A Farewell Letter to Slaven Bilic
June 2013 – Beşiktaş was in the midst of the deepest financial crisis in its history. The newly elected board had clearly stated that no one should expect any success over the upcoming couple of years. The young Croatian manager, well known to Turkish soccer fans, Slaven Bilic was appointed as the new head coach.
His task was anything but ordinary. The squad he inherited lacked quality and alternatives in almost every single position. His transfer budget was not even half as much as his fellow city rivals. The club was banned from the Europa League, imposing further restrictions on its financial means.
On top of all this, the stadium was being demolished to be rebuilt, a period that was initially predicted to last a year but then proved to take more than two. Bilic and his team were going to be devoid of the very impulsive force, the life and soul of the club, the green hell of İnönü.
Despite all these drawbacks, he made a great start to his days in Turkey. There was something deep and invisible leading Beşiktaş fans to identify themselves with this eccentric and exceptional guy. In a press conference after one of his first games, Bilic described the team he was trying to shape as follows: “We are a team. It is something like ‘power to the people’. There is no rich and poor, no class in our team. We are one team. That’s why I can say that I am endeavoring a socialist team.”
This attitude of Bilic, combined with the massive organized involvement of Beşiktaş fans in the Gezi Uprising, caused a lot of trouble to the club in his first year. Despite all provocations, fans being banned from games and Bilic from touchline, successive referee ‘errors,’ and so on, the team gained a competitive edge starting from the very first day of his term of office.
Apart from the soccer-related side of the story, Bilic gained a unique position in the hearts of fans of all clubs in Turkey. He was fair enough to admit immediately if there were referee mistakes in favour of his own team; sincere enough to shake the hands of all his opponents; tender enough to never blame anyone but himself in front of the press; lovely enough to hug and kiss his players, assistants, and members of the press; humble enough to go for a drink at an ordinary bar in the city center, mingle and chat with people. In the disgustingly corrupt, chauvinistic, and patriarchal atmosphere of the football industry, he reminded us of the reasons why we fell in love with Beşiktaş.
Nowadays many emphasize that Bilic’s above-mentioned qualities were welcome, but not sufficient for managing the Beşiktaş football team. This is not a technical writing where we discuss the tactical aspects of the story. Thus, we confine ourselves to stressing the one single point that is being ignored all the time despite the fact that it is so obvious:
Slaven Bilic and Önder Özen sowed the seeds of a miracle. They were so serious and concrete in their steps that it was suddenly forgotten that it was all about a miracle. In fact, the miracle was almost realized.
In another press conference, Bilic had stated that besides ‘merhaba’ and ‘teşekkürler,’ the first Turkish word that he learned was ‘sol bek’. At least on our own behalf, we, as SOLBEK, are grateful to you, Bilic, for making us await your interviews before and press conferences after the game with as much enthusiasm as the game itself.
Just like you have been doing, keep being realistic and demanding the impossible Slaven.
We will never forget you!