‘Greek god’ Gekas saves Turkish team

‘Greek god’ Gekas saves Turkish team

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
‘Greek god’ Gekas saves Turkish team

Gekas, 32, here hailing fans with a ‘love’ sign, has become a hero in Turkish football after almost single-handedly saving minnows Akhisar from relegation. AA photo

Veteran striker Theofanis Gekas was already in the sporting annals as the first Greek footballer to ply his trade in Turkey. This year, he upped the ante and is now referred to as “a Greek god.”

The 32-year-old became a hero in Turkish football after almost single-handedly saving minnow Akhisar from relegation.

The Aegean team, hailing from a town in Manisa and with a population barely exceeding 100,000, survived in its first Spor Toto Super League season with a 2-0 win at Orduspor on May 18.

For many, it was a relief that Akhisar survived. As a team from the Super League’s smallest market, an outsider could wonder why so many neutrals were rooting for them. Akhisar tried to play positive football and in Hamza Hamzaoğlu, it had a soft-spoken and wise coach, highly unusual for the Super League standards.

But the centerpiece to why Akhisar won the hearts of neutrals was Gekas. The veteran, who became the first-ever Greek to play football in Turkey when he signed for Samsunspor in mid-season last year, showed again that he could turn things around in a few months.

Everyone in Turkey knew that he could score goals; he contributed to Samsunspor’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to survive with eight goals in 11 matches, but the Black Sea team went down, which was not unrelated to Gekas’s recent injury.

Respect for peers

In summer, the former Bayer Leverkusen, Eintracht Frankfurt and Panathinaikos forward went to Levante, but could find little playing time with the La Liga side. Akhisar offered him a chance to be a part of the club’s desperate survival bid, and Gekas said yes.

“We were a good team all along, but we had a problem scoring goals and Gekas provided that to us,” Hamzaoğlu said.

But for the 43-year-old, whose entire coaching career before Akhisar was with lower league clubs, it was not just Gekas’s statistics that brought him to the club.

“I have a huge respect for his career and goals,” Hamzaoğlu said. “But what brought him to Akhisar was that he shared his goal celebrations with his teammates.”

Halfway through the season, Akhisar was sitting rock bottom. The team had scored 12 goals at the expense of 26, and collected just 15 points. After Gekas arrived, Akhisar collected 27 points and scored a further 24 goals, half of them from the Greek marksman.

Last month, one fan on an NTV Spor show said Gekas was seen as a Greek god when he was walking around the city. This week, after Akhisar guaranteed their survival, it was reported that jerseys with his name on the back were sold out and that the club had ordered a new run of shirts. A video showing three fans converting a famous Sezen Aksu song, “Sitem,” into a Gekas eulogy racked up more than 140,000 views on YouTube in just a few days. The song, which claims Gekas is better than Zeus, became such a huge hit that a new version, this time featuring his teammates singing Gekas’ praises, emerged. It was shot in the dressing room on May 18 after the final whistle that ruled Akhisar would survive in the Super League.

In the footage, Gekas was seen sitting in a corner, humbly accepting his peers’ awe for him. With the same gestures that he had when he was accepting visiting Beşiktaş fans’ congratulatory ovation – by applauding them back. The game had ended in a 4-1 defeat for Beşiktaş, with Gekas having a double.

Hamzaoğlu said Gekas is a shy man and does not like giving interviews, “preferring his football do the talking instead.”

With a quiet personality that contrasts with his sniper-like relentlessness in the area and a lethal touch, Gekas deservedly became the surprising hero of another turbulent football season.