Rent-a-goalkeeper service helps Turkey’s mini-soccer teams fill the least desirable position

Amateur goalkeeper Mustafa Mert Olcer poses for a photograph after a recreational soccer "Astroturf" match in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, March 5, 2024. More than a few times a week, the 18-year-old courier and passionate goalkeeper Mustafa Mert Olcer, gets a call from Rent-a-Goalkeeper to man a goalpost. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Amateur goalkeeper Mustafa Mert Olcer poses for a photograph after a recreational soccer “Astroturf” match in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, March 5, 2024. More than a few times a week, the 18-year-old courier and passionate goalkeeper Mustafa Mert Olcer, gets a call from Rent-a-Goalkeeper to man a goalpost. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

ISTANBUL (AP) — In Turkey’s version of mini-soccer, amateur teams typically made up of friends or co-workers get together after work or on weekends for friendly but intense 7-a-side games on artificial turf.

In a fast-paced attacking game with lots of goals, many teams are facing the same problem: finding a good goalkeeper.

Enter 36-year-old Ercan Aydinlik, a mini-soccer aficionado in Istanbul who launched a rent-a-goalkeeper service to address the shortage of shot stoppers.

“Because people are so eager to score goals, no one wants to man the goal,” said Aydinlik, a goalkeeper himself.

He started connecting goalkeepers with teams through WhatsApp and then set up a website as the business grew. His company Kiralik Kaleci — Turkish for goalkeeper for hire — now offers the services of about 160 goalkeepers who can be booked online for games in multiple cities in Turkey.

Customers can choose from goalkeepers presented with a thumbnail photo, short bio and information on the price. Aydinlik says his cut per hire is about 40 Turkish lira, or $1.25.

A popular pick is Mustafa Mert Olcer, an 18-year-old mail courier who earns about $10 per match to guard the goal for mini-soccer teams in Istanbul. Olcer, who plays up to a dozen matches in some weeks, says he relishes the thrill of the game as much as the extra pay.

“I enjoy it very much when I save a shot from a striker,” he said. “Nothing else makes me so happy.”

The sport is known in Turkish as Halisaha, or astroturf, for the artificial surface that most games are played on. Some participants are former professionals who may have lost some speed and gained a few pounds since their glory days, while others are lifelong amateurs.

Players pool money to rent fields, which are half the size of normal soccer fields. Unlike regular soccer, there is no offside rule, no throw-ins and no referees. Sliding tackles aren’t allowed, though many players tend to forget that in the heat of the moment.

At a recent late evening game on a floodlit field in Istanbul, Olcer stopped a barrage of shots and crosses as the team that hired him comfortably won its match 7-2, in large part thanks to his performance. Team members congratulated him and thanked him for a good job.

“Mert is a good goalkeeper,” said Yener Keskin, a 41-year-old financial analyst who leads the team. “He dominates all the way to the edge of the penalty area.”

Keskin also praised the rent-a-goalkeeper service that has allowed his team to fill the crucial position between the posts. It’s a win-win for the goalkeepers and for the teams, he joked.

“They come and play with us. They earn money. And they compensate for our shortcomings,” Keskin said.

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