By Leo Linden
A shift in Turkish football may be in the offing. The big three of Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, and Besiktas still control the country, but there are some serious challengers emerging. One of them is Konyaspor, who has made a dent in the Turkish Super Lig in the past few years. The club from the central Turkish town of Konya has made headway recently in both cup and domestic competitions and now has its chance to take home a first major piece of hardware. The question that always remains to be seen is whether or not Konyaspor is actually in the thick of the fight for the long haul, but there are a few pieces of evidence that Turkish football is changing, and the success of the Anadolu Kartalı (Anatolian Eagle) could be the latest in that trend.
Though Konyaspor was founded in 1922 — under the name Konya Gençlerbirliği, which they would keep until 1965 — not a ton is known about the earlier history of the side. What is known is that the club did not make it out of the lower leagues for quite a while. The team waded through the city and local leagues without much upwards mobility despite experiencing some moderate success at that level.
However, as Turkish football developed, so did Konyaspor, and with the name change in 1965 came a new chapter as the club played in the second flight for the first time ever. Making it to the elite level proved harder than first expected, though, as Konyaspor would have to wait quite a while for their breakthrough into the Super Lig.
After bouncing between the second and third tiers for over two decades (spending most of their time in the second division), Konyaspor finally made the jump to the top flight in 1988. For a newly promoted side, Konyaspor took to the challenge impressively, finishing eighth in their first top-flight season. Three more years of quality mid-table results followed, but eventually they were relegated in 1993 after coming dead last with just two wins out of 30 games.
Konyaspor had gotten a decent taste of the top flight, but the miserable relegation was harder to shake off than expected, as the side did not return to the Super Lig for a decade. Again, the club fought well upon promotion, lasting six years in their second top-flight stint which again saw them avoid a relegation scrap until the very end.
After relegation finally hit again in 2009, Konyaspor were committed to immediately fighting back and were promoted in 2010, only to take the drop again in 2011. However, after just a two-year stay in the second flight,
It’s easy to say that Konyaspor’s spot in the top flight might not be secure, as they previously have a record of short but meaty runs in the Super Lig, but this go around seems different. The first major change is that, in 2014, Konyaspor moved into the Konya Büyükşehir Belediye Stadium. With a capacity over 42,000, Konyaspor can bring in more revenue — even though they rarely fill their stadium entirely — and have a space where they can host European competition.
It didn’t seem like the latter would come so quickly, but last season, Konyaspor shocked the Turkish football pyramid, rising all the way to third place and earning a direct qualification spot to the Europa League group stage. Reality hit in European competition, as Konyaspor were ousted with just one point, but it was still a massive success for a club that had never achieved anything close to that level of play before.
The side couldn’t make a run back to the competition through the league route this year, as Konyaspor are in line for another mid-table finish, but the side does still have a chance to salvage its season in the Turkish Cup.
Konyaspor cruised through the group stage of the competition (the Turkish Cup is more closely mirrored to the Champions League than the FA Cup) and then began ousting opponents in a string of close ties. First was an extra-time Round of 16 victory over Umraniyespor, followed by a late winner in the round of eight against Sivasspor before they overturned a 3-2 first leg deficit to Kasimpasa to win their semifinal 4-3 on aggregate.
On May 31, Konyaspor has a chance to win the cup, make it back to the Europa League, and take home the first piece of hardware in club history. Regardless of result, if Konyaspor and a few other teams, including their opponents in the cup final, can continue to grow and evolve, this could be just the beginning of an overhaul to the Turkish football landscape. The big three still have all the means necessary to stay at or near the top of the pile, but challengers like Konyaspor are emerging and look to be planting themselves for the long haul. Only time will tell if the challenge is legitimate.