By Leo Linden
When it comes to Turkish football, three teams rule the land, but of those three, Besiktas lag behind. While Galatasaray and Fenerbahce have 20 and 19 championships, respectively, Besiktas sport only 11. While 11 titles is still very impressive, in recent times, Besiktas have fallen off the map compared to their rivals, only posting two titles since 1995 and allowing the others to far surpass them in the race for the best team in Turkey. This year, however, Besiktas have fared well in the first half of the season, as they sit atop the Super Lig and have a very good chance to once again reign supreme in Turkey.
Founded at the end of Ottoman Empire, Besiktas was named for the neighborhood in Istanbul in which the club is based. Originally, the club began as an athletics association with a focus on gymnastics, and it was almost a full decade before football was introduced in 1911.
The football side spent its infancy competing in a league which was comprised of teams in the greater Istanbul area. The side was solid in these years, bringing home multiple championships and building its rivalries with Fenerbahce and Galatasaray.
The Kara Kartallar, the Black Eagles, as they are known, then took their talents to a national league in the 1930s, competing for the title of Turkish champions while continuing to compete in the Istanbul league. Besiktas fared well in the national league, taking home a couple of titles before the Turkish First League was created in 1959, the first professional league in Turkey.
Since then, it has truly been a three-headed race between the Kara Kartallar and their two main rivals, who have captured all but seven of the country’s titles. While Besiktas was very strong in the beginning, winning the league’s second ever season in 1959-60 and later winning back-to-back championships in 1966 and 1967, the side quickly tumbled to the middle of the table, where they stayed for the majority of the 70s.
While they were still putting in quality efforts year in and year out, Fener and Gala were just too strong at the time, and Trabzonspor, who have six of those other seven titles, were superior to the Kara Kartallar, often residing the side to fourth place.
It was a calm before the storm, however, as Besiktas rebounded in the ‘80s, capturing league titles in 1982 and 1986 to boost their total to five. This turned out to be a sign of things to come, as the side entered its best stretch of football in the early ‘90s.
For the first and only time in club history, Besiktas
Unfortunately, that would be the closest the club would get as a long drought ensued, with the side not crowned champions again until 2003. Another title was captured in 2009, but both proved to just be blips in a league that is now firmly dominated by the other two Istanbul squads.
While the Kara Kartallar have been resurgent in the last three seasons, all have ended with third-place finishes, but a new opportunity has arisen for Besiktas this year.
With one game to go until the halfway mark in the Super Lig, Besiktas rest atop the table, one point ahead of Fenerbahce and nine in front of a sputtering Galatasaray side. Furthermore, Besiktas have been eliminated from European competition while the other two must still compete in the Europa League knockout stages, which could provide an advantage in the second half.
A major reason for Besiktas’ success this year has been loanee Mario Gomez, who Fiorentina shipped off to Turkey at the start of the year. The German
Gomez has been combining with fellow veteran foreigners Ricardo Quaresma and Jose Sosa to make Besiktas the top dogs so far. That trio has a lot to do with the success of the side so far, with a host of Turks providing quality assistance.
It seems that Besiktas has made some quality moves of late, bringing in players who have succeeded in some of Europe’s highest leagues to lead the team forward, and that could be a strategy that could keep the club relevant.
Only time will tell if the Turkish side can start making ground on their rivals, but they certainly are moving in the right direction.