It is two years since Isitan Gün arrived at Fortuna. Fortuna Online recently spent – just like last season – three hours with Isitan to reflect on the second season and look forward to next season. Yesterday, we presented a summary of the first half of the interview; today the second half. Voor een Nederlandse versie, zie: “Isitan Gün: twee jaar onderweg (deel 2 van 2)“.
<Find part 1 of the interview here>
Fortuna Online: You used the last two years to study the Dutch football landscape and concluded that Fortuna—if it achieves its full potential—should be a stable eredivisie-team. How many teams will be ahead of us, if in the long term we manage to perform at full potential?
Isitan Gün: That is hard to say. There is no dominating club in Europe that does not come from a big city. Hence, there is a limitation of what you can achieve if you are in a small city, but look at Mönchengladbach, which is not bigger than Sittard!
But in the end, the numbers are important. If you have a budget of 10 million euros, you cannot compete with Ajax which has 80 million euros, but we can probably do a better job with 10 million euros than another club that has 15 million euros.
However, we should not get carried away. We are talking about the long run when we reach our full potential. That is not where we are right now. So, we might get relegated next season (although I don’t think we will), but in the long run I envision we will be a stable eredivisie-team.
Fortuna Online: That is the future, next season our ambition is to avoid relegation. With teams like Excelsior, FC Emmen, De Graafschap and VVV Venlo in the eredivisie (who will have comparable budgets to ours), it comes down to management quality to stay up. Given last year’s performance, I presume you fancy Fortuna’s chances in that type of battle?
Isitan Gün: Yes, I do. Mind you, that won’t be easy. I think for example that VVV is doing a great job. Hai Berden’s policies at VVV are good, so we have to work hard and do better.
Fortuna Online: The financial difference between eredivisie and eerste divisie is substantial. Revising contracts upwards (from eerste divisie to eredivisie) is simple. Revising downwards (from eredivisie to eerste divisie) is potentially problematic. Solutions could be reduction clauses in contracts, stipulating what they will earn in the eredivisie and what they will earn in the eerste divisie or short term contracts. Twenty years ago we did neither and ended up with long-term eredivisie-salaries in the eerste divisie. That nearly killed us. How will you mitigate this potential problem?
Isitan Gün: Some players have already built-in clauses. Some don’t and for them we try to be fair and introduce clauses which say what they earn in the eerste divisie and what they earn in the eredivisie.
Fortuna Online: Consequently, the situation of twenty years ago cannot repeat itself, should we be relegated. What about established top level players who do not want to sign an eerste divisie clause? Can we still sign them?
Isitan Gün: Yes, it is possible. One of the options applied in football is a so-called release clause, which means in case of relegation the player is free to go. We have not used such a clause so far.
Fortuna Online: Now that we are talking players anyway, what positions need strengthening?
Isitan Gün: The positions are clear. We need a competitive goal keeper. We need a central defender. We need an attacking midfielder, we need a competitive striker and we need someone for the left wing. We are not in a rush. The best deals are always coming in the last days.
Fortuna Online: The transition to the eredivisie is probably not easy. Lot’s of requirements to meet—especially for a club that has not been in the eredivisie for such a long time. Is the KNVB helpful?
Isitan Gün: The KNVB has set up a project group to help the club with the transition. The work group contains a task force for ticketing, a task force for security and one for technical aspects. These task forces have said that we have already made a lot of progress. We will get there in time.
Fortuna Online: Discussions are ongoing about rearranging eredivisie broadcasting money, reducing teams in the eredivisie, perhaps setting up a Beneliga, all to increase income for the top teams in their quest for European relevance. What do you think of that?
Isitan Gün: It won’t make a difference. The top teams in Europe have 600 to 700 million euros budgets. Barcelona already announced they will go to one billion euros in five years’ time, which they will. Any of these plans may see Ajax move from 80 to 85 million euros. That additional five million euros will not make much of a difference. I think the reorganization of the eredivisie to sixteen clubs will not happen. At least not in the short run, because there was no agreement on that.
Fortuna Online: Apart from broadcasting money, Fortuna still needs to capitalize on the increased exposure that the eredivisie brings to get to a budget that rivals the budget of the teams we previously mentioned.
