Now that the World Cup is kaput, club football is just around the corner. In addition to the usual EPL previews, this year we at UF are going to be examining some of the other leagues around the world!
Country: Turkey (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti)
Total Population: 72,600,000
Official League Name: Spor Toto Süper Lig
International Cups: Top two to Champions League (1st place to group stage, 2nd to Third Qualifying Round). Third and Fourth places to Europa League.
Average Attendance Last Year: 14,058
Largest Stadium: Atatürk Olympic Stadium (Istanbul BB)–76,092
Smallest Stadium: Antalya Atatürk Stadium (Antalyaspor)–11,137
İstanbul B.B. (6th)
Karabükspor (1st–TFF First League)
Bucaspor (2nd–TFF First League)
Konyaspor (6th–TFF First League; won playoff)
And with that, I switch to the American (no squigglies) alphabet.
Parity: More than most. Stick with me here.
From inception in 1959 to 2009, all of four teams won the top flight title–Fenerbahce (17), Galtasaray (17), Besiktas (13) and Trabzonspor (6). In 2010, Bursaspor became the fifth club to win the title. Parity! But wait, there’s more.
In 2009, Sivasspor led the league from Round 14 to Round 30, finishing in the runners-up position to Besiktas. Additionally, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce were beaten to third by Trabzonspor, marking the first time in 28 years that only one of the three big Istanbul clubs finished in the top 3. Parity!
Unfortunately, that’s about where it ends. Sivasspor followed up their second place campaign with a 15th place finish–good enough for the last non-relegation spot. The last time previous to 2009 that one of the top two places was occupied by someone other than the traditional Big Four (actually more of a Big Three Plus One) was way back in 1981, when Adanaspor finished second.
So, there are cracks in the quadropoly at the top, but they are very fine and likely to be fixed before too long.
Relegation/League Structure: A throwback. 34 rounds, winner take all. Relegation from the bottom three places. No playoffs anywhere.
Drama: I’m sure there are a lot of shenanigans in a league like this every year. Unfortunately, I am not adept at finding many of them for Turkey. What I can present is what may have been last year’s oddest scandal, centered in the city of Ankara.
For those that didn’t read us at this time last year, here’s the story. Two clubs from Ankara were in the Super Lig last year: Ankaragucu and Ankakaraspor. After 4 matches, Ankaraspor were declared relegated and every previous and future match for the season were declared as a 3-0 loss. What happened was that the mayor of Ankara, also honorary chairman of Ankaraspor, strong-armed his son into the same position of Ankaragucu. The next day, the last day of the transfer window, Ankaragucu’s two best players were transferred to Ankaraspor, with undisclosed (likely non-existent) fees. TFF stepped in, shut down Ankaraspor, and disciplined anone they could get their hands on.
Also, and also at Ankaragucu, Darius Vassel was evicted from his hotel after the club stopped paying his bills two months after the above incident. No wonder he didn’t re-sign.
Question Marks: Does the parity last? Some of the traditionally bigger clubs have had a summer of sales. Galatasaray and Besiktas have both parted ways with more than 20 players this summer, some on transfers, but most on frees. That’s not to say they haven’t strengthened, however, as both clubs have made high profile (and expensive) siginings as well. As you can see below, the other Istanbul club–Fenerbahce–also spent big this summer. Therefore, signs point to no.
Since it takes three to make a trend, will there be another surprise top two finish, thus making a trend? Honestly, if there is, I have no idea where it is coming from. Bursaspor, keeping most of the same team from last season (to date: four in, four out) will be stretched thin by the extra games of the Champions League. But, it could happen. I would recommend keeping an eye on either Istanbul BB or Eskisehirspor as outsiders this term.
IN: Robert Vittek (Ankaragucu from Lille; €2.1M)
Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas from Inter Milan; €7.2M)
Guti (Besiktas from Real Madrid; free)
Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce from Chelsea; €5.5M)
Caner Erkin (Fenerbahce from CSKA Mosvow, €3M)
Issiar Dia (Fenerbahce from AS Nancy; €6.5M)
Lorik Cana (Galatasaray from Sunderland; €6M)
OUT: Darius Vassel (Ankaragucu; released)
Abdul Kader Keita (Galatasaray to Al Sadd; €8.15M)
Mehmet Topal (Galatasaray to Valencia; €5M)
Rigobert Song (Trabzonspor; free agent)
Get to Know the Gaffers: While most of the managers are homegrown (and therefore, sadly, all but completely unknow to me), there are a couple of foreign names you may recognize in the managerial ranks.
