Galatasaray must modernise or die

The sword of Damocles hangs over the Bosphorus like the fog that, come winter, clings to every street in Istanbul. For Galatasaray, it is unseen, unheard and unknown.

For manager Hamza Hamzaoğlu, who with recent victory in the Süper Kupa won his third trophy of his nine month tenure, the very idea seems laughable. But it is there, nevertheless.


It is a common axiom that pride comes before a fall. Not far from Istanbul it was Paris’ greatest success, his capture of Helen of Sparta, which prompted the destruction of Troy.

The Lions would do well to heed the warnings of classical mythology: success may be comforting but it is no guarantee against collapse. Galatasaray must modernise or die.

The glee with which Fenerbahçe’s elimination from the Champion’s League in the qualifying rounds was greeted by Galatasaray fans is hardly surprising, particularly given that it came at the hands of a Shakhtar Donetsk side managed by former Lions’ manager Mircea Lucescu. Come December, however, this may be cold comfort.

For a team who pride themselves on being Avrupa Fatihi, the Conquerors of Europe, the Champion’s League is the biggest stage of all. Historical, cultural, political, intellectual and sporting aspirations swirl in a powerful milieu to create that most addictive feeling of all: desire. It has been some time, however, since any Turkish team conquered Europe.

In 2013, Galatasaray acclaimed themselves with a 3-2 victory over Real Madrid at the Türk Telekom Arena that saw their exit in the quarter-final tempered by pride in their performance. In the past five years, Madrid, Manchester United and Schalke have all found themselves victims of the Avrupa Fatihi in Turkey.

Last season, Galatasaray finished bottom of their group with only a point to their name, unable to overcome even European minnows Anderlecht in two attempts. It is a sign of the importance of Europe to Turkish fans that it was this humiliation that prompted the costly sacking of Cesare Prandelli.

Yet whilst Hamza Hamzaoğlu might have turned things around domestically, Galatasaray are kidding themselves if they are pretending to have reclaimed their mantle of Conquerors of Europe.

Come December, it may well be the turn of Fenerbahçe fans to laugh at Galatasaray and their conceit, entering Europe so confident only to leave so despondent.

Recently, I argued that Turkish football is at a crossroads, with a golden opportunity to become Europe’s new emergent powerhouse. Despite the recent attack on Mehmet Topal, I continue to stand by this. Nevertheless, the alternative to success for Galatasaray is not mediocrity: it is disaster.

There are serious structural problems with Turkish football, encapsulated perhaps above all by the Istanbul club. Despite prolonged exposure to the commercialised world of European football, Turkish clubs often remain an impenetrable web of vested interests, an old boys’ clique interested more in political machinations and self-promotion than success.

Almost all of Galatasaray’s directors, for instance, continue to be drawn from alumni of the Galatasaray Lisesi, one single high school, which retains almost as predominant a position as it had in the days of the club’s founding in 1905.

This is not rule by men of talent but rather by men seeking to carve themselves fiefs out of the flesh of Galatasaray as if they are the same Sultans and beys who ruled in the days of the club’s birth. A presidential vote at the Istanbul club is more reminiscent of a Papal election, shrouded in mystery and superstition, than anything democratic.


Success is largely by chance. Occasionally, this impervious college of would-be pashas is pierced by a man of genuine ability. Such was Ünal Aysal, a man whose presidency from 2011 to 2014 coincided with the club’s most fruitful years in Europe.

This was a leader with a genuine vision, of modernity and European integration, a man who looked more to Atatürk than to the Sultans of old. Under his leadership came Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, paragons both of a new age.

This age would not last. Come today, Dursun Özbek’s tenure represents everything that is wrong with Turkish football. The average age of Galatasaray’s last three chairmen at their time of ascendancy has been 71.

Contrast this with the same figure for the last three presidents of Champion’s League winners Barcelona, which stands almost three decades lower at the positively juvenile age of 46. Özbek is 66.

He too is a graduate of the Galatasaray Lisesi but has far less vision than Ünal Aysal. Rather, Özbek has deepened the introverted climate of Galatasaray. Whereas Fenerbahçe’s have signed Robin van Persie, Nani, Simon Kjær and Diego Ribas in the past two seasons, Lukas Podolski is the only player signed by Hamza Hamzaoğlu well known outside of Turkey.

