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. Today we present a summary of the first half of the interview; tomorrow we present the second half of the interview. Voor een Nederlandse versie, zie: “Isitan Gün: één jaar onderweg (deel 1 van 2).

Fortuna Online: First of all, congratulations to you and the club for gaining promotion to the eredivisie and thank you for the great season we had!

At the start of the 16/17 season—when you arrived—Fortuna had 22 professional players. At the end of the 17/18 season, Fortuna again had 22 professional players. If you compare both teams, it seems we have a better player at each position (and if it is the same player, he has improved). Is this evidence of what you call the importance of quality football management—at least the player recruitment part of it?

Roster (start of 16/17 season)

Djibril Dianessy
[Frank Wiafe]

Aziz Khalouta
[Junior Torunarigha]

Roald van Hout
[Gavin Vlijter]

Okan Kurt

Kamen Hadzhiev
[Dries Saddiki]

Jordie Briels
[Adrian Purzycki]

Marco Ospitalieri [Stefan Askovski]

Ferry de Regt
[Emir Dautovic]

Luc Mares
[Perr Schuurs]

Christopher Braun [Demen Roumen]

Leon ter Wielen
[Paul van der Helm, Job van de Walle]


Roster (end of 17/18 season)

Djibril Dianessy
[Stefan Askovski, André Vidigal]

Finn Stokkers

Lisandro Semedo
[Gavin Vlijter]

Todd Cantwell
[Lars Hutten]

Jorrit Smeets
[Luc Tinnemans]

Dries Saddiki
[Lazar Kojic]

Marco Ospitalieri
[Mica Pinto]

Wessel Dammers
[Kai Heerings]

Perr Schuurs

Clint Essers
[Christopher Braun]

Aykut Özer
[Miguel Santos, Job van de Walle]


Isitan Gün: Absolutely, this is an example of the importance of quality football management. The 17/18 team is probably a different budget than the 15/16 team, I don’t know the figures on top of my head, but compared to another eerste divisie club, which has the same budget, we will always be able to produce a better team. This is our comparative advantage.

Fortuna Online: So how do you achieve that comparative advantage? Is that your network?

Isitan Gün: Yes absolutely, but above all it is hard work. We get hundreds of suggestions of players every day. We look at everyone, every single day, to find a suitable player. Most of them are obviously not good enough. However, you can’t find the required information behind the computer; you have to watch them. For example, Ogan Tarhan[1] was here on Sunday [27 May, Fortuna Online]; on Monday he drove to Toulon in France to the famous youth tournament (Tournoi Maurice Revello). He drives thousands of kilometers just for the slight chance of finding one player that may be of interest to us. This is how most of the recruited players came up.

Not all players of course, Todd Cantwell for example was a different story. Our Director of Football Mustafa Aztopal had a contact at Norwich. Mustafa studied corporate management in Liverpool, so he has some contacts in England. One of them was the loan officer of Norwich City, who asked him if Fortuna Sittard would be interested in a loan spell for Todd Cantwell. Fortuna agreed and so Todd came.

Mind you, not all players we brought in were successful. We also made mistakes. To them we explain, that they have two choices. They can sit here, relax, make some money and that will be the end of their career, or they try to make a change elsewhere. Most of our (young) players understand they have to choose the second option.

Fortuna Online: Last month you did an interview with Dagblad De Limburger. The newspaper was very circumspect about Fortuna’s financial accounts. They believed you cannot assemble the team Fortuna have assembled for the relatively low budget the club has. In other words, they did not believe that quality management can make such a difference.

Isitan Gün: I exercised maximum transparency to the journalist who appreciated my willingness to go the extra mile to demonstrate that Fortuna’s financial accounts are fine. I think I convinced the journalist.

Fortuna Online: It is hard for them, because you defy their 2009 football merger logic. That is, the media never questioned the quality of the management at Fortuna and Roda JC in the build up to the merger talks in 2009. If you do not question management quality, there is only one way to achieve better results: more money (which a merger may bring). Without a merger, Fortuna was allegedly doomed to remain in the doldrums of the eerste divisie. You have defied that logic last season.

Fortuna Online: To get from the 16/17 team to the team that claimed promotion, you needed three managers. That’s a high turnover rate, presumably something you wish to reduce in the future. You appointed Kevin Hofland. What made you believe in February that he was/is the right man for the job long term, even though he did not have any experience as a head coach?

Isitan Gün: Of course, that turnover rate is too high. I knew Kevin for some time. He always came to the games, wanted to talk. He was open about his ambitions to—one day—manage Fortuna Sittard, which is after all his club. He has got special feelings for the club. So we were talking about his involvement as a manager in the long run, but when we decided to part ways with Sunday Oliseh, we said you have to come now. The fact that he knows the club made a big difference. Also, Kevin is a people’s manager. If—towards the end of the season—he had asked the players to run through a brick wall, they would have done that! He (and Claudio Braga of course) certainly did very well in ironing out all issues that were left when Sunday Oliseh left.

