The evolutionary process of Turkish business life in the last decade is known as 'the rise of the Anatolian Tigers.' The same applies for the Anatolian soccer teams over the last two seasons.
TURKEY HAS QUITE DISTINCTIVE characteristics and these cannot be understood by treating it like any other country. In Turkey, the most chaotic social and economic conditions can suddenly become stable. When we think everything is at a standstill, we can wake up in the morning with the news of disastrous events. And such experiences can make us think that we may actually have been mistaken about what, up until then, we thought we knew. This is the case for what happens in soccer. When we have a look at the available data and match outcomes in order to try to evaluate the success of Anatolian soccer teams, we see that it is not easy to rationally explain what happens. When you try to analyze the factors bringing success to a team, you can see that another team is quite successful due to precisely the contrary factors. Trying to find a sensible explanation for their success can be a painful process. For example, Gençlerbirliği should be the most successful Anatolian team based on the realities and rationality of soccer, because the club has a lot of money which is seen as the key to success in the field . While other clubs are up to their ears in debt, Gençlerbirliği’s rich in resources.
Gençlerbirliği also has no big problem with its facilities. In fact its facilities are very good. The club has resources comparable to the European clubs, as well as an exemplary administrative stability. İlhan Cavcav, who has had more than 30 years of experience in administration, is seen as the best leader in terms of anticipating how to be successful in the Turkish league.
The club is suffering from a scarcity of supporters and this is of course a big problem. In spite of its many advantages, Gençlerbirliği was relegated at the very last moment last year, but it has now been reinstated: and the club did not do it by itself. It was able to stay in the main league because the big picture was changed by “triple average calculations” after Antalyaspor defeated Ankaragücü 1-0.
INSTITUTIONALIZATION IS THE KEY
The example of Gençlerbirliği will be very helpful for us to be able to understand the paradoxes and chaotic events and details that we will see. Besides, a series of positive developments have enabled Turkish soccer, specifically some Anatolian clubs to tidy up. The most important positive development is that the revenues coming from TV live broadcasts, which are the main revenue of soccer clubs, are now distributed more equally. The Big Four (namely, Beşiktaş, Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Trabzonspor) were very dominant regarding these revenues in the past. Now it has all changed. More money flows in to the Anatolian clubs. Up until the end of the last decade, some of the clubs were run by people who had problems because of their poor business and financial conduct. In parallel to world-wide efforts, good examples and patterns of accountability, significant steps are being taken to fight against such elements. Although we are still far from the ideal point, we all see and know that notorious people do not run the clubs anymore. Most of the Anatolian clubs have suffered from further problems that stemmed from bad administration. Their administration did not know how to make soccer player transfers, how to execute other operations or how to increase the revenues. They were expected to solve all financial problems with their own money. Now this has changed. For example, Mecnun Odyakmaz, who has recently been hailed as one the best club presidents, has no money but he really knows how to manage a soccer of club. Considering the great contributions of its coach Bülent Uygun, we can say that Sivasspor is a noteworthy example indicating just how successful an Anatolian club can be, thanks to the placement of two men who are right for the job. Here, we cannot help asking: “What will happen when they leave?” Significant steps must be taken in the road to ‘institutionalization’ so that we can confidently talk about a real rise of not only Sivasspor but also of Anatolian soccer as a whole. Kayserispor seems to be the best club in terms of institutionalization. The club progressed with its application to hire a general manager, known as the “sports director” in other clubs, initiated by Süleyman Hurma. Kayserispor completed the construction of its stadium last year and now it has the potential to be well ahead of other Anatolian clubs. We all expect higher scores and a string of successes from the club. Kayserispor’s stadium construction has also been something of a pioneering move, and many Anatolian clubs are now constructing their own stadiums.
SCORES ARE CHANGING
In fact, the most important development indicating the rise of Anatolian soccer in the last two seasons was the series of victories won against the Big Three (Beşiktaş, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe). When Anatolian clubs were to play in the Şükrü Saraçoğlu, Ali Sami Yen and İnönü stadiums, everyone knew about their defeats beforehand and these matches’ scores were not more than a loose record in the past. However, in the last two seasons Anatolian clubs have played and won incredible matches in Istanbul. For example, Ankaraspor and Sivasspor were successful against Beşiktaş. Fenerbahçe was thoroughly defeated by Kayserispor. Galatasaray let in five goals from the relegated Kocaelispor and was defeated by Eskişehirspor who were playing with only 10 players. And all of these were amazing games, too.