Nevertheless, if Galatasaray are to advance, they need to be more than Turkish. They need to be European. They need to be international. Car hire firm Garenta may have just agreed a deal to sponsor Galatasaray to the tune of a million euros a year for three years but when Manchester United agree a deal with Adidas averaging over a hundred million euros a year, this seems small change.

Despite having twice as many followers on Twitter as Bayern Munich, Galatasaray similarly struggle to attract shirt sponsors in a way that their European rivals do not.

If sponsorship is not the means of modernisation, then, emergent markets are. Despite their disproportionately large fanbase outside of Turkey, aided by a large Turkish diaspora in countries like Germany, there are no lucrative pre-season tours, no attempts to unlock new markets in the Far East, no intention of spreading the Galatasaray brand.

There is no real choice: it is modernisation or death. Galatasaray will continue to worsen in Europe unless they arrest their decline now. Modernisation entails a wholesale renovation of the club structure, to open it to men of talent and not of background, an emphasis on business over politics and investment in new players.

Currently, there is little stability. The transfer saga surrounding Felipe Melo came to a head with the manager saying that that the Brazilian had signed a contract extension at the same time as the player denied it.


Hamzaoğlu expressed admiration for Ozan Tufan just hours before he signed for Fenerbahçe. Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Sivasspor saw Sabri Sarıoğlu, who the club saw fit to give a hugely improved contract this summer, put in a pitiful performance. And this just in the last week alone.

But with this, mismanagement would no longer become an option. For all his brilliant service and sometimes surprising fidelity to Galatasaray, icon Wesley Sneijder is entering the last year of his contract.

Özbek has allowed a situation where the darling of the Türk Telekom Arena might be allowed to depart at the end of this season on a free transfer. For Galatasaray, the implications of this are unthinkable.

Modernisation is the only route, for Galatasaray, out of a quickening journey towards European irrelevance. If Galatasaray wish to avoid the harsh laughter of Fenerbahçe fans now and in the future, the club must realise that it stands at a crossroads, offering a Manichean choice between light and darkness.

Two paths lay open, each as avoidable as the other: one is modernisation, the other is death. Only with the former will the Lions roar again.

The Author

Thomas Wyer

Student and football fan. Aspiring Guillem Balague but have more in common with Chris Kamara. Managing to support both Ipswich and Galatasaray which, like being indifferent to marmite, makes me a bit of an oddity.

11 thoughts on “Galatasaray must modernise or die

  1. I’m a Galatasaray fan and this is one of the most enlighting articles I read for a while. Pretty much the summary of what’s going on and will go on in the near future. And forget the rest of the world, Galatasaray loses credibility even in Turkey.

  2. Even though i liked the article, i am not fully agreed with it. Unal Aysal did some good things as well as some terrible things. The money that he spent on some players just after signing with Mancini was awful. Even though he spent 43 million euros, it is hard to say other than telles and bruma, there is any valuable players inbetween all players he brought into club. As he said he doesnt know football, he proved it perfectly. Dursun Ozbek tries to bring some financial relief to club, i am sure he would be happy to bring players like dani alves, gignac, zlatan and so on. At the end of the day, he is not making money saving money for the club. He was candidate for presidency because he was a big fan himself whereas Unal Aysal was looking for something to help his ego. Let me remind another thing important thing that UnalAysal left precidency without any good reason, actually it is better if we say he run away from tbe club because of deteorrinating financial situation. All in all, it is so early to question dursun ozbek this way. Lets give himsome time andquestion later.

  3. Thanks both, very much appreciate it. Ayhan: not sure I agree. At the end of the day, I’m not bothered about Ünal Aysal’s ego, I’m bothered about his effect on the club. Bear in mind that under Ünal Aysal, Galatasaray signed Selçuk, Felipe Melo, Elmander, Ujfaluši, Muslera, Eboué, Burak, Sneijder, Chedjou, Bruma and Alex Telles, which might have cost €50m but few would question any of that other than, perhaps, €10m for Bruma. These were all good signings and ones that raised the profile of Galatasaray. If Dursun Özbek is a Galatasaray fan then that’s all well and good, but his effect on the club has been poor. He’s had plenty of time already – considering his mismanagement, poor (no) transfers and lack of professional sense, I’d say that he’s on borrowed time already.

  4. Could you be Turkish by any chance or are you simply spending too much time in the Turkish district of your town ?
    I guess it’s more the former than the latter as Turkish immigrants tend to not know the inner workings of GS that well.

    Attempting to describe modernization through rivals big signings and daring to use Ünal Aysal in an analogy to Atatürk is laughable though. It’s actually a lot worse than that when you do realize that the guy simply deserted the place after emptying the clubs treasury room.

