Last season the Turkish Super Lig was played out under the shadow of a match-fixing scandal. Since the trouble emerged, few spoke about matters on the pitch. Fans started to become even greater enemies, most involved with the game took sides and many almost became lawyers for the defendants. To increase the interest in the Turkish game, the football federation introduced a playoff after 34 match days, but that will not continue this season. Now the Super Lig bids to shake off arguments about corruption and rekindle love for the game.
Galatasaray finished nine points ahead of their closest rivals Fenerbahce last season, but then scrapped through the playoffs to win the title. This summer Galatasaray have protected their key talents and added further Turkish stars in the shape of midfielder Hamit Altintop, and strikers Buark Yilmaz and Umut Bulut, while defender Dany Nounkeu and midfielder Nordin Amrabat are the foreign arrivals – Felipe Melo stays too after extending his loan from Juventus. After a super season last year under Fatih Terim, the Lions of Istanbul are firm favourites to retain the title and have already won the Turkish Super Cup, beating arch rivals Fenerbahce.
Once again Fenerbahce will provide the main opposition for Galatasaray and the Yellow Canaries have lavished cash on a number of stars this summer. Dirk Kuyt has arrived from Liverpool, while Turkey midfielder Mehmet Topal landed from Valencia after Emre Belozoglu left to join Atletico Madrid. Further arrivals are Serbian winger Milos Krasic and Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo, who has made permanent his loan move from Everton. Amidst all this, the concern for Fenerbahce is the midfield, with no box-to-box player to drive the team forward. Brazilian schemer Alex is now 35, meaning the Yellow Canaries really need to add another midfielder. If they do, they will be much more dangerous.
Another team expected to be in the mix are Trabzonspor. The Black Sea Storm have suffered a blow in losing last season’s top scorer Burak Yilmaz to Galatasaray, but despite that disappointing manager Senol Gunes, the side have not splashed cash on well-known replacements. Instead, four highly rated youngsters have arrived and there is little doubt Trabzonspor will be strong once again.
Back in Istanbul the city’s third major power, Besiktas, have felt the effect of financial problems. For the past three years the Black Eagles have almost been a feeder team for Portugal’s national team, with stars such as Simao Sabrosa (now sold to Espanyol) and Ricardo Quaresma just two of the Portuguese in the ranks. A number of players, including high-profile Portuguese stars, cost the club much money and now the board have opted to slash the wage bill. Despite finishing fourth last season, Besiktas are banned from European football due to the financial crisis at the club. New arrivals are midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup from Arsenal, Scottish goalkeeper Allan McGregor and French defender Julien Escdude, but the most important factor will be the performance of freshly appointed manager Samet Aybaba. A former Besiktas player, he has been waiting for his chance in the dugout.
Last season manager Ersun Yanal guided Eskisehirspor to fifth spot; the 50-year-old loves to play with young hopefuls and snapped up nine players under the age of 25. This season, the team will push to make the top four and, if former West Brom striker Diomansy Kamara fires, the omens look good.
Istanbul BB lost their successful manager Abdullah Avci to the Turkish national team last season and his assistant Arif Erdem steered the side to sixth spot. Now former Besiktas boss Carlos Carvalhal is in charge and the club have managed to hold onto most of their performers from the previous campaign, adding Turgay Bahadir from Bursaspor and Eduardo from Genoa. Istanbul BB will continue to frighten their opponents. Just below the Istanbul outfit, Sivasspor secured a seventh place finish last season despite predictions of doom. They too have kept hold of their stars, Polish midfielder Kamil Grosicki, and forwards Michael Eneramo and Ricardo Pedriel.
When Bursaspor won the Super Lig title in 2010, they seemed set to pose a big Anatolian danger for years to come, but the last two years have been spent trying to handle the weight on their shoulders. The side did reach the Turkish Cup final last season, but lost out to Fenerbahce. This time Bursaspor will continue along the same lines under coach Ertugurl Saglam. They have signed few players in the summer, leaving captain Omer Erdogan, Sebastian Pinto and Batalla as their key men.
The surprise package of 2011/12 were Genclerbirligi. Under young manager Fuat Capa, there are now high expectations despite a low budget. Capa has interesting approaches to training; the coach has had his players take part in a workshop as part of a rhythm group. The big new arrival is centre-back Dusko Tosic from Red Star Belgrade.
Gaziantepspor ended the first half of last season at the bottom of the league, but secured their status with their third manager of the campaign, Hikmet Karaman. He is still in charge and has brought fresh hope with the signings of hitman Senijad Ibricic from Lokomotiv Moscow and the snapping up of all-action midfielder Gilles Binya fresh from a spell with Neuchatel Xamax.
Elsewhere, Kayserispor are steady competitors in the Super Lig. They have suffered from selling many players in recent years, but have a good scouting department around Europe, especially within Germany. Kayserispor lost Amrabat to Galatasaray and Hasan Ali Kaldirim to Fenerbahce, but Paraguayan Cristian Riveros landed from Sunderland and Brazilian Cleyton from Panathinaikos. Georgian manager Shota Arveladze hopes to turn the clock back to the club’s glory days this season.
At Karabukspor it is a fresh start with German manager Michael Skibbe. The former Bayer Leverkusen boss was sacked by Galatasaray in 2009 and will find life at his new club a struggle, with survival the aim. Mersin Idman Yurdu suffered from a lack of stability last season. Despite a very strong start, the side were nearly relegated. Nurullah Saglam is a talented coach, but having bought more than ten players, starting well looks difficult. They have little hope of a top ten finish.
Orduspor boast a well-known coach in Hector Cuper. The Argentine took charge towards the end of last year and helped the club bag players from Spain, such as striker David Barral from Sporting Gijon and defender Agus. Orduspor are capable of springing more than the odd shock this season. Antalyaspor meanwhile endured a disappointing 2011/12 campaign and as a result have refreshed most of the side, but manager Mehmet Ozdilek remains. The team’s most important player will surely be striker Lamine Diarra, who was a prolific goalscorer at Partizan Belgrade.
The newcomers this season are Kasimpasaspor, Elazigspor and Akhisar Bld. Kasimpasa have a new board with money to spend and snapped up Uche Kalu from Espanyol, Andreas Isaksson (PSV Eindhoven) and Fabian Ernst (Besiktas) as proof. Whether the additions are enough to help the team survive remains to be seen. Elazigspor have signed more than ten players in their bid to stay up and will be bossed by Bulent Uygun, while Akhisar Bld are set to sample Super Lig football for the first time in their history and what they are capable of is open to debate.
Turkey will hope that the events of this season’s Super Lig are more notable for events on the pitch than off it. And with the quality at most clubs having been boosted even further, with teams having thus far even outspent those in Spain’s La Liga this summer, there is a good chance of this campaign being a thriller.
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