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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Galatasaray At The Abyss

When one thinks of Galatasaray, one thinks of success. Galatasaray are one of the most successful clubs in Turkish football. Even if one knows nothing else about the sport in Turkey, people will most likely have heard of Galatasaray. With their success domestically and in Europe, it's hard to imagine Galatasaray having a bad season. But yet, this season has not been kind to Galatasaray.

For the first time since Turkish professional top flight football was established in 1959, Galatasaray has suffered eleven losses in a season. Previously, they had suffered ten losses in a season three times, occurring in the 1969-70, 1981-82, and 2003-04 seasons. But they have never suffered 11 losses until now, and the season isn't even two-thirds of the way finished.

It has been a hard fall for a club that has been associated with success. The woes of this season started with a Europa League qualifying round elimination by Ukrainian outfit Karpaty Lviv. It's been nothing but downhill from there. Frank Rijkaard, the previous manager of Galatasaray, only lasted eight weeks in this current Turkish Super League season, having been sacked before the derby match against Fenerbahçe. Galatasaray had a record of four wins and four losses at that time. Gheorghe Hagi was brought in to salvage the season. With Hagi being a Galatasaray legend, many expected that he would turn things around. He started off well getting a 0-0 draw against Fenerbahçe on the road. But things have not worked out since then.

Since Hagi took over managerial duties, Galatasaray has a record of six wins, two draws, and seven losses. It begs to be asked what would have happened if Rijkaard wasn't sacked so early in the season. Hagi had previously managed Galatasaray in the past, but without success. But there is far more to this than meets the eye.

Perhaps one of the worst kept secrets in Turkish football is that Galatasaray has been in massive debt for more than a decade. While their rivals have enjoyed success in the country, it seems that Galatasaray has fallen to the third best team in Istanbul, falling behind big 3 rivals Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş. Although Galatasaray won a UEFA Cup in 2000, capping off a run of four straight Turkish league titles, they are currently living off past glories. Sure Galatasaray has won three league titles between 2001 and 2010, but they are currently mired in debt. They had to have their new stadium, Turk Telekom Arena, built almost entirely with taxpayer money, funded by the Turkish Housing Development Administration.

So what is wrong with Galatasaray this season? Have the players not lived up to expectations? Is it because of player injuries? Is it the manager? There's a good argument to be made that Hagi should never have been hired in the first place, considering his last run with Galatasaray before this season never worked out. Is it the pressures of fans expecting a league championship every year? All of those are good answers. However, this season might have been expected if one were to take a long term look at the club. The real reason for Galatasaray's lack of success this season has been long-term mismanagement of the club. A season such as the one Galatasaray is going through currently, it can be argued, was bound to happen.

As noted earlier, Galatasaray is in major debt, and has been for more than a decade. This is due to the free-wheeling spending under the chairmanship of Faruk Suren. Galatasaray won four consecutive Turkish league titles between 1996 and 2000, and peaked with the UEFA Cup triumph in the year 2000. Galatasaray needed to spend a lot of money in order to stay at the top of the heap. After Suren stepped down as chairman, Mehmet Cansun succeeded him. Coming after a successful period was a hard act to follow, and Cansun was replaced by the late Ozhan Canaydin. Canaydin tried to stop the financial bleeding as much as he could, by limiting the transfer money spent on acquiring new players. He tried to do his best considering the financial restraints on the club. It didn't seem to work, as many fans had always complained about the way Galatasaray was run under his chairmanship tenure. The fans had called for him to resign many times due to the way he was running the club. Canaydin has to be given credit as he tried to assuage the financial bleeding, as much as Galatasaray fans hated him and his reign.

With current chairman Adnan Polat taking over in 2008 it seemed that Galatasaray was back to its free spending ways. Galatasaray spent more money than they should have been capable of spending. They had doled out much cash in order to acquire players to win them league championships and other trophies, and not selling players in order to keep the finances even. This season they decided to scale back on money and brought in players that were mediocre or above-average at best, and sold some players. Perhaps they tried to take a page out of the Bursaspor championship playbook, which was to spend less for quality players. When the start of the season turned out to be bad, they then decided to get a playmaker in Zvezijdan (sic) Misimovic, but that transfer has been nothing but a disaster. The way that transfer worked out is not Misimovic's fault by the way.

So how does this storied club end up the way it has? How did Galatasaray get to the point where they are a mid-table team with a record number of losses in a season? The club only has itself to blame. Mismanagement of the club for many years has now led up to this low point in the season, and the season isn't over yet. How low can Galatasaray go? It's scary to say, but relegation from the Turkish Super League could be a possibility in the coming years. This year they are safe, there's now way that Galatasaray will be relegated. Sadly for Galatasaray, it may take relegation from the Turkish Super League for the club to start over from scratch. That is the absolute worst case scenario. They should start over from scratch now, but considering that this is a Turkish club, and an Istanbul big 3 club to boot, that won't happen until their worst fears are realized. If it has to take relegation in order for Galatasaray to revamp the way they do business on and off the field of play, then that will have to be the necessary spark in order for Galatasaray to get their house in order.

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