ISTANBUL - After only a few days at the helm, Bülent Korkmaz makes his debut as Galatasaray coach in one of the most crucial games of the team's season. Korkmaz's Lions take on Bordeaux in the UEFA Cup round of 32, in the return game of a goalless draw, hoping to pave the way home for the competition's final in Istanbul on May 20
Only a few months ago, Bülent Korkmaz was at the UEFA Cup’s ceremony to announce the final match. As a former winner of the competition, he was there to launch the ticket sales for the match that will be played at the Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium in Istanbul. Then he was given a symbolic ticket to the game.
Now, as difficult as it is, he has a chance to earn a real ticket to European football’s second-best competition’s final, not only for himself, but for his beloved Galatasaray as well.
Former defender Korkmaz, who lifted the UEFA Cup in 2000 as the Galatasaray captain, was appointed to replace Michael Skibbe on Monday. Following a string of poor results, the board fired Skibbe and called on "the great skipper" to pick up the pieces again.
His previous three coaching experiences may not match his stellar playing career, but Galatasaray believes that Korkmaz has what it takes to make things better within the club.
After a promising start at lowly Kayseri Erciyesspor, a pushover side he turned into a solid team, Korkmaz had two short and disappointing stints at mid-table clubs Bursaspor and Gençlerbirliği last year.
Now, after barely two years coaching, Korkmaz is at the highest point of his career and in the Galatasaray hot seat.
He is aware that the job is hard but the legendary defender is confident.
"This is a hard task, like any other," said Korkmaz at the signing ceremony on Tuesday. "But I faced many troubles during my playing career and overcame them all."
As the one who wore the captain’s armband during the most successful period in Galatasaray’s history, Korkmaz wants to repeat his achievements. "I experience a lot of success as a player," he said. "Now, I want to experience success as a coach."
His first test at Galatasaray is a tricky one: The Lions will take on Bordeaux at Ali Sami Yen Stadium in the second leg game of the UEFA Cup round of last 32 game.
The first leg game ended in a goalless draw, and a win will take Galatasaray to the last 16. Needless to say that it will give a huge boost to confidence within the club as well as trust for Korkmaz.
Not much time
He has not had much time to adapt to the team, as he has been training with the club for only three days, but he may be helped by the motivation factor. A new coach, who played important roles during the club’s heyday, will probably help the players concentrate. And for the UEFA Cup final, he has the advantage that he can say, "Been there. Done that." Even if "there" is a long way to go before May 20, Galatasaray’s belief that it can make the most of a chance to play in Istanbul will skyrocket with victory over the French side.
For Bordeaux, which currently bids to end Lyon’s seven-year title streak in the French League, the UEFA Cup is not the top priority. For example, coach Laurent Blanc decided to leave Yoann Gourcuff out of the squad for the game, citing the star player’s exhaustion.
But still, beating Bordeaux will not be easy for Galatasaray. In four meetings in the last three years, the French side won twice, and two games ended in a draw.
Getting that first win is crucial for Galatasaray, either as a good welcome party for Korkmaz or to pave the way to the long-sought UEFA Cup final.
Galatasaray will get to play the winner of Hamburg-NEC Nijmegen tie if it manages to knock out Bordeaux.
The game kicks off at 8:30 p.m.
Milan welcomes Bremen
Two big favorites for the cup, AC Milan and Werder Bremen play tonight as well. Milan conceded a late goal by Brazilian playmaker Diego to draw 1-1 in the first leg in Germany last week.
Milan is hopeful that Brazilian forwards Kaka and Alexandre Pato will regain fitness for the visit from Thomas Schaaf's side.