Basaksehir, a Turkish champion who owes a lot to Erdogan
Bilal Erdogan (son of President Erdogan) celebrating the championship.
The Istanbul Basaksehir club became Turkish champion on Sunday for the first time in its history. An unprecedented coronation which owes a lot to the massive investments of Turkish power in this “…
Basaksehir became the sixth club in Turkey to win the professional championship on Sunday, joining Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe, Besiktas, Trabzonspor and Bursaspor. A consecration for this former “small club” in Istanbul, which owes a lot to the recent investments of relatives of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Its history dates back to 2014. That year, the Büyüksehir Belediyespor from Istanbul joined the Süper Lig, the first Turkish division. In the process, this club, which had previously belonged to the municipality of Istanbul, was sold to relatives of the AKP, the political party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. By the way, he changed his name by moving to the Basaksehir district, stronghold of the AKP.
There are many links with Turkish power: the club is sponsored by Medipol, a private hospital group led by President Erdogan’s personal doctor, Farhettin Koca, and the new stadium is built by Kayon Grup, specializing in the construction of state infrastructure . Finally, the new president is Güksel Gümüsdag, who is none other than the husband of a niece of the president.
“The Basaksehir neighborhood fully reflects Erdogan’s strategy on the Basaksehir club. He created this neighborhood in the 90s when he felt that the Islamist lifestyle was dominated by the modern and secular lifestyle of Istanbul. He presented it as the epicenter of his cultural project which replaces the old cultural centers of the city, Beyoglu, Besiktas and Kadikoy. Today he does the same with the club: he tries to replace the tradition of these big clubs by Basaksehir “, explains Daghan Iraq, lecturer at the University of Huddersfield (United Kingdom) and author of the book” Football Fandom, Protest and Democracy: Supporter Activism in Turkey “, (football fans, demonstrations and democracy: supporters’ activism in Turkey) interviewed by France TV sport.
Erdogan sets a hat-trick for the inauguration of the new stadium
Basaksehir now evolves in orange – random or not, the same colors as the AKP – and takes up residence in its new home, the Fatih Terim stadium. Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself was on the field on July 26, 2014 for the opening match in the new stadium.
The passion for football of the then Prime Minister of Turkey is not new. He evolved to a semi-pro level in his youth in Kasimpasa and was even nicknamed “imam Beckenbauer”. And for his appearance in Basarksehir’s jersey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan even scored a hat-trick. His jersey – number 12 because he was the favorite to become the 12th president of Turkey – was removed from the team, a tradition usually reserved for club legends.
Basaksehir then knew a dazzling rise in power under the leadership, in particular, of the former trainer of the Turkish selection, Abdullah Avci. The Istanbul club also benefits from the financial perfusion of investors which, coupled with the relaxation of the quota of foreign players per club from 2015 (14 per club) and the strong increase in TV rights, allows the club to attract large European names on the decline.
Emmanuel Adebayor, Gaël Clichy, Robinho… In the champion squad this year, 18 of the 26 players are of foreign nationality. But the figurehead of the team remains Arda Turan, a true idol in Turkey and faithful support of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who came from FC Barcelona to join the club of the president.
A sporting victory in the absence of culture ?
In the past three seasons, the club has managed to mingle for the title alongside the other three giants – the Galatasaray lions, the Besiktas eagles and the Fenerbahçe canaries – before collapsing in the final days . The results are still positive since Basaksehir finished twice vice-champion in 2017 and 2019 and has played his first Europa League this season and will try to win a qualification for the quarter-finals in his return match against FC Copenhagen on August 5, after a first leg won 1 to 0.
However, if sporting success is there, the club is struggling to gain popularity. The Fatih Terim stadium always sounds hollow. The average attendance of its stadium does not exceed 3,000 people – the twelfth in Turkey – while it is designed for 17,000 people.
“We cannot either invent a club and push this club to popularity by using its political power. It was Erdogan’s goal with Basaksehir, but in Turkey, it does not work like that,” said Daghan Iraq. on France TV sport. “A citizen can fanatically support Erdogan politically and continue to support Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe or Besiktas. It is not incompatible.”
The Turkish academic believes that the foundations of this new power of Turkish football remain fragile:
“If one day Erdogan is no longer in power, Basaksehir will disappear. We have seen the example with Osmanlispor, the club of the mayor of Ankara Melih Gökçek, who was eliminated by Erdogan [he received in 2017 the order of Osmanlispor is now at the bottom of the second division while he was in the European Cup [Europa League in 2016, Editor’s note] “, warns Daghan Iraq. “It is the same for Basaksehir. There is no valid reason to continue investing in this club without Erdogan’s regime.”