He is one of English football's most successful Turkish imp
TheFA.com Exclusive: He is one of English football's most successful Turkish imports and is now coaching one of the most promising young English strikers. TheFA.com caught up with Dean Saunders ahead of England's crucial Euro 2004 qualifier in Istanbul...
When Dean Saunders left Villa Park for Galatasaray in 1995, he was moving to a country that was starting to make noises in the football world. Long gone were the days when Turkey would return home from Wembley on the back of an 8-0 reverse and within a year, they would be competing at the finals of a major tournament for the first time since 1954.
"The national side were just starting to beat people when I was there, although they have improved massively as a team since then and right now they would give anyone in world football a game," recalled the former Wales international.
In fact, there are few people in England currently better qualified to assess the strengths and possible weaknesses of this Turkey team than Saunders himself. "Many who played at the Stadium of Light in April were in the Galatasaray side that I played in, including Bülent, Tugay, Hakan Unsal, Hakan Sükür and Ergün," he said.
And it was the man who brought him to the Ali Sami Yen in the first place, and then a few years later to Ewood Park as his first-team coach, that must take some of the credit for the rapid development seen these past few years in England's opponents this Saturday.
"Graeme (Souness) tried to install in them the British mentality to go with their excellent technical skills. What they all had though was an excellent work ethic.
"The players would spend huge amounts of time in the gym both before and after games and were very dedicated and they would show this will to win in every match they played." And Saunders believes that "if Turkey beat England, then Graeme will have had a bit to do with it."
As for the game itself, the striker who scored an impressive 15 times in 27 matches for Galatasaray believes that the start will be all-important for Eriksson's team.
"If you can defend properly for the first 15-20 minutes and quieten the crowd down, then you can start setting about causing them problems defensively, which I believe England can do." However, Souness' assistant at Blackburn Rovers also had a warning for England.
"If you remember Galatasaray when they won the UEFA Cup in 2000, they hunted down every ball, they chased down every lost cause and it will be the same against England on Saturday." In other words, it is not in Turkey's nature to give up and England will do well to heed the Welshman's warning.
And, in the land where east meets west, England will actually be facing Turkey in Asia, at Fenerbahçe's 50,000-capacity Sükrü Saraçoglu stadium. "The ground is very intimidating and the fans will arrive three hours before kick-off.
"I remember playing there in the 1996 (Turkish) Cup final and I couldn't actually hear what any of my team-mates were saying! The atmosphere will be electric and England won't want to give the fans anything to cheer about early on."
But the man who played for eleven different clubs during a distinguished 17-year career still thinks that the visitors "will create chances", it's just whether they take them or not.
"Both teams can score goals," he continued, before adding: "but I wouldn't want to predict what the final score may be. I think that Turkey will be feeling quite confident playing at home, although I'd be surprised not to see both teams in Portugal."
Saunders also believes that there is a Blackburn Rover currently capable of playing some part for England should they make it to the Algarve next summer, maybe even filling that problematic and much-talked about left-sided position.
It has taken Matt Jansen a year to fully recover from the horrific traffic accident that left him lying in a coma for four days in a Rome hospital, but in Saunders' opinion, the man with that most precious of English commodities, a left foot, is close to recapturing the form he showed pre-June 2002 and that can only be good news for England.
"He couldn't have had the accident at a worse time as he was on the verge of playing for England and then last season he wasn't himself, so we sent him on loan to Coventry. This year though he's been back to his best, as we saw with his great goal against Liverpool.
"We've told him that if he can score 15 League goals this season, then he will have a chance of a call-up, as his all-round play is brilliant. However at the moment, he should simply just concentrate on playing for Blackburn and not worry about England, as he is lucky to be playing at all."
Wise words indeed and something perhaps for Mr. Eriksson to think about should England achieve qualification this Saturday.
by Richard Morgan
Place of Birth: Swansea, Wales
Date of Birth: 21 June 1964
Club: Blackburn Rovers (coach)
Italics indicate loan spell
Statistics compiled by James Wright