Bursaspor shocked Turkey this year by becoming the first club from outside Istanbul to win the league title since Trabzonspor's success in 1984, striking a major blow for Anatolia. UEFA.com spoke to the club's gifted 20-year-old striker Sercan Yıldırım about their landmark achievement, and the prospect of UEFA Champions League football in the autumn.
UEFA.com: People say Bursaspor managed to win the title because there was no pressure on you to do so. Do you agree?
Sercan Yıldırım: Since Ertuğrul Sağlam's appointment as coach, qualifying for Europe was the major target. It was no different this year. We had already accomplished our mission by the final games of the season, and having done that we could relax. We took it step by step and as the wins kept coming, we adjusted our aims accordingly. We carried on until we reached the top, and then won the title in the last match.
UEFA.com: What do you remember about the moment when you won the title?
Sercan: We had beaten Beşiktaş 2-1 in our last match of the season and we were listening to the final minutes of Fenerbahçe's match against Trabzonspor. After hearing the game had ended with a 1-1 draw, I couldn't stop crying. It was an unforgettable moment.
UEFA.com: No side from outside Istanbul had won the title since Trabzonspor in 1984. What helped Bursaspor break through?
The biggest factor was our coach, Ertuğrul Sağlam. He convinced the players they could always do better. When we were in third, he always said we deserved to be second. Every match was like a final for us, but even more important, after a bad result, he always got behind us and told us it was a huge success for Bursaspor even to finish second or third. That mentality made the squad confident. His motto was: "We have nothing to lose and everything to gain." From his first day, he tried to strengthen the reslationships between the players. When a new transfer was needed, Sağlam looked at the player's personality first and then his technical attributes. That helped us to defend and attack successfully as a team.
UEFA.com: Do you think Bursaspor's success will change Turkish football?
Sercan: Sivasspor finished second last year. Anatolian teams are forcing their way into the top positions in the table. We have reached a stage where any team can beat another. The big teams are really struggling compared to past seasons. We made a breakthrough in Turkey.
UEFA.com: Were Bursaspor's fans a big help?
Sercan: I love the passion of Bursaspor fans and I believe the whole world will admire them when they see our UEFA Champions League matches. About 25,000 fans traveled to Istanbul to support us against İstanbul BB SK in the league in March; it was a record in Turkey for visiting fans. I have lost count of the home games we played in front of a full house. If our stadium capacity was 50,000, our fans would still fill it.
UEFA.com: Next year you will have a new level of competition in the UEFA Champions League. Are you ready for that challenge?
Sercan: Those games will increase Bursaspor's reputation, for sure. It will be an honour if we can play against Barcelona or Real Madrid. We want big games like that. We want to make Bursaspor a major football brand, not just in Turkey, and us players want to demonstrate our skills in Europe. If we can make some reinforcements, we can be successful in the group stage.
UEFA.com: Who was your footballing idol as a child?
Sercan: Thierry Henry. Last year, we played a friendly match against France and I got his shirt after the game. I met him and we had a little chat. He asked how old I was and wished me luck in my career.
UEFA.com: What are your plans for the future?
Sercan: I have just achieved something historic, so Bursaspor is a benchmark for me. However, I always dreamed of playing for big teams abroad. Doing well in the Champions League this season bring that dream closer. In the past, I liked the English Premier League but I prefer the Liga in Spain now, because it suits my playing style. Playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid would be perfect!