Fortuna Online: The initial goal for last season was to qualify for the play-offs. At what point during the season did you realise that this team could go all the way?

Isitan Gün: We lost four games in a row. After the second game following that series—the draw at NEC Nijmegen, where we could have won—I was convinced. After that game I had a conversation with Claudio Braga who said: “We will not lose one more game this season”. And he proved to be right!

I think we won promotion in Waalwijk. RKC played like it was the champion’s league final for them, but we came through with a last minute equaliser.

Fortuna Online: Last year you created/filled three football management positions: director of football (Mustafa Aztopal), head coach (Sunday Oliseh later Claudio Braga / Kevin Hofland) and sportive director (Charly Chudik). We believe Aztopal has had some visa-issues, which prevented him from working for Fortuna Sittard. Has that now been resolved?

Isitan Gün: Yes, Mustafa Aztopal has not been able to work for us last season, because he did not have a work permit. That has now been resolved (last week) and he will therefore assume his position as director of football. Basically, he will be our technical director, in which role he will oversee player recruitment, the Fortuna academy and the appointment of coaches.

Fortuna Online: Fortuna recently released a statement saying that sportive director Charly Chudik has left the club. What does that role exactly entail? Will his position be refilled?

Isitan Gün: A sportive director sits between the board and the technical operations. He is responsible for the operational budget of the team and is also available for players if problems arise.

Charly Chudik was not interested in a position other than technical director. We tried to find another position for Charly in the club, but were unsuccessful. Hence we (Fortuna and Charly) parted ways. Aztopal will take on the responsibilities of a sportive director as well, so we will not refill the position of sportive director.

Fortuna Online: In last year’s interview you said it was your (long-term) ambition to develop one of the best youth academies in the country. You appointed, as announced, a head youth academy (Claudio Braga), an assistant to the head (André Boessen) and a coordinator (Kemal Burak Calik). I can imagine that Claudio Braga’s unforeseen involvement in the first team has delayed progress in developing the youth academy. Nonetheless, what steps have you or Fortuna set on the way to progress in the last twelve months?

Isitan Gün: Yes, Claudio Braga’s involvement in the first team meant there was a lot of load on—especially—Kemal and he assisted very well. First of all, we kept all the promises made to the parents. So overall the parents are happy. These promises include the delivery of the merchandising, player travel arrangements (we now have three new buses for the academy) and communication. We also contracted fulltime coaches for the under 19 and under 17 teams; for next season we add a fulltime coach for the under 16 team and coaches for the under 15, under 14 and under 13 teams. Claudio Braga is currently interviewing for these positions. The same applies to André Boessen’s position, who has left the club.

Initially, the intention was to add one coach each season, but since the KNVB requires eredivisie-teams to have fulltime coaches from the under 13 team upwards, we have accelerated our investment. It is a big investment in the quality of our academy. We must have one of the highest ‘academy expenditure to total budget’ ratios in the country. Parents see this, hence there is a lot of demand for our academy.

Fortuna Online: Role models like Perr Schuurs must help in convincing prospective youth players to come to us and current youth players to stay with us.

Isitan Gün: Of course, we have a lot of demand from parents for our academy, because we have a case study, such as Perr Schuurs. He made it! Perr made it, Dries made it, Gavin made it, Clint made it, Bo made it, Luc made it and now Rowen has made it. That is important, people see that it is possible at Fortuna Sittard.

Fortuna Online: Any science based programs to detect talent that you have implemented in the academy?

Isitan Gün: No, we have not got to that this season. For next year we have made an agreement with a company to collect our training and match data. So we are training one of our coaches to analyse that data. So progress is happening, but not as fast as we initially wanted.

Fortuna Online: Will we have a Jong Fortuna Sittard team next season?

Isitan Gün: It is an eredivisie-requirement to have a Jong Fortuna Sittard team. We have asked the KNVB for a one year reprieve, but if the KNVB does not agree, we will have a Jong Fortuna Sittard team next season. Jong Fortuna Sittard will play in a closed competition with fifteen eredivisie-teams, playing on Mondays. There will not be any limitations as to what players are allowed to play. The results won’t matter.

[1] Ogan Tarhan was a scout for more than twenty years and worked for among others Galatasaray. His father (Candan Tarhan) used to be Turkey’s national team head coach, so Ogan was literally born into football. He was also the press officer of the Turkish national team during the 2002 World Cup. Ogan also worked as a player’s agent for a long time and managed several high-profile players. He stopped that two to three years ago. Now he is helping Fortuna Sittard for squad related matters (without pay). You can consider him the football mind of Fortuna Sittard and he has a very strong network globally and can reach any club / player within 24 hours.