There’s been a moving of the tectonic plates in the Super Lig.
Besiktas are on the rise: consecutive league titles, a third star on the club crest and impressive runs in Europe. But, not content with domestic domination, club president Fikret Orman has his eye on a bigger prize. Orman’s plans to build a global brand entered phase one this summer when the reigning champions became the first Turkish side to play a game in China. The ambitious club president sees the trip as the first concrete step on the path towards opening up to China and beyond.
This is very much the same Besiktas side as last season apart from the absence of Vincent Aboubakar, who returned to Porto after his season on loan yielded 12 league goals. Álvaro Negredo has replaced the Cameroon international and Besiktas went one better than the traditional Turkish airport welcoming party, announcing his arrival with a ‘Come To Besiktas’ social media clip that went viral. Pepe was snapped up from Real Madrid and Jeremain Lens joined on loan from Sunderland. Negredo and Pepe will need time to settle but Lens is already well accustomed to the league after spending last season on loan at Fenerbahce – making his move to Besiktas highly controversial. The champions do have an ageing side which is not an immediate problem but will have to be addressed in the near future.
Meanwhile, Fenerbahce have been forced to put their rivalry with Galatasaray on temporary hold to focus on the Besiktas threat. Selling arguably their three best performing players last season, Simon Kjaer, Lens and Moussa Sow was probably not what fans had in mind. The Yellow Canaries are coming off the back of a dismal campaign, finishing last season in third place.
The Kadikoy-based side have brought in Mathieu Valbuena and Mehmet Ekici to add a creative spark that was missing last term. Nabil Dirar was signed from Monaco to replace Lens on the wing, while Chile international Mauricio Isla and 17-year-old Macedonian attacking midfielder Elif Elmas have also arrived. “Elmas” translates to diamond in English although time will tell whether he lives up to his surname. The purchase of the former Tottenham striker Roberto Soldado could help fill the gap left by Sow after he returned to his parent club Al-Ahli when his loan deal ended and Emmanuel Emenike was sold to Olympiakos.
The perpetually injured Robin van Persie continues to struggle for fitness and Fernandão is still recovering from a broken arm which meant that the 20-year-old Ahmethan Kose was promoted from the reserves to start in the Europa League qualifiers against Sturm Graz.
Yet the biggest signing Fenerbahce made this summer was the manager, Aykut Kocaman, with the former defender back for his second stint at the club. He divided opinion over the manner in which he severed ties with former captain Alex de Souza during his first spell in charge, but guided the team to the semi-finals of the 2012-13 Europa League, the league title and the Turkish Cup. Change is often feared, in fact it even has a phobia - metathesiophobia. Kocaman’s approach may rustle a few feathers but Fenerbahce are in need of a new approach.
But while they may have had a disappointing season, by contrast, Galatasaray were in total disarray after finishing in fourth. The Lions do however, have a habit of pulling a rabbit out the hat when times get tough. In 2011, coming off the back of their worst ever league finish, Unal Aysal brought back Fatih Terim for a third spell at the helm and making ambitious transfers. The Red-Yellows went onto dominate Turkish football, winning three league titles.
Current club president Dursun Ozbek was staring down the barrel last month. Galatasaray got rid of their three best players from last season, Wesley Sneijder, Bruma and Lukas Podolski, who scored a combined 35 goals. To make matters worse they crashed out of the Europa League second qualifying round against Swedish minnows Ostersund.
The Lions have since embarked on an extensive transfer campaign revolutionising last season’s side. Maicon, Younès Belhanda, Bafatémbi Gomis, Fernando, Badou Ndiaye have already joined. Galatasaray have spent €35m on transfers and with West Ham winger Sofiane Feghouli and Juventus winger Kwadwo Asamoah also nearing moves, that figure could continue to rise.
