From crowds of 100 to top of the Süper Lig, high-flying underdogs İstanbul Başakşehir have taken Turkish football by surprise and have been a revelation, writes Sam May.
RB Leipzig are hitting the headlines in Germany and Nice in France, whilst ‘little Leicester City’, Başakşehir, are leading the way in Turkey.
Every year Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe or Galatasaray, the country’s main football institutions and Istanbul giants, usually claim the title. Despite Buraspor winning the league the 2009-10 season, it has always been the “Big Three”, in particular Galatasaray who have 20 titles, Fenerbahçe 19 titles, and Beşiktaş with 14 league triumphs, who usually hit the headlines at the end of the season.
It is a remarkable rise for a club that until recently struggled to attract crowds in three figures to matches at their 17,800-capacity Başakşehir Fatih Terim Stadium. There lack of support is down to the fact they are a young club and are based in a newly constructed area of Istanbul, but are starting to gather a student fan base.
They are a club on the rise, and soon could be the most fashionable club on Turkish soil. The club has beaten both Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe this season.
Both Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe have spent large amounts of money to employ the services of former English Premier League stars like Didier Drogba (now with Montreal Impact), Nigel de Jong, Lukas Podolski, as well as the Dutch maestro Wesley Sneijder, Martin Škrtel, Nani and Robin Van Persie. You can perhaps say that these players are past there best, but all have made a positive contribution in Turkey.
Is there a shock on the cards this season? Başakşehir are been talked about serious candidates to win the title. Following promotion in 2013/14, they have finished fourth place the last two seasons.
Having beat Fenerbahce and Galatasaray this season and drawn against Beşiktaş, they have been compared to Leicester’s remarkable story in 2015/16. There major strengths in the team are organisation, teamwork and ruthlessness on the break.
Cengiz Ünder – a £600,000 acquisition from Altinordu, has shone down the wing just like Riyad Mahrez. Their manager Abdullah Avci has also drawn comparison with Leicester’s Claudio Ranieri due to his management style.
Formed in 1990, Başakşehir sitting at the top of the table is remarkable, but the fact they sit there with low attendances, which just 2,000 or so fans at home games, makes things even sweeter. The players play with freedom, which of course makes them more relaxed to express themselves and show what they can.
Former Newcastle United midfielder Emre Belözoğlu, 36, is playing a huge part in the side, despite niggling injuries he picks up. He still has moments of technical class, but also add that experience in the side, which gives the Turkish underdogs an advantage.
Başakşehir’s bubble could burst. However, if the team continues to show togetherness, mental strength and the ability to recover quickly and calmly, the fairy tale, could become a reality. The fact they can beat the country’s super powers means setbacks are unlikely.
For a team that spent just £1.2 million last summer, it would be great to see them claim the trophy ahead of their decorated Istanbul neighbours.