The most vivid part of this story of Anatolia’s ‘rise’ in the last season was that the fight for championship continued until its last week, with two Anatolian teams in running. Trabzonspor got very close to its championship target after more than two decades, and Sivasspor almost became the 5th champion of the Super League. Yet, there is a paradox that needs to be considered here. Sivasspor received 73 points in the league last season but could barely manage 4th position. But this season it got the chance to compete in the Championship League by being the 2nd with only 66 points, even though it received 7 points less.
Here, we should talk about a luck factor which generally goes unnoticed. Amazing points scored by other Anatolian teams against Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş enabled Trabzonspor and Sivasspor to be in the game up to the very end.
BEING BEST AT HOME
Anatolian clubs still have a very long way to go before they will be able to meet the UEFA criteria which must have been applied by 2007. The only example for a modern stadium is Kayseri Kadir Has Stadium. Anatolian clubs have problems with their facilities and equity capital flow. They still have huge budget deficits and debts. One of the most irritating paradoxes is that many clubs still have big expectations from politicians. While it is said that politics should not be involved in sports, these clubs frequently ask for help from politicians. In fact we all know that politics and politicians play a significant role in enabling clubs, specifically big clubs, to reach sizeable governmental subsidies or to get other resources. Maybe the biggest problem for Anatolian teams on the road to progress is that they cannot be the number one in their own cities. Except for Trabzonspor, Anatolian clubs’ teams are not the most loved and supported teams in their homes. We may like to exclude Bursa, Sivas and Eskişehir - a bit – from this statement, but that’s it! This is really a big problem preventing Anatolian teams from growing. And because of this, they play their matches to empty tribunes, which is another big issue.
Still, they are in the process of rising thanks to many factors, including more rational and modern patterns of administration, more careful and balanced player transfers, and no acceptance of defeat beforehand in big matches. The opportunities and resources required to continue progressing are obvious. It is not easy to say that Anatolian soccer teams can do what the ‘Anatolian Tigers’ did in business. Luckily, however, we see that the huge and seemingly impassable obstacles of the past are being overcome, one by one.
ES-ES LED THE WAY
By far, the most successful Anatolian team is Trabzonspor. The claret and blue team stormed Turkish soccer between the second half of the 1970s and the early 1980s. It won six championships as well as many cups, and was also very successful in Europe. Trabzonspor is seen as one of the Big Four rather than as an Anatolian team. In order to understand this, we should examine the Super League successes of other Anatolian teams: Before the rise of Trabzonspor, the Anatolian team that got closest to the championship was Eskişehirspor. “Es Es” while the first three ranks had been held by the Big Three for years, in the 1968-1969 season came 2nd after Galatasaray with just a 3 point difference. It came 2nd again in the following season. The red and black team, which stormed the league with a great striker trio comprised of Nihat, Fethi and Önder, was down to 4th rank in the 1970-71 season, but it came 2nd again in the following season. It became the longest-running serious competitor for the championship by completing the seasons of 1972-73 and 1973-74 in the 3rd rank. Eskişehirspor left the stage to Trabzonspor after the 1975-76 season. In addition to Göztepe’s and Altay’s first rank experiences, we cannot deny the great successes of Adanaspor, which came 2nd in the 1980-81 season, Samsunspor, which came 3rd in the 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons, and Malatyaspor and again Samsunspor, which came respectively 3rd and 4th in the 1987-88 season. Bursaspor, Zonguldakspor, Boluspor and Gaziantepspor also pushed for the 3rd rank and they have come 4th on a number of occasions.
YIĞIDOS AT A CRITICAL POINT
The rise of Sivasspor in Turkish league has been one of the hot points of the agenda for the last three seasons. The Red and White team came 8th in the Turkcell Super League in the 2005-06 season, and it rose from 7th rank to 4th. Then, it completed the last season in 2nd rank. Two men have played a great role in the success story of the team, which once was a candidate for relegation. These are President Mecnun Odyakmaz and Coach Bülent Uygun. Sivasspor, which managed to defeat its giant rivals despite its limited budget and resources, is rather troubled this season due to its movement of change. This movement, initiated by their coach Bülent Uygun, is about the passion for challenge. He has been successful to a certain degree by keeping the last season’s team, but he did not want it and he renewed almost everything.However, he was quite unprepared for Anderlecht. The team’s performance worsened when Captain Mehmet Yılmaz and Sezer Badur had to leave the already unsettled squad due to injuries. Sivasspor showed its capacity to overcome this setback by defeating Anderlecht in the second match, but it was shaken once again with a defeat against Trabzonspor. Sivasspor’s next season seems to be balancing on the edge of a knife. If the team keeps on being successful, Uygun’s challenge makes more sense and it could even be a model for the Turkish league. The Yiğidos currently have many responsibilities on their shoulders.