The President of Turkey had a chance to become a football player, but he had to obey the will of his father, who refused his transfer to the best club in the country. It is unlikely that Erdogan is unhappy with the way his life is going, but even now he does not see football without it. From the first days of his political career, he tried to influence the development of his favorite game and is now the owner of one of the leading clubs in the country.
He rejected Fenerbahçe’s offer because of his father.
The future president of Turkey was born in the family of a coast guard captain and did not even think about a political career. From an early age he had to earn money himself, either by selling water in traffic jams or reselling postcards he had bought for pocket money. He dreamed of a football career, and while archival records of his game are very difficult to find, he certainly had his earnings.
Erdogan talked about his brief but eventful stay in football in an interview he gave a few years ago. According to the politician, his path in sports began at the age of 15, when he, together with other teenagers, drove a homemade ball made of paper and cardboard in the garden. He then ended up in the amateur club Erokspor, which currently plays in the third strongest Turkish league. He also defended the colors of two more teams, “Kamialtıspor” and IETT SK, where he achieved significant success. In any case, Erdogan himself says. He also found a job in Kasımpaşa as a manager responsible for the inventory of the main team.
“In the 1970s, I was offered to move to Kamialti, one of the country’s leading amateur clubs in Yerokspor. I played there for 7 years, I was a striker. At the same time, I both studied and took part in infrastructure politics. Then I moved to IETT SK, where I got seven years. I played another year, we won five championships, I was captain. I remember how awful grassless pitches were back then. Only one red card in my career – for arguing with the referee, “Erdogan is nostalgic in an interview with NTVSpor.
In the same conversation, the politician explained why he had to end his career. Her mother was calm about her hobby, helped with the form, but her father was categorically against it. He always insisted that you have to work out, and sports just got distracted by it. Erdogan had to hide his passion for football even from his parents, but he still learned and was not satisfied.
Interestingly, he even received an invitation from Fenerbahçe, which in itself says a lot. However, his father remained determined, and soon Erdogan had to leave the sport for the sake of his studies and political career. True, many assume that this information was initiated by the president himself in 2003, when he was mayor of Istanbul and ran the country’s prime ministerial elections. Obviously, such a link to one of the most popular clubs should have added fan votes to it.
Fenerbahce can be the main
It is difficult to say whether Erdogan really received an invitation from Istanbul, but there is no doubt that this club has a special place in his life. The politician continued to participate in football even after completing a semi-professional career and could well become a civil servant. More precisely, not personally, but through third parties.
Ten years ago, Turkey was shaken by match-fixing scandals. Even Emmanuel Emenike, who had to move from Fenerbahce to Spartak Moscow, largely due to accusations of handing over matches, was addicted. Aziz Yildirim, the club’s president at the time, was facing a life sentence, and Erdogan planned to use this moment to redistribute the property.
This was learned from the conversations between the politician and his son Bilal, which were later leaked and discussed how best to promote Mehmet Ali Aydınlar, the former president of the Turkish Football Federation under his auspices, to the board of directors. The tape has not been proven authentic, but few doubt that Erdogan has his own interests in the club, which has 30 million fans.
“The most important point to be emphasized is that Aziz Yıldırım proposed the match-fixing law to us. Mehmet Ali should put special emphasis on this. Intellectuals should attack Yıldırım with the following words: “You are making efforts to get this law passed.” “You kind of shoot yourself in the foot,” a man said in a similar tone on the recording.
At that time, however, the Prime Minister’s plan failed. Moreover, it had the opposite effect. Although unproven, the attempt to seize power in the club was perceived extremely negatively by Fenerbahçe fans. In fact, the supporters held rallies against Erdoğan and in support of Yıldırım. Meanwhile, he was eventually sentenced to six and a half years, released a year later, and continued to manage Fenerbahçe until 2018.
He used Özil for political ends
Erdogan has always understood the marketing power of sports, which he actively uses for his main job. Perhaps the loudest story on this subject took place in 2018, as Turkey’s president prepares for early elections. Arsenal midfielder Mezut Özil took center stage and teamed up with Erdogan, along with another ethnic Turk, Ilkay Gundogan. While the football players gave their jerseys to the politician, their joint photos spread all over the world.
Özil and Gündoğan were immediately hit by a wave of criticism in Germany, where many immigrants from Turkey live. Local media accused the actors of helping Erdogan’s campaign, which was unable to campaign abroad. Meeting athletes at this level would help the president get the votes, and therefore the right to vote, of immigrants with dual citizenship. Also, Erdogan does not have the most attractive reputation in Europe, so the photo itself was rated negatively by many.
It was noteworthy that the meeting took place shortly before the 2018 World Cup, when Özil and Gündoğan were due for the German national team. Calls were immediately made to remove players from the team’s application, but Joachim Löw did not succumb to public pressure. Interestingly, Özil was even criticized by Richard Grindel, president of the German Football Association (DFB).
After the German national team’s failure in Russia and being eliminated in the group stage, Özil came under further criticism, although it was clear that he was not alone in the responsibility. All this prompted the German to decide to end his career in the national team. Grindel later apologized publicly to the midfielder and said he needed to defend him more against public attacks. However, Özil remained determined and a few years later moved entirely to Turkey, where he played first for Fenerbahçe and then for Istanbul Başakşehir. Meanwhile, Erdogan later attended the midfielder’s wedding as the guest of honor.
President’s Pocket Club
From the idea of managing the club – both for his love of football and for political reasons – the President of Turkey did not refuse, even after the failure of the Fenerbahce story. Erdogan decided to go the other direction – Istanbul Basaksehir, finding a less prosperous team for patronage. In 2014 a relatively young club (founded in 1990) did not shine with results and had just returned to the big leagues. That summer, it was bought by a group of businessmen affiliated with Erdogan’s ruling party. It was noted that it operated in the capital Başakşehir region, which gave the club a new name in the 90s.
Officially, Erdogan has never confirmed his direct involvement with the team, but this, as they say, is an open secret. There are examples of connections between the president and each of the board members, often not in football matters. For example, Mustafa Saral, one of the country’s largest paper producers, actively supported the Zero Waste project, supervised by the Turkish leader’s wife Emine. You can find a photograph of Erdoğan, another official, Zafer Topaloğlu, and club president Geksel Gümüşgag, at their wedding with his wife’s niece. There are too many coincidences, each of which literally screams the connection of the Turkish head with Istanbul Basaksehir.
Also, Erdogan even tried on the club’s jersey and recalled his sporting past right after the change of ownership. In the same summer of 2014, the team moved to a brand new 17,000-seat stadium, which was built in record time – in just 18 months, many also linked it to the personal interests of the head of state. He also took part in the opening match of Turkey’s 12th President and even scored a hat-trick. After the match, the club removed the symbolic 12 number played by Erdoğan from circulation.
State support helped “Istanbul Başakşehir” to become one of the leading clubs in the country as soon as possible. After returning to the elite, the team finished outside the top four only once, making their Champions League debut in the 2019/20 season by winning the Super League for the first time in history. Mobility in the transfer market also contributed to the departure – the club began to sign status players. He is especially an old friend of Erdogan Özil, who moved to the team from Fenerbahçe last summer. Meanwhile, Fedor Kudryashov, who is currently playing in Antalyaspor, defended the colors of Istanbul Başakşehir for a short time.
In a word, the influence of the president in Turkish football is huge. Erdogan is completely immersed in the industry, even though he stays aloof and does not directly connect with the industry. Such patronage also has its advantages – football will certainly not be left without the attention of the authorities.
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