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Hasan Arat interview: Besiktas’ new basketball-player president axes foreign stars in attempt to rebuild Turkish giants

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Besiktas took the bold decision last month to axe five experienced players from their senior squad for ‘poor performance and incompatibility with the team.’ It is part of a dramatic rethink of the club’s priorities under new president Hasan Arat.

Cameroon internationals Vincent Aboubakar and Jean Onana, Cote d’Ivoire defender Eric Bailly, once of Manchester United, Algeria winger Rachid Ghezzal and French full-back Valentin Rosier were the foreign players removed from the squad.

“I think this will be the end of that strategy,” Arat tells Sky Sports. “We will not let ourselves be the place where players can end their careers. We will focus on young players who can make us a team of fighters again. That is the mentality of our spectators.”

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Eric Bailly is one of five players to have been removed from the Besiktas first-team squad

Arat came to office following an extraordinary assembly and received 63 per cent of the vote. A former basketball player for Besiktas, his vision for the club might represent a departure from what has gone before but he has the backing of the fans.

“I did a SWOT analysis before the election,” he reveals. “That research showed me that people want to see grassroots players in the team.” In the 3-1 European defeat to Bodo Glimt in October, only three of the 16 to feature were Turkish. The youngest was 29.

“The main challenge is that we lost our grassroots players to other clubs. That was a big mistake. And then the transfers were panic buys. They did not plan well. That is the reason why I called the extraordinary assembly. The job now is to fix these problems.”

In some instances, the horse has bolted. There is frustration that academy star Serdar Saatci was sold to Braga for a small fee after making only a handful of appearances for the first team. “He is playing in the Champions League now. His release clause is €40m.”

But the ambition is to tap into the local talent. “We are like a factory in Turkey. Our academy is producing three to four players each year.” The plan is to expand that to build networks among the Turkish diaspora. “We will improve our scouting in Germany,” says Arat.

June 14, 2022: Serdar Saatci of Turkey during Denmark against Turkey, UEFA U21 EURO Qualification at Vejle Stadium, Vejle, Denmark. Ulrik Pedersen/CSM. (Credit Image: .. Ulrik Pedersen/CSM via ZUMA Press Wire) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
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Serdar Saatci was a young Besiktas prospect who was sold to Braga

“We are focusing, too, on the good Turkish players in Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and Austria. We will divert more of the budget to investing in them and picking up young talents. This is important. We will change the strategy to depend on grassroots players.”

The approach of his predecessors has not been a success. Besiktas were Super Lig winners for the 16th time in 2021 but that is their only top-two finish in six attempts. Their 2022 title defence saw them finish sixth – equalling their worst league finish of the last 43 years.

The problems amplified in 2018 when, having paid out huge wages on big names such as Pepe and Alvaro Negredo, the club missed out on the Champions League. President Fikret Orman saw debts quadruple during his reign, spiralling beyond £200m by 2019. “In sport, you can spend millions and not have success,” says Arat.

 Istanbul, Turkey. the president of Besiktas Hasan Arat seen before the match. Besiktas and Fenerbahce faced each other in the Trendyol Super Lig (Turkish Super League), the match took place at Besiktas Tupras Stadium Stadium.
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Hasan Arat has tried to reconnect with the disgruntled Besiktas supporters

Hence the appetite for his return. Arat had been vice-president to Suleyman Seba, the club’s longest-serving president, and was his anointed choice of successor only to lose out on the top job in 2000. Understandably, he sees this as a turning point.

“When I left the club alongside our legendary president Seba, there was cash and buildings. In 23 years, they made so many mistakes in the spending, unnecessary spending. Now it is time to fix the finances and end this unnecessary spending on transfers.”

That need not be the end for the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the former Arsenal and Liverpool midfielder who joined in the summer. “He is a really good player. The people like him a lot.” Finding a balance is the key. “We need a hybrid model,” Arat explains.

Besiktas' Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, right, vies for the ball with Brugge's Raphael Onyedika during the Europa Conference League group D soccer match between Besiktas and Club Brugge at Besiktas park stadium in Istanbul, Turkey, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Brugge won 5-0.(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is one of the foreign players to impress at Besiktas

“We can do it. It worked before for us with Ricardo Quaresma. We can get one or two very famous ones. We can do that but not too much. We should pick up the best one or two but not invest so much of the money. We have to get that balance right.”

It is telling that Arat chose to celebrate Quaresma and Atiba Hutchinson, two fan favourites, at the recent fixture against Fenerbahce. “I invited them and their families to say goodbye. The previous management did not respect them in the right way.”

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on his move to Besiktas and thoughts on Liverpool

As a former athlete himself, the first professional basketball player to go from the field to the presidency, he is more in tune with these feelings. “My jersey is in the museum here. I still remember getting my first salary from Besiktas.” It informs another of his policies.

Former players now form the core of the administration. “I have set up a whole skeleton of legendary Besiktas people. It is kind of like a Bayern Munich-style establishment. It is the first time that we have done this.” Recreating the connection is a priority now.

Communication with supporters has also improved.

When tickets sold out for the derby against Fenerbahce, the number of applicants were announced, the process laid bare. “This is the transparency people want. It was a club run on rumours. You cannot guarantee the result but you can be honest.”

The hope is that it is a new dawn for Turkey’s oldest club, founded 120 years ago. “Even the Turkish republic is only 100 years old.” The plans are grand. “The target is to be the most recognised club in Europe,” says Arat, aiming to capitalise on the Asian market.

But will it work? Fenerbahce beat them in that fierce local derby last month. Form has been mixed. “Now we need to win, of course. These are difficult times but that is why I am here. It will take time. You cannot change it in a day. But the hard work starts now.”

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