Media mogul Acun Ilicali has made quite the impression since purchasing Hull City in January 2022. The Turkish businessman has fallen in love with Hull and, in return, the fans are swooning over a man who is desperate to take the club back to the Premier League.
This Turkish tale has got off to an incredibly positive start, but after a lengthy period in the top six, a poor run of form has seen the Tigers drop down to ninth. Still, the vibes around the club are overwhelmingly positive, and Ilicali has not done a lot wrong since taking charge. Albeit, the bar was set incredibly low by previous owners the Allams.
They were led by the late Assem Allam, the Egyptian-British businessman going all out to change the name of the club to ‘Hull Tigers’, claiming the ‘City AFC’ suffix was a “lousy identity”. Quite an inventive way to rile up a fanbase, and everything was on track until the FA blocked the name change. Ticket price changes and various other misdemeanours also meant that when he eventually sold the club to Ilicali, the new owner was welcomed with open arms.
The man who owns the top rated TV channel in Turkey has always wanted to make history, and making his mark on the most-watched league in the world, the Premier League, is his idea of glory. He was set to visit five English clubs, with the target of purchasing one of them. Hull was his first stop, and he immediately fell in love with the city and the people. It was an easy choice, especially given the grey cloud that hung over the club during the 2010s.
“Nothing is based on financial calculations,” he told inews. “It is like when I bought my private plane. I asked my pilot about buying it and he said to me ‘Acun, if you’re calculating the money don’t buy a private jet.’ It’s the same with a football club, don’t think about money.
“Any financial calculation won’t make you happy but a private jet changes your life and a football club is the same. In any calculation you cannot put down on paper that you’ll make money. It’s a passion. A jet is a luxury and a football club is the same. It gives you a happiness money can’t buy.”
With the passion and love for the city he has already shown, it is easy to see why Ilicali is a popular figure in East Yorkshire. It also helps that he has invested into the squad, and now some of the best players outside the Premier League are plying their trade at the MKM. £5m was paid to Aston Villa for Jaden Philogene, a player who at 21 is already looking like he is worth every single penny. He is currently injured, but his influence this season has been remarkable, with six goals and five assists in 14 Championship appearances.
The squad has already been through a couple of interactions, with the initial impact of the new owner obvious on the pitch. He hired Shota Arveladze (surely a 'Pointless' answer in the category of recent Championship managers), and bought a series of high-profile Turkish Super Lig players for a couple of million per piece. Ozan Tufan was and still is a resounding success, but the same can’t be said of Dogukan Sinik or Benjamin Tetteh.
Players such as Adama Traore and Allahyar Sayyadmanesh remain at the club and clearly have talent, but this Hull squad feels a bit like a mish-mash of two wildly different footballing personalities. When Arveladze was sacked, former player Liam Rosenior returned as manager. A highly-rated British coach was walking in to find a squad now stacked with former Super Lig players, and he’s done a decent job of making them competitive.
There has been a clear shift from Rosenior to move away from the Turkish-based signings model and instead focus on building a British and Irish core. Philogene is the perfect example, but Hull also brought in the likes of Aaron Connolly, Ryan Allsop and Billy Sharp.
What is perhaps most intriguing is how they have used the loan market. Hull under Rosenior is now the number-one destination for elite Premier League sides to send their loan players to develop. Tyler Morton from Liverpool is the prime example, a midfielder who has come on leaps and bounds at the MKM. The Reds were so delighted with his progress that Fabio Carvalho, previously promoted with Fulham and on loan at RB Leipzig for the first half of this season, was sent to Hull this month to continue his development.
Burnley loaned Scott Twine to the Tigers, and although he now looks to be joining Bristol City, reports suggest Manuel Benson could take his place at the MKM Stadium. Manchester City also loaned striker Liam Delap to Hull, and he’s been a real threat this term, scoring seven league goals and appearing in all but one Championship match.
The excitement around these signings is certainly palpable, with few having believed Hull could compete with the likes of Leeds United for Carvalho. The fact he has chosen to join the Tigers speaks volumes for their progress and the rave reviews players like Morton must be giving Rosenior. But as with all loan signings, they are built for short-term success.
Hull are certainly better for now with those players in their team, but how many of them will stick around beyond this season? Promotion could change things, but if they remain in the second tier the Liverpool duo are near-certain to depart and Man City will want Delap to test himself at a higher level.
It’s a high-risk high-reward strategy for Hull, who currently sit ninth in the Championship having lost four of their last five league games. With Philogene currently out injured, Rosenior has searched for solutions in his positive-minded 4-2-3-1 system. Carvalho, Tufan and Twine started as three narrow number 10s against Norwich, but Hull were caught out on the counter-attack by the individual talent of Jon Rowe.
That narrow midfield often creates overloads in central areas, while captain Lewis Coyle looks to make most of the space out wide from right-back. The full-backs are trusted to provide the attacking width while Rosenior backs his vast array of attacking talent to create chances and goalscoring opportunities. It’s worked well so far, but Rosenior is still at the start of his managerial career.
He’s been far more successful than other former footballers in the dugout, with top reviews from both Derby County and Hull so far. But it still feels like the Tigers are a work in progress. A collection of cobbled together high-profile talents without the real cohesiveness to sustain a play-off push.
Sharp looks like a sensible signing on paper, but he hasn’t yet been able to break into the team. Jacob Greaves is a young and talented defender but, just like Coyle, it seems he can struggle if pacy attackers run directly about him. This is a top-10 team in my eyes, and as always with the Championship all it takes is a late run of form to surge into the play-offs, but Hull might just lose this particular gamble on this occasion.
The top four are set in stone even at this early stage, and I’d be far more inclined to trust both Carlos Corberan’s West Bromwich Albion and Mark Robins’ Coventry City to make it into the top six given their squads and experience.
This isn’t to say that Ilicali won’t fulfil his dream of owning a Premier League team, but it feels like a calmer recruitment plan with more long-term thinking is needed to build this club back into a top-flight one. One thing is for sure, Hull are in a far better place than they were two years ago, and sticking with Rosenior is a must as they work their way through this poor run of form.
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