Terim hasn’t given an interview in just over a year to the Turkish media, and as we await his arrival a squad of the club’s PR department are trying to seek last minute reassurances that we’re not here to upset him.

We’re not. We wouldn’t dare. After all, there’s nothing negative to spin, here. Terim is on the cusp of securing the Turkish Super Lig title – at the time of our meeting just a game remained, and just a point was needed, needless to say the job was done. He’s one of world football’s most respected coaches, and that’s apparent when he walks into the room followed by a handshake as strong as his side’s chances of winning the league. The man, sorry, the Emperor, has a serious presence.

Terim is in his fourth spell at the helm of this fine club, and he’s in reflective mood when he sits back in his chair, points, and says to us "let’s go"…


Mr. Terim, you’re managing Galatasaray for the fourth time. What makes you return to the club each time?

The truth is, I do not see Galatasaray simply as a place where I came in 1974, signed a contract and served professionally. This is the club to which I am devoted and I feel I belong to, which defines me and what I have gone through. Above all, it’s the place of unforgettable achievements. This is how I see it. Everybody says things like ‘the first time he left’, ‘his second return’, ‘he’s back for the third time’, etc., but I never view this as leaving or returning. I see this place as my one-way destination. It’s true that I leave physically, but the club is always somewhere inside me.

Have you ever thought “this is the last time” at any time you physically left the club?

No, I never thought that way, because I never looked for a position or title to serve Galatasaray or contribute to it. I am not only somebody who has its signature on the achievements, I am also a Galatasaray lover and fan. You should never think of a “last time” for someone whom you love. 

Well, did you feel different each time you returned?

Yes, for sure. Your feelings and expectations keep changing as life brings you new points of view. You may find a different meaning each time. This is because new expectations exist and you also come back with new expectations and goals. If you add these to the maturity and experiences you have gained, it means you see things differently each time you come back.

We’re sure that you must have received offers from other clubs as well. Why have you always preferred to return to Galatasaray without hesitation?

Return? I never leave at all. As I said, I leave physically, but do not leave really. In fact, I resume from where I left. There have been offers of course, what’s more, they were offers dreamed of and wished by many, but accepting them would be right only if I viewed things rationally. I do not always view life rationally, I also view it with my heart and soul. When I do so, my heart and soul become decisive in my preferences, therefore I do not leave here.


You’ve managed and played games all around the world. How does the atmosphere at Galatasaray compare to other places?

The thing is, industrial football increases the number of people who do their job professionally and well. Many new tactics, new techniques, new practices, and more importantly, new technologies have been introduced recently. It is these factors that football owes its advancement and development to. But there is one thing that must be remembered: the human factor.

The human factor remains a crucial factor in terms of the development and advancement of football, no matter what changes, what becomes modernised, whatever new and external contribution is received. When it comes to human beings, it is not correct to talk of facts and theories only. Therefore, the most important factor the players and the clubs must keep in my mind during this change and transformation is identity and soul.

It is the soul and identity of clubs that creates that atmosphere, not money itself or such and such developments. Our club Galatasaray has a soul, it has an identity. I played and managed games in many places around the world. I witnessed that the most important factor that forms the atmosphere is soul and identity as I mentioned. Thanks to its culture, history, values and soul, Galatasaray is a club that deserves to enjoy a unique atmosphere, and displays it in the best possible way. 

As you mentioned, Galatasaray fans are one of the most passionate fan groups in the world. How would you describe the effect of them on you personally?

It seems that, even though the figures that go down in history are the players, the technical team and the management team, the most important factor is actually the fans. This year, for example, the result could have been different if it were not for Galatasaray fans. I think we owe a lot to them. Another thing is, a country’s culture, its perception of football and the meaning and value attributed to teams in that country are decisive factors that bring the passion. We are thankful that we have fans who make a difference, break new ground, made a name for themselves around the world, and put their signature on the titles we achieved. In our domestic games, I select the starting 12, not 11. The first line on that list is reserved for the fans.

