By Leo Linden
A few weeks ago, we noted a potential changing of the guard in a few big European Leagues, with the traditional top side looking ripe to be knocked off the pedestal. And, while there’s no doubt that a similar massive status quo exists in Turkey, one fast-rising Istanbul side is trying to turn things upside down.
In a league which has seen three winners since the 1980s (and only four in total), even six games into the season, it is very rare to not see one of the big three –– Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, and Besiktas –– sitting on top of the table. That is exactly the case this season, however, as Istanbul Basaksehir have sent a mild shock wave through Turkish football by overtaking their three local rivals to lead the pack through six games.
Founded as a conglomeration of amateur squads in 1990, the club came from humble beginnings in the fourth tier, playing in front of naturally small audiences often made up of government employees who were given their tickets for free. Their first season was a resounding success, as a victory in an amateur league bumped them into the professional ranks. The new tier saw a name change, as well, as the club was renamed Istanbul BB.
A bit more success was on the horizon, as after briefly riding the barrier between the second and third tiers, Istanbul BB finally affirmed themselves as a strong club in the second division, remaining there between 1996 and 2007. Then came one of the biggest moments in club history when they were able to, after just 17 years in existence, break into the Super Lig by finishing in in second place in the second tier, one point off the pace.
After a string of mid-table results, Istanbul BB had fully planted themselves in the league, even climbing as high as sixth place in 2010 and 2012. Though their league result in the season between those wasn’t as good, it was the first time the club had a real chance to get their hands on a major trophy, as they came agonizingly close to winning the Turkish Cup, ultimately falling to Besiktas in the final on penalties after a thrilling 2-2 contest.
But a shocking drop off followed as a treacherous 2012-13 campaign saw the club finish third-to-last and take the drop. They again proved too strong for the second division, however, and immediately won their promotion back to the Super Lig.
Despite their up-and-down performances from their first stint in the top flight, since returning, Basaksehir (who took that name after the 2013-14 season) have only trended up. They burst back into the league with back-to-back fourth place finishes that have allowed the club to gain some experience on the continent.
But while the European campaigns have been far from impressive, Basaksehir have put their best foot forward domestically from day one, and that has allowed them to ride their current wave of momentum into this season. In the opening match of the year, Basaksehir faced a tough draw with Fenerbahce paying a visit.
They couldn’t have asked for a better start, however, as three minutes into the fixture, Brazilian forward Marcio Mossoro gave Basaksehir the early lead. After holding that for almost an hour, Basaksehir captain and center midfielder Emre was sent to the showers with a straight red, giving Fener a jolt of life. However, a moment of madness 20 minutes later from Mehmet Topal saw the match finish with 10 players each, and Basaksehir held on for a big three points.
His squad is largely unknown outside of former Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, and Newcastle man Emre, with a heavy Turkish base being joined by Bosnian midfielder Edin Visca, Romanian centre back Alexandru Epureanu, and the aforementioned Mossoro, but now is the time to strike for Basaksehir. A large portion of the squad that Avci has been pulling the strings with is aging, and with a lot of the players nearing –– or already on –– the wrong side of 30, this might be their best chance to really make an impact for some time to come.
It remains to be see whether or not they can really put forward a title chase this year, as well as start a potential rebuilding process in the next couple of seasons. But Basaksehir has a good a chance as anyone to do something that hasn’t been done since before the club existed by dethroning the big three, and they’ve already begun that quest on the right foot.