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How Acun Ilicali manages his core football business: Immediate managerial change at Hull City with his own man at the helm

24. April 2024
Acun Ilicali (foto: Getty Images)
Acun Ilicali has been the owner of Hull City for over two years now, maintaining it as his core football enterprise.

Turkish media mogul Acun Ilicali has recently stirred up significant attention on the Slovenian football scene, with a takeover of Maribor increasingly appearing to be a realistic scenario. Given his financial resources, this move would undoubtedly represent a tectonic shift in the Slovenian football landscape.

However, Maribor would not be his only club, as Ilicali has owned the English Championship team Hull City since January 2022, having acquired it from the Allam family for approximately €25 million. The Egyptian-British businessman Assem Allam had managed the club since 2010 and was quite unpopular among fans despite leading the team into the Premier League and to an FA Cup final. During his tenure (2010-14), our own Robert Koren also played for the Yorkshire team. Allam particularly angered fans with his attempt to rename the club Hull Tigers, as well as by the team's last-place finish in the 2019/20 Championship season, resulting in relegation to the third tier. A swift return to the second tier did not calm the fans.

The negotiations with Ilicali lasted a few months, but ultimately everything unfolded according to the Turk's wishes. "I am happy to have fulfilled my biggest dream today," Ilicali stated at the completion of the deal. "We are starting a beautiful journey with Hull City. We have many goals we want to achieve together with the fans. I truly believe we will be successful together with the wonderful supporters from this beautiful city."

Ilicali has pledged to bring Hull City back to the English elite for the first time since 2017. However, this goal has not yet been achieved in the two and a half years of his "reign." Hull ended the 2021/22 season in 19th place in the English second tier and slightly improved to 15th the following season. This season, they are performing better and are eyeing a play-off spot.

One of Ilicali's first moves after taking over Hull was to dismiss manager Grant McCann and install Georgian Shota Arveladze as his successor. The vice-presidential role was filled by Ilicali's compatriot Tan Kesler, who has previously dealt with player agent duties and also worked for the Turkish football federation. Unlike Arveladze, who lost his job in September 2022, Kesler remains in his position. Arveladze was replaced by Englishman Liam Rosenior, who continues to manage the team today.

By appointing the relatively young Liam Rosenior, who previously played for Hull, as manager, Ilicali slightly deviated from his model of trusting individuals from the Turkish football scene. This move has paid off, as Rosenior has significantly improved on-field performances and, at least to some extent, approached the objectives Ilicali set upon his takeover.

It seems Kesler is in charge of club management and recruitment, as Hull City does not have a sporting director. In the first transfer window following the takeover, in the summer of 2022, the Tigers were very active. Ilicali's close associates, football agents Merthan Acil and Mustafa Yokes, assisted Kesler with recruitment. Fourteen players left, and fifteen arrived. Five newcomers were signed from Turkish clubs.

The most expensive acquisition was Iranian national team player Allahyar Sayyadmanesh, for whom Ilicali paid Fenerbahce €4.5 million, just half a million less than Antalyaspor received for Turkish national player Dogukan Sinik, and a round three million was paid to Fener for another member of the Turkish national team, Ozan Tufan, who has yet to meet high expectations.

Before this season, Hull spent the most on Jadon Philogene from Aston Villa, costing Ilicali €5.8 million. Trabzonspor received €2.5 million for Abdulkadir Omur, and the Turkish mogul paid his former club Fortuna Sittard two million euros for Croatian goalkeeper Ivor Pandur.

In these two and a half years, Ilicali and his team have stabilized Hull City, gradually transforming it from a team fighting for second-tier survival into one flirting with promotion to the Premier League. However, the path to the "promised land" of the English elite is still long and thorny, and unless the Turkish mogul invests significantly more than he has so far, this goal will be difficult to achieve. The competition in England is global and wealthy, and consequently, a substantial investment is required to secure a place in the world's richest league.

Perhaps that's why he is interested in investing in less demanding football markets, where he could achieve European football with a considerably smaller investment. Ilicali openly mentioned this to a Greek media outlet, admitting his interest in investing in Slovenian football through the prism of playing in Europe.

The question remains, however, how patient Ilicali can be. The Russians had to wait four years, despite enormous financial input by our standards, for this year's (technically still unclaimed) championship title. Mandaric's substantial funding of Olimpija, which in some cases, especially in the initial phases, seemed like squandering money, yielded "only" two national titles in six years.

Will Ilicali's adventures at Fortuna and Shelbourne, which ended swiftly, take a different turn if he enters Slovenian football and truly takes over Maribor?

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