You have a close relationship with the Galatasaray fans, then?

I think we understand and complement each other very well. The most important stage in any relationship is the development of trust. I think the trust between the fans and myself is very precious.

They’ve been calling you “Emperor” for years, which is the clearest indicator of their respect for you. What do you think about your nickname?

The emperors we read about in history books were not merely figures who went down in history by winning wars. All of them were characters who started a new age and changed the destiny of their countries. Therefore, it is a great honour for me to be given such a nickname and to be called this way by the fans.

Has your relationship with the fans evolved over time?

Definitely. As I said before, we first built a sense of trust. Then, I would like to emphasise this part, having someone at the helm of the team who cares for their divine team at least as much as themselves is something that relaxes them and puts more responsibility on my shoulders. The more they relax, the more responsibility you have. It is important that our fans see and understand that I am not only someone who manages the game technically and tactically. Of course, we sometimes go through periods of alienation due to changes in physical conditions for reasons beyond the control of both sides, but this only matures our relationship. Neither side lets it turn into another feeling.

Do you have contact with your fans in the city in your daily life?

Of course I do. Anywhere I go. Is anything possible without them? Wherever we see each other, I talk to all fans within civil limits and I never ignored any of them. Never. I do my best to fulfil their wishes. I listen to them as much as possible, contact them, thank them and always respect them. I actually watch the videos prepared by fans, read the texts they write and the comments they post. Most importantly, I know what they feel, and share their feelings. The role Galatasaray plays in their life is no different than the role it plays in my life. Therefore, we do not have any problems.


Terim is undoubtably Galatasaray’s leader. On the wall of the office stands a huge photo of him stood in front of a wall of flares at Galatasaray’s Turk Telecom stadium. Match day? Not quite. This was the week of Gala’s big derby away to Fenerbahce – Terim knew that only a limited amount of tickets would be allocated to his club so he put on an open training session at the stadium. He knows how to play to the club’s strengths. How to get every attribute of the club pulling in the same direction. The players inspiring the fans and vice versa. Terim doesn’t just choose the team, he chooses the mood of an entire club. He’s a genius.

At this point The Emperor is in full flow. We can start to imagine how intense and inspiring his team talks must be. When Terim talks, you listen. And when the squeaking of a groundsman’s hose begins to distract the room from story time a couple of club reps scurry down the corridor to the training pitch below us. Not that they were needed – Terim leans out of his window, whistles, and gives a long point. The noise stops. Back to the questions.


Above: Terim greets supporters as he leads a public training session in front of thousands of fans the week of the derby against Fenerbahce.

Mr. Terim, what do you expect from your players each time they wear the Galatasaray jersey?

I do not care only about winning. Football is also a game you watch and enjoy. When people watch football, they must be able to enjoy the game that is being played on the field. I have prioritised this since the very first day. In home games, away games, European cup games. I am trying to say that they must be able to enjoy my players’ performance. OK, it’s important to win, but they must see a group of players which they can be proud of even when they lose.

In other words, they must be proud of their team’s fighting capacity. The players of this club, a club with a history of more than a century, must carry this jersey appreciating the club’s history, experience and values. It is not enough for me if my players only display their individual skills on the field. I use every occasion to tell them that they must do their best also to display the value of the brand they represent. This is important to me and to Galatasaray fans as well.

Istanbul hosts some of the most famous derbies in world football. What does football mean to Galatasaray fans and Istanbulites? It looks like it’s not merely a game. Do you agree?

Yes, that’s right. Our culture assigns a much broader meaning to football, unlike anybody else. There are people here who express themselves through football, identify themselves with the team they support, and arrange their daily life considering their team. It is impossible to attribute this to passion solely. First of all, the team is certainly expected to win and play well. From a fan’s point of view, this is normal. Fans want their coach and players to be as loyal and devoted as themselves. Unconditionally. You can expect any form of criticism from them if they cannot see these characteristics in their team. In short, emotions prevail. This is the case with us. The future is as important as the present to Galatasaray fans. In fact, they constantly encourage you with the expectation of the next achievement.