Bernd Schuster (Besiktas) The Blond Angel had a long career playing in Spain for both Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Atletico Madrid. His managerial career hasn’t reached such lofty heights. He did have one and a half so-so seasons at Real Madrid. Besiktas is his first managerial job since.
Frank Rijkaard (Galatasaray) Another former La Liga boss in the Super Lig. After helming the Dutch NT Sparta Rotterdam, Rijkaard coached Barcelona from 2003-08. He left shortly after his sh*t got stolen WHILE HE WAS IN THE HOUSE. Similarly to his above former coaching rival, this is Rijkaard’s only top job since being in Spain.
Júlio César da Silva e Souza (Gazientepspor) Top returning scorer from last season (leading scorer Ariza Makukula is now in Portugal), Cesar scored 13 goals last year.
Emre Belozoglu (Fenerbahce) A NT standout, Emre has been at Fenerbahce since leaving Newcastle in 2008. League player of the year last year.
Nihat Kahveci (Besiktas) I can’t think of Nihat without thinking of the goals that beat the Czech Republic at Euro 2008. He returned to Besiktas, the club of his youth, after spending seven productive years in Spain with Real Sociedad and Villareal.
Guti (Besiktas) He first played with Real Madrid’s C team in 1994. He’s a legend there. This is kind of sad, but at least he goes somewhere where he know his manager already.
Diego Lugano (Fenerbahce) Captain of the World Cup’s surprise team, Uruguay. He has been with Fenerbahce since 2006.
Milan Baros (Galatasaray) Remember him? One-time EPL goal poacher moved to Galatasaray in 2008. He has settled nicely, netting 42 times in 67 matches.
Danny Vukovic (Konyaspor) No, you shouldn’t know who this is. It’s sad I remember this, but I do. Slap-happy Australian keeper who recieved a 15 month ban for slapping the ref’s hand during the 2008 A-League final. Vukovic joins Konyaspor as their number 1 this summer after finally getting the hell out of Dodge.
Ismail Koybasi (Besiktas) A 21 year old who played sparingly for Besiktas last year, he has an expensive price on his head (moved to Istanbul for 6.5M Euros plus two players) and will need to prove his worth on the left side. Already been given three caps, though, with the full NT.
Baris Memis (Trabzonspor) This 20 year old has featured for all Turkish youth NTs, ages 15 through 21. He has featured 35 times for Tranzonspor and scored a goal on his debut in 2007 int he Turkish Cup.
Caner Erkin (Fenerbahce) This 21 year old officially moves back in country from Russia, though he was loaned to Galatasaray last year. Though Galatasaray declined to sign him, he has a bright future, and already has 14 full caps under his belt.
Arda Turan (Galatasaray) He should probably be in the above category, but at 23, he still has a long road ahead of him. Turan has been capped 40 times and scored 7 international goals already. Last year, at 22, he was made captain of Galatasaray. He is an amazing talent and, according to IFFHS (you know how we feel about them), he is the second most popular footballer in the world.
American Rooting Interest?: Nope. The closest I can get for you is Josh Simpson, Canadian, who plays for Manisaspor. He played college ball at the University of Portland. Other than that, I got nuthin’.
Prediction: I tell you this: I have no idea. Since I got turned on to the Turkish League two seasons back, I have learned a couple of things. One, Turkish football, one the whole, is incredibly exciting, fast-paced, and open. Two, don’t even pretend to act like I know what will happen.
What I will say is this–the big three Istanbul clubs all look strong. I don’t foresee any great upsets at the top (i.e. no Bursaspor/Sivasspor run this year). Pressed into it, I say Fenerbahce win it this year, though I could be easily persuaded for Galatasaray too. Which means, undoubtedly, that Besiktas, with their new boss and Spanish playtoy, will run away with the title.
I had to.