Isitan Gün: The people in the organisation are very young. So in four or five years’ time when they have more experience and are more mature, we will have a ‘killing’ team. The spirit you saw on the pitch is the exact spirit you see in the office. People care for each other, there is that family feeling. They enjoy the work.
Fortuna Online: Early last season you employed—as promised—three people in the back office, looking after commercial activities (Jiri Funke), marketing (Nick Verheijen) and ticket sales (Freek Janssen). The marketing position was funded by the Coöperatie Eerste Divisie (CED). Does promotion mean we lose Nick’s funding?
Isitan Gün: Actually, the CED stopped contributing to Nick’s wages as of 31 December 2017. Since then, he is on our books, so he stays. Last month, we added Chinouk van Zolingen to the payroll. She used to work as an office manager at Topsport Limburg. Chinouk works in ticketing, which means we now have two people in ticketing. Soon, Jesse Smedts will start working for us in a marketing/sales role. He used to work for Voetbal International and hails from Weert—an important region for us commercially.
Fortuna Online: What is your strategy to attract sponsors?
Isitan Gün: There are three segments. First, we should not lose any of our current sponsors. Second the local sponsors that we could not get on board in the past, may be easier to convince now that we are in the eredivisie. Third, (inter)national brands. Now that we are in the eredivisie, we have more exposure, so we may at least have a shot at (inter)national sponsors. Don’t forget we created a lot of goodwill in the whole country. After the decision to replay Jong Ajax – NEC Nijmegen, many people came to me and said they hoped we would win it. So this is what we are working on.
Fortuna Online: When you refer to the local market, how would you define our local market?
Isitan Gün: In the south, there is not much room, but to the north there is untapped territory. We are targeting the Echt, Roermond up to Weert area.
Fortuna Online: You value the quality of management highly. How do you make sure you keep abreast of the latest innovations in management?
Isitan Gün: Well, I read and research a lot about football in general. Going back to the organization, now is the time to recruit a general director to manage our organization. At the moment, our board members are too heavily involved in operational activities, but we intend to recruit a general director before the start of the new season.
Fortuna Online: You—as part of a consortium—have acquired the Fortuna Sittard stadium last year. What are your plans with the stadium and what change will the fans see in the next 12 months?
Isitan Gün: Well, we are doing some maintenance at the moment and some upgrades to the mixed zone and sky boxes. We will replace the grass. Normally when you change the pitch, it changes the stadium, it makes a big effect.
Fortuna Online: Your other ambition is to have your own training ground for all (senior and academy) training activities. You have parked some of the revenues from the Schuurs-sale for the development of such a training ground, but need help from Sittard-Geleen to access land. Sittard-Geleen is under so-called ‘preventative oversight’ (comparable to a category 1 rating), after failing to produce a balanced budget. This implies it cannot easily make major financial decisions without external approval. What if they won’t help?
Isitan Gün: We cannot grow without having our own facilities. This is our biggest limitation. Developing the facilities is a very expensive investment, if we also need to buy the land, it becomes out of reach financially. So we have to find a solution. I think council is more inclined to help now than before, so I hope we can secure something meaningful. Let’s be fair, the amount of money the city will be making of us going to the eredivisie, is by far bigger than the request we are making for land. Ideally near the stadium, but somewhere else in the city is fine too.
Fortuna Online: Are you excited about the World Cup? Or don’t care / no time?
Isitan Gün: Yes, I will watch the World Cup with interest.
Fortuna Online: So how many countries would you have to name to be sure to have mentioned the winner of the World Cup?
Isitan Gün: Four: Germany, France, Brazil and Spain. I think France will win.
Fortuna Online: You’re a busy man. Have you had time during last season to enjoy it?
Isitan Gün: Yes, I have enjoyed it. So far it is great. There have been moments when I thought ‘what am I doing?’, but overall of course I can’t complain. Things have gone much more quickly than expected. Next season it will be harder to gain promotion from the eerste divisie than last season given the composition of the eerste divisie. So, in that sense I consider us a bit lucky to have had the opportunity to be promoted this year.
Fortuna Online: Message for the fans?
Isitan Gün: The important thing is, we have been enjoying a great period, but there will be hard times in the eredivisie ahead, please support us in those circumstances! If we manage to stay up, it will be one of the most successful turn-arounds of a football club, whose supporters have a near-death experience in their DNA. It is perfect, Fortuna just never dies!