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Jul 8, 2014

Prandelli the star man at Galatasaray

Galatasaray president Unal Aysal is perhaps Turkey's most high profile frequenter of the managerial merry-go-round. For the second time in a row, it has thrown up an Italian, and for the third, a former Fiorentina boss, as Cesare Prandelli fills Roberto Mancini's recently vacated seat.

The original favourite had been Shakhtar's dynasty-builder Mircea Lucescu, with the Turkish rumour mill reporting his arrival in Istanbul at various times this summer. Curiously for Manchester United fans, the news then broke that Galatasaray were holding talks with David Moyes, as the obligatory pictures of the Scot arriving at Istanbul Ataturk airport surfaced. Yet Galatasaray's overlords have now settled on Cesare Prandelli, reacting swiftly to events at the 2014 World Cup after Italy's failure to reach the knockout stages and Prandelli's subsequent resignation.

The mission for Prandelli, with "aim" not seeming a strong enough term, is simple. The 56-year-old must ensure that Galatasaray reach their 20th league title before cross-continental rivals Fenerbahce. Both clubs are currently star-gazing, with Turkish sides being awarded a star above their crest for every five league titles. They each have three stars and stand on 19 titles, which Fener drawing level after their triumphant 2013-14 campaign. Indeed, at the news conference for his unveiling Prandelli accepted the mission. "Our goal is very clear," he said. "To get the fourth star and to be successful in the Champions League." The narrative for the coming season is already set, both teams shooting for the star.

Mancini, though, failed in the two most important tasks that any Galatasaray manager faces. The first being the raison d'etre of the club, the entire foundation on which its history and prestige has been built, winning the Turkish League. The 49-year-old also did little to adhere himself to the masses of Galatasaray fans throughout the country, always giving the impression that his tenure was a temporary one, a sort of filler before moving on to something new.

Man City fans famously spent £7,000 to place a "thank you" message in La Gazzetta dello Sport after Mancini was sacked at Eastlands. It is unlikely he will get the same from Gala fans.

Despite such shortcomings, Mancini's tenure was a qualified success. An encapsulating, snow-ridden 1-0 win over Juventus in Istanbul meant Mancini succeeded in taking Galatasaray to the knockout stages of the Champions League. That said, an eventual round-of-16 defeat to Chelsea, with the questionable use of a 4-2-4 formation in the home leg, raised eyebrows once again. The Italian also brought more silverware to the Turk Telekom Arena, as a Wesley Sneijder goal saw off Eskisehirspor in the Turkish Cup final.

Yet without the league, other successes fade become irrelevant.

Cesare Prandelli signs his contract alongside Galatasaray president Unal Aysal.

Prandelli will have been briefed on these requirements during the negotiation stage. His first task will need to be an appeal to the fans, ensuring that the famous "Welcome to Hell" is directed at the opposition and not at the club's new manager. To do that an air of permanence must be cultivated, contrasting with the stop-gap nature of Mancini.

"I met the president and I heard that he wants to achieve certain results and maybe this is what I need," said Prandelli as he accepted the lofty requirements of a Galatasaray boss. "I want to challenge, I think I have made the right decision because the aim is to win."

On the field, Galatasaray need co-ordination to tighten a loose defence. Mancini went some way to creating a solid unit, but individual errors and lapses in concentration too often hampered the previous campaign. At the top of the pitch, with Drogba now gone, Burak Yilmaz will again become the main focal point in front of Wesley Sneijder, though a necessary reliance on Turkish-born players is enforced through the league's strict foreigner quotas. Semih Kaya, Selcuk Inan and the aforementioned Yilmaz are likely to form a permanent spine in Prandelli's Galatasaray.

Learning Turkish will aid Prandelli's transition to this large and complex nation, and having never worked outside of Italy and the Italian language will prove another challenge. Mancini, strangely, conducted his news conferences in English, translated into Turkish. The input of the Italian's non-standard English left an output of non-standard Turkish, baffling a few journalists. Indeed, if a question was put to Mancini in English, the arduous process of announcing a translation of the question before the answer added to the tedium.

Due to the perceived ease of communication, it is now customary that any manager working in a foreign land will be linked with players from his home nation. The Italian has been pestered about the possible signing of Mario Balotelli from Milan, but insisted that he "cannot talk about it," though he did refer to Juventus' Andrea Pirlo as the hallmark of a Prandelli player. "I love football players who want to win like Pirlo," he said.

But Galatasaray President Unal Aysal has looked to quash any prospective rumours by briefing the Turkish media that only one or two major signings will be made this summer, leaving Prandelli with little scope to effect major change in the playing staff. Indeed, 12 permanent deals were concluded over the course of the 2013-14 season as the club failed to counter-act a resurgent Fenerbahce.

Despite the pressure that weighs heavy on both sides of the Bosporus, Prandelli takes over at an opportune moment, admitting that the club's "history is huge," though insisting the focus is on "upcoming projects rather than the past."

Mancini inherited the toxic atmosphere of Terim's departure, still resented by some fans, and a points deficit in the race with Fenerbahce. Prandelli arrives with few missing Mancini and the league slate wiped clean for 2014-15.

The manager and squad can either see the quest for that fourth star as a burden or an opportunity. The burden of being the manager who failed to stop Fenerbahce reaching the milestone first is counteracted by the opportunity to be the one who made history.