Century-old Ankaragücü in desperate bid to stay alive

Century-old Ankaragücü in desperate bid to stay alive

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Century-old Ankaragücü in desperate bid to stay alive

Ankaragücü managed to hold title contender Beşiktaş to a goalless draw on Jan 8. The team is sitting on the bottom of the Super League standings but has some cause for hope after two positive results. AA photo

A few hours after Ankaragücü clung on to a goalless draw against Beşiktaş Jan. 8, the team’s winger Turgut Doğan Şahin learned he was “sold.” Chairman Sami Altınyuva agreed to terms with Gaziantepspor for 1.3 million Turkish Liras, but the transfer would not end so smoothly.

Arguably the best Ankaragücü player, after a crazy month of outgoing transfers, Şahin was someone the struggling team could not afford to lose. Club manager Hikmet Hancıoğlu immediately contacted Şahin and “kidnapped” him to avoid the 23-year-old signing a contract with Gaziantepspor.

Actually, Şahin was free to go anywhere, just as 12 of his teammates did in the last month as cash-strapped Ankaragücü has failed to pay its team since the start of the season. While Altınyuva insisted they should let the player go in order to breathe some life into the club’s ailing finances, coach Hakan Kutlu was against the idea. “I want Turgut with the team,” he said. “Even if we are to sell him, he is worth at least 3 million.”

The remaining 13 members of the board, except the chairman, did not welcome Altınyuva’s approach and Jan. 9 applied to the public notary with an application that the chairman would not have the only say regarding a transfer. This highly unusual act of rebellion against the chairman of a Turkish football team deprived Altınyuva of the power to sell the player to Gaziantepspor. However, Şahin did not actually want to leave; at least not to Gaziantepspor.

“I do not want to go to Gaziantepspor; I haven’t signed anything and I won’t,” he said. “I know Galatasaray is after me. Either I stay here at Ankaragücü or I go to Galatasaray.”

Throughout the last month, virtually every team in the league has approached Ankaragücü as if it were an all-you-can-eat buffet, something Altınyuva openly criticized. He attended the Union of Clubs meeting last week, only to hit out at fellow chairmen and leave. “They knew we were in a dire situation and promised they would not approach our players,” he said. “These promises were not kept.”

After achieving just seven points in 17 matches, the only way seemed to be down for the club, but even after the departure of key players, they beat the odds; coach Kutlu, promoting several players from the reserve squad, saw his boys beat Mersin İdman Yurdu 2-1 on the opening day of the second part of the season and hold title-contender Beşiktaş to a goalless draw.

Limited squad
“I have 18 players in my squad, no 19th,” Kutlu, a legend who spent his whole playing career with Ankaragücü, said after the Mersin win.

The club is now in such a state, fans have decided to take over. After the Mersin game, they started an online campaign to pay the players’ winning bonus, because the board was unable to do it. In only a few days, they collected about 30,000 Turkish Liras before the Beşiktaş game to be delivered to the players.

Ankaragücü fans are some of the most dedicated in the country and only two years ago they were dreaming about a Super League title in the club’s centennial. They had a good squad and dared to chase after Bursaspor to become the first team outside Istanbul to win the national title in more than a quarter of a century. But they are now forced to see their team play for honor and stage the unlikeliest of bids to survive in the top flight.

Despite appearances, Altınyuva is not the villain of this story. He even sold his Ferrari to stem hemorrhaging finances and “inspire other leading people in the Ankaragücü community.”

Actually, the young chairman is a man left between the endless power struggle between former chairmen Cemal Aydın and Ahmet Gökçek, the son of Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek. Aydın led the club for the better part of the last two decades but was overthrown after the Gökçeks staged an unlikely merger with Ankaraspor.

Melih Gökçek was the chairman of Ankaraspor before a Turkish Football Federation (TFF) ruling barred mayors from managing clubs, but he continued to serve the club as an honorary boss. Then, in 2009, Ahmet Gökçek took over the Ankaragücü hot seat, and the father and son injected funds and players of wealthy but rootless Ankaraspor into the famous but ill-financed Ankaragücü. The deals continued until the TFF ruled the merger was damaging competition in the division and forcibly relegated Ankaraspor.

However, Aydın toppled Gökçek with a court ruling. Gökçek stepped down, but the new board could not solve the woes. Even though the club can keep hold of Şahin, its survival will be a tougher job, requiring solutions probably much more drastic than selling a Ferrari.