Turkish Super League promises action both on and off the pitch

Turkish Super League promises action both on and off the pitch

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Turkish Super League promises action both on and off the pitch

Fener players defend Galatasaray’s Didier Drogba. Apart from the Ivorian icon, Bursaspor’s Batalla, Trabzonspor’s Olcan and Beşiktaş’s Fernandes will be among the ones to watch in the new season. AA photo

Spor Toto Super League’s 56th season starts this weekend, promising a long and exciting campaign full of competition and controversy.

Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe will be aiming to dethrone two-time defending champion Galatasaray, who once again starts the campaign as the odds-on favorite. Trabzonspor, Kasımpaşa, Bursaspor, Kayserispor and Eskişehirspor appear to be the other teams with outside chances of joining the top pack while the relegation battle will be as dramatic as ever. But still, what goes on off the pitch might be equally intriguing this season.

Istanbul... United?

The Turkish top-flight’s new season starts at the end of a heated summer: Fans joined protesters and even led clashes against the police during the Gezi Park protests. Especially Beşiktaş’s fiery fan group çArşı made its presence felt, and saw the backing of Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray supporters when police crackdowns turned peaceful sit-in protests into nationwide anti-government rallies. Even though Ultraslan and GFB, the leading fan groups of Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe, made it clear that they distance themselves from the protests, fans with jerseys bearing yellow-red or yellow-navy blue joined rallies. The three rival teams’ supporters’ new-found fraternity was so impressive that they started a new fan group called “Istanbul United.”

However, it might not be all rosy and brotherhood on the fans’ front. With the İnönü Stadium undergoing renovation projects and Beşiktaş playing its home games at Kasımpaşa, the team that resides in the neighborhood where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spent his youth days, it is clear that Istanbul riot police will be alert on weekends. An interesting twist came last week when Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kılıç and Interior Minister Muammer Güler announced that fans will not be allowed to chant political slogans at stadiums, so it will be worth seeing whether fans will dare to sing “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance” during games or not. At the end of the day, there is speculation about how çArşı, many leading members of which were detained in June for participation in the Gezi Park protests, will fare at the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Stadium.

Similarly, it is bound to be one of the most exciting seasons on the pitch as well. Galatasaray went with the idea of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and made just some minor additions to its all-star squad.

Aurelien Chedjou’s experience will mean Galatasaray will not have to cope with the inconsistencies of fellow Cameroonian Dany Nounkeu at the back, while the signing of Erman Kılıç from Sivasspor will give much-needed squad depth to coach Fatih Terim, whose main job will be how to use just six of its 10 foreign players on the pitch due to the quota. But eyes will be on superstars Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, whose impacts were inescapable after arriving on January. Playmaker Selçuk İnan, two-time defending top scorer Burak Yılmaz, young defender Semih Kaya and Uruguayan star goalkeeper Fernando Muslera will also among the highlight names of the squad.

Fenerbahçe was much more active on the market, as the team spent millions for the likes of Bruno Alves, Emmanuel Emenike and Alpet Potuk. New coach Ersun Yanal will try to fill the shoes of Aykut Kocaman, who was a fan favorite despite falling behind Galatasaray in the last two seasons. Kocaman’s highlight was leading Fener to the Europa League semifinals last year, but Yanal’s European path is trickier: The team will face Arsenal in the Champions League playoffs, but it could still be ousted from the competition depending on a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hearing later this month.

Reconstruction time

Beşiktaş is having a similar European headache, but it seems less interested in that, but it is more focused on the future it is building with director of football Önder Özen and coach Slaven Bilic. The Croatian coach has a skillful and young squad and could be an outside contender for the title.

Trabzonspor is similarly focusing on rebuilding its squad with new boss Mustafa Akçay, on the season it will be commemorating the 30th anniversary of its last league title. Akçay will hope veteran former Chelsea duo Florent Malouda and Jose Bosingwa will lead a group of fresh faces.

Bursaspor had a shock 5-2 aggregate Europa League preliminary defeat to Vojvodina, and immediately parted ways with coach Hikmet Karaman, but the signing of Christoph Daum, a three-time Turkish champion, could give the Crocs a great chance of a good season. Robert Prosinecki’s Kayserispor, Ertuğrul Sağlam-coached Eskişehirspor and Kasımpaşa, which made one of the biggest signings of summer with Ryan Babel, will also try to sneak into top four for European places.