Have each of your championship titles with Galatasaray been more special to you than the previous one?

Sure. Each has a different meaning and a different story. But it will feel much more meaningful, important and special for my career if we can win the title this year. I will not tell you why.

What do you love most about this city?

First of all, my family and memories of course. Building bonds in a city, building bonds to a city, naming it the thing you love most is possible only through your family and the things you experience with them. 

How do you compare the players of your time to today’s players? What type of differences are there? Social differences, differences in lifestyle, etc?

There have been many changes like in many other realms of life. Football has been going through a major transformation as well. When I was a player, today’s level of advancement did not exist. Even though we had more possibilities compared to the previous generation. The leagues were professional, but the players had the soul of an amateur. Everything was different, including organisations, revenues, fields of expertise, fans, even rules. Back then, the players had to guide themselves to invest in themselves, develop their talent, care for their body and mind, lead a proper family life and be an exemplary citizen.

Today, we have fields of expertise focused on making players’ lives easier, helping with their physical and mental development, managing their brand and communication correctly, training them specifically on the basis of their position, and on many other details. These are the most distinct differences. There are countless examples I can give from our team. Nagatomo, for example, eats at home. He has someone to cook for him. Another player has a personal trainer, another player has someone specially for stretching exercises, and so on. It is the same all around the world. This is the most important and distinct difference.


Above: Galatasaray's Dutch defender Ryan Donk waves an "Emperor" flag after sealing the 2017/18 league title.

If you had the chance to play football again, would you choose to play in your era again or play for one of today’s teams?

This is a difficult question. In fact, each era has its own characteristics. As someone who feels he does not regret anything, there has not been a second I said myself “I wish I could…” from the moment I stopped playing football. And I retired at a very young age compared to today’s players. I was 31 years old.

That would be considered young now. Is there a reason behind this decision?

There is. I played in the professional league when I was 16. While I was playing in the south, I became the top scorer for the first time when I was 17. Then, I became the team captain in Adana Demirspor. I joined Galatasaray at the age of 20. I became the captain in both the national team and Galatasaray at the age of 23. When you start early and you dominate, you hear this question: “Oh, is he still playing?” You ask “Still?” for a man of 30 years old?! Is that clear? This was the attitude back then. This mentality has also changed. Now, when a player is 30, they think he can continue playing for years.

They would say something stupid like: “He should retire while he’s still good.” Come on, why would he retire when he’s still good?! “Retire while on the top”!! Why would anybody retire while on the top? This was a stupid expectation.

This training ground is like your home, you’ve spent so much of your life here. What are you memories of being here as a player?

When I was a player. Right here. When I came back in 1996, I had this space enlarged. I wanted to be close to all sections, and since this room had a nostalgic meaning for me. That's why I picked this place as my office.

So, this office we’re sat in now. This was your bedroom?

Yes, this room. This building was our camp building. There was not a single apartment block over there [where the players’ rooms now stand]. I declared this place our technical building. We moved the camp building to that part. Coaches stayed in the next block, analysts were here, the other side was reserved for assistants, secretaries, etc. Therefore, this place means a lot to me. It was my office. I had everything here, my bed, shower, changing room, etc. A place for myself. 


Above: The Emperor's treasure. Terim celebrates with the Super Lig title.

And with that we make our way down to the first team training pitch for some photos. Terim taking us the long way around to provide a guided tour of this place he so proudly calls home. Club employees we encounter along the way seemingly bow to him. This is his legacy, after all he rearranged the entire complex so he could make tactical decisions from his old bed. As we shake hands and thank him for his time he points to the plants next to the pitch, he chose them too. Of course he did.