The success of Sivsspor threatens to break the stranglehold of Turkey’s big four clubs.
Mehmet Demircan in Istanbul
The Sivasspor success story continues. A 1-0 win over Eskisehirspor last weekend maintained their three-point lead at the top of the Turkish Super League and kept them on course for a surprise first championship title.
It’s all a far cry from two years ago, when Bulent Uygun took over as coach following the sacking of Slovakian Karol Pecze. At the time nobody in Turkey could ever have imagined that the red and whites would achieve such success. But, fans of the club from the city of Sivas, far east of Istanbul, are now entitled to dream of becoming the first club from outside Turkey’s big four – Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, Besiktas and Trabzonspor – to win the championship.
Two years ago, Bulent Uygun, a former Turkey international who was the Turkish league’s top scorer in 1993-94 and had ended his playing career with Sivasspor, was the club’s general manager. He had no coaching experience but the Sivasspor board, led by ambitious young chairman Mecnun Otyakmaz, gambled on his appointment.
A year ago, when Sivasspor led the league during the autumn, only to trail off in the second half of the season, the gamble looked to have paid off. But to maintain their challenge, Sivasspor needed money to make big-name signings.
The club found itself facing a financial shortfall. Otyakmaz even appealed to the Turkish government to bail them out. “Istanbul is a big city with a big economy, but Sivas is small, we have no sponsors, no big ticket sales and no merchandising. The government should boost us with a financial package,” he said.
The bailout never happened and the second part of the league campaign ended just as the previous 50 years, with a familiar name, Galatasaray, as champions, but with Sivasspor surprisingly fourth.
After a brief spell in the InterToto cup, the red and whites started this season completely focused on the Super League. They once again rose to first place, becoming the first team from outside the big four to be top at the winter break. The club managed to hold on to players like striker Mehmet Yildiz, Muhammet, Pini Balili and Musa, and also signed Cameroonian Herve Tum and Brazilian defender Bilica. They were joined last month by French striker Yannick Kamanan, signed from Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Sivasspor’s success has been dubbed the “Anatolian Fire” after the wider region of Anatolia where Sivas is located. The team’s success can be attributed to hard work and solid defence. They can also rely on the vociferous support of the home crowd in Sivas. The 15,000-capacity 4 Eylul stadium is almost always full, even in the winter when the temperature drops to minus five. The support is reflected in the statistics: Sivasspor lost only their first home game of the season and are now unbeaten in 10 games in a row.
Another big factor has been the way coach Uygun prepares his players for big games. Uygun sees nothing wrong with calling on former national team coaches Fatih Terim and Mustafa Denizli for advice.
“I am not ashamed to do this,” Uygun concedes, “because these two coaches have a lot of national and international experience. I go along with that. I have to learn more but I believe in myself and I think that one day I come back to Turkey with the Champions League or the UEFA Cup. I just don’t know with which team.”
Such comments suggest Uygun has ambitions to coach in Istanbul. For now, though, he is concentrating on working for Sivas, where he has done a great job holding a team together on a budget of less than £5million.
In fact, he has created a new fifth force in Turkish football. All the evidences suggests Sivasspor have got what it takes to be champions at the season’s end.