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Gala days for Galatasaray

Galatasaray SK are keen to revive past glories as they celebrate their centenary.

By Türker Tozar

Galatasaray SK will celebrate their centenary at Istanbul's famous Dolmabahçe Palace on 4 August, and Turkey's most popular club are desperate to crown their first 100 years with another title.

Founding charter
Founded in 1905 by students at Istanbul's Lycée de Galatasaray, their founding charter spoke of the desire to "play football like the English, establish a name and traditional colours and play to defeat non-Turkish teams". However, victories in Turkey and Europe have been hard to come by recently.

Financial restrictions
The club had been keen to go into their 100th birthday celebrations having won the 2004/05 title, but Romanian coach Gheorghe Hagi could only lead them to third place, with the club's debts acting as a major brake on his ambitions to sign top-class players at Galatasaray. Despite winning the Turkish Cup, he resigned at the end of the season.

Gerets arrives
Belgian coach Eric Gerets will now lead Galatasaray into the 2005/06 season, boosted by the arrival of FK Partizan captain Sasa Ilic, who the club hope will silence fans' demands for a decent playmaker. Konyaspor midfield player Altan Aksoy and promising Istanbulspor AS defender Yalçin Ayhan have also signed on.

Ribéry departs
However, while all of that new blood can not do any harm, concerns have been raised about the departure of young midfield player Franck Ribéry who has returned to France to join Olympique de Marseille. For many he was the pick of the club's players last season after joining during the winter break.

Favourite year
Galatasaray's golden year was 2000, as they won the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup, and they would dearly love to return to such heights in Europe. However, most would argue that the club's promising young players - Cafercan Aksu, Ugur Uçar, Mülayim Erdem and Arda Turan - are not yet ready for that stage.

Painful decisions
Still, the club - who are competing in this season's UEFA Cup - are making some steps towards focusing on young players, having taken the painful decisions to release veterans Arif Erdem and Hakan Ünsal. Their 36-year-old defender Bülent Korkmaz is also expected to call it a day at the end of 2005/06.

Pires coup
The waning of that older generation is doubtless a cause for concern, but many anguished voices would be silenced if Galatasaray pull off a noteable coup in signing Arsenal FC's Robert Pires. The club are pursuing the French international, who would bring vital experience in their European campaign.

Lean period
And certainly, European success would be very welcome this season after a series of disappointing campaigns. Once UEFA Champions League regulars, they have not won the Turkish title since 2001/02 and missed out on Europe's top club competition for the second time in succession in 2005/06.

Passionate following
None the less, the passion of supporters at the Ali Sami Yen stadium and all across Turkey remain a huge asset for Gerets as he aims to lift the gloom at the Istanbul club, and get back to the form which saw former coach Fatih Terim win four league titles, two Turkish Cups and the UEFA Cup.

Real party
The official celebration may be on 4 August, but if Gerets' new hard-running tactics can help fashion his side into a team of champions in the course of 2005/06, the real party will not be starting until next summer.