    I checked your tweets and such, I guess you can do better than simply translating as your English seems to be sufficient for that. Because “Hamza & Bilal Kısa, will make of GS the new Akhisar” isn’t popular enough to be Summer Hit 2015.

  5. Mesut: I’m not Turkish! My point isn’t that big signings alone = modernisation – it’s that embracing a worldwide pool of footballing talent is a fundamental component of this. Similarly, I think you’re being very unfair on Ünal Aysal. If there was €100m in the treasury room then yes, Ünal would spend €100m but in the hope that this would mean that, next year, Galatasaray would make €200m. Right now, Dursun Özbek won’t spend €10m because he’s afraid of what it’ll feel like to only have €90m in the bank. Who’s better?

    Not sure what you mean by the last bit – my Tweets are only in English, I’m not doing any translating! Nor have I tweeted anything like that. Are you confusing me saying that Hamza needs to realise that there’s a world outside of Akhisar?

  6. I am impressed with your knowledge about Galatasaray actually. Not much foreigners know as much as you about club’s board. Even though i support your ideas about Ünal Aysal, i should say that i am not with your critism about selection of board. In Turkey, it is easy to obtain power from outside if you have enough money. A club like Galatasaray should be protected and it’s own rules and structure protects itself from pragmatic people. If you need more detail i can supply also. Overall this writing was objective and supportive for Galatasaray. Would like to see more.

  7. Great article, Tom.

    I’m also a Galatasaray supporter however I’m not sure that the direction the board is taking is the right one. You brought up a good point with regards to expanding and spreading the GS brand, particularly in the Far East and North America. The fact that the pre-season is largely an “off” period for the club is quite frightening especially when you look at some of the other major European clubs and how they handle their pre-season preparations. I don’t mean training camps and the like. Signing a player who is well known world wide is all fine and dandy, however it is about more than just that. Besides putting in consistent performances in Europe, they need to do more to make the GS brand more recognizable and appealing. It would also benefit Turkish football as a whole.

    For example, look at what the Italians did this summer; hosted the Super Cup final in Shanghai, China. The event was a success in terms of attendance. They have been hosting their SC final around the world for years. The French have done the same. They held their Super Cup final in my country (Canada) this year. In fact they have been hosting their Super Cup finals all across the globe for the past several years with great success, regardless of the participants (big names or not). The Turks have done that only a few times and that was several years ago (mainly in Germany). If you look at the attendance numbers when the final has been hosted abroad, they have been very promising, especially when you consider the fact that the Turkish league is not in the top 5 in Europe.

    Affiliations with organizations, clubs and other institutions (sporting related or not) is a must in order to spread the GS brand. The Far East is a huge market, not to mention North America. The board needs to focus and do more than trying to appeal just to the Turkish diaspora abroad (even though they play a crucial part).

    Nevertheless, I do think the future for GS and Turkish football is bright, however a lot more needs to be done if they are to achieve their goal (which seems to be to break into the elite of Europe).

  8. Gorkem: Thanks, but I’m not sure I agree about the board. Who exactly is the structure protecting against? At the end of the day, I’d prefer a pragmatic owner prepared to invest money in the club over a board composed of Galatasaray supporters tight on the purse strings. In 2015 Galatasaray needs to be open for business to a far greater extent than it is now to get anywhere at all.

    IK: Thank you. I agree – I perhaps wouldn’t go as far as to suggest holding the Super Cup overseas, as they do in Italy, because I’m very much a fan of keeping the league in its country of origin. At the end of the day, clubs have a key role in the community and are bastions of local identity and it is the people in the community who embody this who first and foremost should get the chance to see their team. Nevertheless, I completely agree that pre-season tours and the like are a must.

  9. I think Gorkem is referring to the clubs being run as amateur clubs at this moment. There’s no structure or long term strategy. Yes I would also prefer an owner/president who is willing to invest but in Turkey any money spent, esp. ifnit is your own, is a waist because the next president will wipe out everything the former president did and will start over with his ideas and “vision”.

    I agree with your opinion on Unal Aysal. He had a vision and looked beyond the borders.

    And yes he did spent a lot of money but he also generated a lot more income e.g. sponsor deals, ads, merchandise etc.

    Great article btw.

  10. Thanks SI, I appreciate that.

    Fair point about incoming presidents – but the same could be said of Barcelona, and they manage to find a way!

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