ISTANBUL — Ahead of an election on Sunday that could shape the fate of one of Europe’s most storied soccer clubs, the opposition candidate’s supporters packed a hall here. They chanted while waving navy and yellow scarves, anticipating the arrival of the man they hope will shake the organization from the top and restore its crumbled stature.
“Ali Koc reminds me a bit of Clark Kent — like he will rip off his suit and there’ll be a Superman costume underneath,” a fan at the campaign rally, Arif Atilgan, said, referring to the challenger for Fenerbahce team president.
Fenerbahce is widely considered Turkey’s wealthiest, most politically important club, with millions of fans and a history of success. But the team is beleaguered, on and off the field. It may take something of a superhero to unseat the entrenched incumbent, Aziz Yildirim, and divine a resurrection for Fenerbahce.
“Soccer must be renewed from top to bottom,” Koc told the crowd.
Koc, 51, was educated at Harrow boarding school in London and at Harvard. He is a scion of Turkey’s wealthiest family, admired by some for the success of its Fortune 500 conglomerate Koc Holding and as a symbol of Kemalism, the revolutionary ideology that forged a modern secular state.
Having served as a Fenerbahce board member from 2006 to 2012, he has pledged to restore the team’s glory by bringing its finances under control, ending reckless transfers, investing heavily in scouting and youth academies, and leveraging his business connections into a sponsorship bonanza.
Many team supporters appear to favor him; he has a large following on social media and the vocal backing of most fan groups.
Erden Kosova, a club member and co-founder of the fan group Vamos Bien, is among Koc’s supporters. He predicts a fan rebellion if Yildirim is re-elected. “It’s a psychological fatigue,” Kosova said. “Fenerbahce needs fresh blood.”
But Koc’s popularity in the stands may not necessarily translate into membership votes; he is up against Turkish soccer’s great survivor. Like the vast majority of Turkish clubs, Fenerbahce is a member-based association that elects a president every three years. Most presidents are hostage to short-termism and impatience, usually ousted after one or two terms. But Yildirim has been in the role since 1998 — the longest-serving president in the 111-year-old club’s history.
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