Slaven Bilic’s one disappointment, as he prepares to host Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League tonight, is that he will be unable to give them a proper Besiktas welcome.
The famous old Inonu Stadium, with one of the best atmospheres in Europe, is being redeveloped. Bilic has never managed his side there, but should do so in their last game this season, when it is reopened as the Vodafone Arena. Until then, and tonight against Spurs, Besiktas are at the old Olympic Stadium, an open bowl on the outskirts of Istanbul. For Bilic, a man fuelled by the passions of the game, it is a shame.
“That stadium is so far away out of town that we don’t get very big crowds,” said Bilic in his office at Besiktas’ training ground, which itself is over 20 miles away from their temporary ground, where they expect a crowd not much larger than 5,000 tonight.
“We are an Istanbul club and we would rather play here. This stadium, the Olympic Stadium, holds 80,000. If you have less than 50,000, it is better not to play. You can’t get your players in that red zone, when they are all intense. It is a big issue, and a big blow for us.”
Bilic’s great success has been to maintain Besiktas’ identity during their long exile. They are top of the Turkish Super Lig, ahead of better-resourced rivals, and, like Spurs, have already qualified for the last 32 of the Europa League.
Bilic has done this by re-imposing the standards of hard work and discipline which were so lacking in Galatasaray’s performance against Arsenal in the Champions League on Tuesday night. He has built around a new core of Turkish players, with familiar inspiration.
“I wouldn’t want Besiktas to have 11 foreigners on the pitch,” Bilic said in relation to quotas for home-grown players. “This is a Turkish club. The club has to have the identity. Every team that was dominating, in the league or in Europe, had a core of home players. At Man United, there was the Neville brothers, Scholes, Butt, Gillespie, Beckham, Giggs. That is the core. And then you have Schmeichel, Cantona, Keane, Cole and Yorke.”
When Bilic arrived as a player at West Ham United in 1996, he was a rare foreigner in the top flight, an addition to an existing English core. The Premiership, as it was then called, was very different to what it is now. Bilic warmly remembers the atmosphere at Goodison Park, St James’ Park, Anfield and Upton Park – more intense than they are now – and tells a story about a West Ham v Chelsea game there in March 1997.
West Ham were 2-1 up with two minutes left and had a free-kick in their own box. “Ludek [Miklosko] goes to take the free-kick. I try to waste some time, going to take it, but then I tell Ludek to take it. So we try to waste 30 seconds but our crowd go mad, shouting ‘come on! Any chance!’ I am thinking ‘do you want us to stay in the Premier League?’”
Mark Hughes equalised for Chelsea, but Paul Kitson scored a winner anyway.
That is why Bilic would like, should he ever get the chance, to come back to England to manage. “I have been there, I’ve played there, I liked it there,” he said. “I spent my best years – not only in football – there. Of course I would say that one day I would be interested.”Reuse content