Galatasaray have not replaced Sneijder, Podolski and Bruma with the same calibre of player but what they have done is improve the squad overall. The Lions have a more well balanced, deeper pool to choose from with more options. It reflects Igor Tudor’s insistence on creating a more physical side. On paper the side are title challengers. There is however, one major problem. Tudor. Is he capable of navigating his newly-built ship through treacherous waters? The British summer is less changeable than Galatasaray’s top job has been over the last few years. The board have made 10 managerial appointments since 2013. Tudor himself was only given the job in February, replacing Jan Olde Riekerink.
The former Juventus defender has not exactly got off to a great start with regular bust-ups with players and controversies. The board are publicly backing the Croatian manager but with Terim available it would not be at all surprising if Tudor ends up the latest addition to Galatasaray’s rapidly expanding managerial graveyard.
But the league is no longer a three-way race. Trabzonspor and Basaksehir – surprise runners up last season – will also be contending for the big prize. The former are dark horses. Ersun Yanal is one of the most capable – and proven – managers in the league having already guided Fenerbahce to the championship in 2014. The Black Sea Storm have had a season to adapt to Yanal’s system and kept their core intact with a few important additions such as Juraj Kucka from Milan and club legend Burak Yilmaz, who has returned from China. Yusuf Yazici is worth keeping a close eye on.
The attacking midfielder was snapped up by Mesut Özil’s agent Erkut Sogut after bursting onto the scene after the winter break. Several clubs - including Premier League sides - are keeping close tabs on the 20-year-old who scored six goals and provided 10 assists in 22 games. Eighteen-year-old wonder kid Abdulkadir Durmaz is also likely to get his break in what should be an exciting, attack focused side.
Basaksehir surprised many finishing second to Besiktas and reaching the Turkish Cup final but it was no fluke. Manager Abdullah Avci has built a machine. The former Istanbul minnows are now a force to be reckoned with. Basaksehir are also breaking with tradition. Playing an organised, disciplined style based on systems and tactics as opposed to the emphasis on passion usually attributed to Turkish football.
Avci lost his wonder kid Cengiz Under to Roma for €15m – a record fee for a Turkey international leaving the Super Lig. Under leaving will not be as big of a blow as is widely expected. Basaksehir signed former Manchester City left-back Gaël Clichy, former Fulham and Birmingham City winger Kerim Frei, Feyenoord winger Eljero Elia, Cameroon international Aurélien Chedjou and Turkey international striker Mevlut Erdinc to join Emmanuel Adebayor up front. As usual with Avci, the transfers have added depth and options to one of the most well balanced sides in the league.
Another club on the rise is Antalyaspor. The Scorpions signed Jean-Armel Drolé from Perugia, Jérémy Ménez, Maicon – the Lokomotiv Moscow one – and former Arsenal man Johan Djourou. Samuel Eto’o continues to age like a fine wine and has now scored 38 times in 62 games for club located on the Turkish riviera. A title challenge may be slightly out of reach but they could end up challenging for a top-four spot.
It is also good to have one of the major Izmir clubs back in the top-flight. Goztepe are one of the oldest sides in the league - founded in 1925 - and based in the third biggest city in Turkey. The newly promoted side have wealthy backers and should be able to stay up next season.
This season should mark the return of Galatasaray and Fenerbahce as title challengers but there are too many question marks surrounding both sides. Kocaman is going to need time to implement his system and get the summer arrivals to settle.
The Lions meanwhile have built a team capable of roaring. Tudor however, has a similar attitude towards his players as the medieval British monarch sharing the same surname had with his many wives. He’ll probably not chop off their heads but it would be a surprise if Tudor goes more than a few weeks without trouble brewing.
Besiktas remain the team to beat. Their manager, Senol Gunes has installed a winning culture and managed to keep his side’s backbone intact while strengthening in defence, on the wings and up front. It is difficult seeing this side being stopped anytime soon and they may just spring a surprise or two in the Champions League this season.
Gordon Milne guided Besiktas to three league titles in a row between 1989-92. The golden era was followed by a barren patch, with just one championship over the following nine seasons. There is a powershift towards the Vodafone Arena but history teaches us how quickly that can change.
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