The Super League in Turkey is shaping up for a thrilling second half of the season after third-place Fenerbahce’s 2-0 victory over top-of-the-table Trabzonspor cut the difference between the two of them to four points.
However, events off the field have proved far more newsworthy since the turn of the year – notably the problems facing Galatasaray.
Down in 10th place and 17 points behind Trabzonspor, Galatasaray had hoped that the opening of their new stadium would provide a positive start to 2011. The new home, the Turk Telekom Arena, was the brainchild of former club president Ozhan Canaydin, who died last year.
Canaydin managed to get the new arena built without spending any club funds after striking a deal with the government-controlled housing corporation TOKI, who took over the site of the old Ali Sami Yen Stadium for development and built the new 53,000-seat ground near Istanbul’s Trans-European Motorway.
Ali Sami Yen – famously nicknamed “Hell” – will be remembered as one of the most intimidating venues in the European game. However, its modern-era capacity of 22,800 was a stumbling block for the Istanbul club’s lofty ambitions and a move to a new stadium offered a bright future – or so the directors thought.
Prime minister’s speech
The Turk Telekom Arena was opened with a friendly against an Ajax side featuring Luis Suarez in one of his last appearances before he joined Liverpool. The opening ceremony was attended by numerous VIPs and government ministers, and the plan was for Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to make a speech in which he would declare the new, government-backed stadium to be Galatasaray’s reward for their success in European competition.
However, he never got to make his speech. TOKI president Erdogan Bayraktar inflamed Gala supporters in his address beforehand by suggesting that the government had bailed out the club from a “helpless situation”. He called on the fans to thank the prime minister – who is a Fenerbahce supporter – for saving the day and his words sparked uproar as loud booing and hissing echoed round the arena.
The response of the prime minister was to walk out, along with the other VIPs, including Galatasaray president Adnan Polat, who said later: “We will review the police video footage and we will not allow those who protested against the prime minister into our new stadium.”
Polat’s words prompted a storm of criticism, while prime minister Erdogan’s response did little to diffuse the crisis.
“Galatasaray did not spend a dime for the construction of the stadium,” said Erdogan. “Our investments in the stadium totalled 600million Turkish lira [£235million]. We did not deserve such a protest.”
Polat has so far seen off any attempts by disgruntled club members to unseat him, and insists that he is running the club along the right lines, but results on the pitch still leave a lot to be desired.
Two years ago Frank Rijkaard was brought in as coach, but he was sacked in October after a poor start to the current campaign. His replacement, Romanian icon Gheorghe Hagi, has fared little better, losing five of his first 11 games in charge.
Hagi’s appointment followed the familiar pattern of recent seasons in which star names are signed, then dismissed, and then replaced by more star names.
Instability reigns at Galatasaray – and while they may have a new stadium, the old habits remain. l