Volkan Agir

When Sivasspor gained promotion to the Turkish Super Lig for the 2005/06 season the objective was clear, as it is for so many newly promoted clubs: survival. That season Sivasspor did defy the experts and recorded a very respectable 8th place finish. And from there though they did not fall, but commenced a remarkable upward march. The 2007/08 season saw the Yigidos finish fourth, but it was to get even better the next year, as 2008/09’s Super Lig ended with Sivasspor in second place. For much of the campaign it seemed they may even lift the title, but even so, second place was historic. Now however, the situation is transformed, thoughts of challenging the Istanbul giants are long forgotten, and they face a fight just to retain their top flight status.

This season began with the club in the grip of excitement about their first Champions League campaign, but Belgian giants Anderlecht ended the dream before it had even begun, sending the Turkish runners-up out in the qualifying stage. The Europa League waited, not an entirely unappealing prospect, and so did Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk. A disastrous two legs saw Sivasspor out at the hands of Mircea Lucescu’s men and the group stage of Europe’s second tier competition had been missed out on too. Given this, it’s understandable that confidence dipped, but what turned Sivasspor, former title challengers, into just another ordinary Super Lig team?

Before embarking on a new season, and especially one with European participation, reorganising and strengthening the team is a pre-requisite. For fans, when naming the strongest starting eleven for Sivasspor some names were on everyone’s list: Pini Balili, Mohamed Ali, Herve Tum, Bilica, and Mamadou Diallo. But these key players, along with Murat Erdogan and Kanfory Sylla were all sold. Sivasspor could simply not afford to lose Balili’s pace, Mohamed Ali’s set-piece delivery, Herve Tum’s strength and Bilica’s tough defensive style. These were players who drove fear into the hearts of their opponents, and players with vast experience. But manager Bülent Uygun decided radical change was needed, and while he had earned the right to be respected, his decision must, with the benefit of hindsight, be questioned.

Undoubtedly the influx of new signings, many of them joining up with the team late in pre-season, has proven to be a huge handicap for Sivasspor. Uygun struggled to build a new fresh team spirit with so many fresh faces. The club’s new signings were also, sadly for the fans, some way short of the quality of those who departed. Apart from striker Ersen Martin (now with Manisaspor) who had experience of La Liga, most of the arrivals were picked up from Turkey’s second tier. Uygun had tried to bring in hungry players to push the side on, but only ended up compromising the quality of his team.

What can also not be underestimated was the hammer blow of losing to both Anderlecht and Shakhtar Donestk at the beginning of the season. After that, a series of tough fixtures; Trabzonspor, Fenerbahce, Bursaspor, Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyespor in their first seven weeks would have been a challenge even for the old Sivasspor, never mind the new one. An injury to star striker and captain Mehmet Yildiz was also a big setback.

It took until the eighth week of the season for the previous year’s runners-up to pick up their first three points of the campaign. That win though wasn’t enough to persuade Uygun that he could turn what was a fast sinking ship around though, and sure enough, the man once hailed as the most promising of the new breed of Turkish coaches, announced he was stepping down. Initially Muhsin Ertuğral, a Turkish boss with more experience of South African football than that of his homeland, arrived, but in early March he too handed in his resignation. Now Sivasspor will have to hope a third coach can turn things around.

Sivasspor are fighting to stay in the Super Lig, and even though they showed all Turkey just what can be achieved by clubs outside the Istanbul giants by virtue of good management, Bülent Uygun also demonstrated the folly of believing in your own infallibility, and it was surely his ego that derailed their season.


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