Monday, September 21, 2009
ESPNsoccernet: September 22, 11:00 AM UK
Turkish big-boys continue to assert dominance
Last year all the talk in the Turkish league was of how lowly Sivasspor could break the established order at the top. The start to this season, however, has proved that fairytales do not happen and that the power of the big clubs in the country will continue to trump the plucky underdogs as long as the quality players remain.
Two of the country's biggest, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, have begun the season in flying form. With 100% records after six games, they have opened up a six-point gap over their nearest challengers, Eskisehirspor, and look like pushing each other all the way to the finishing post.
By contrast, the 'Brave Men' of Sivasspor are looking decidedly less brave this season after exceeding all expectations last year. Five defeats after six games, and one single point from Denizlispor, has seen them sink without a trace.
Manager Bülent 'The Soldier' Uygun was heralded as a genius for his ability to bring a side devoid of big names through as genuine challengers for the title in 2008-09. Unfortunately he cannot even pinpoint a European distraction as the reason for his failure thus far, as Sivas were beaten 5-0 on aggregate, 3-0 at home and 2-0 away, by Shakhtar and eliminated from all European competitions earlier this month.
The club actually went on a two-day break from the training ground to try and solve their problems, but it does not appear to have done much good, as they returned to a similar story - defeat against Manisaspor.
Defending champions Besiktas can only claim to have done marginally better though. While they topped the table ahead of Sivas and also won the cup last season, they have struggled to make an impression this season and have gone five games without a win.
Besiktas coach Mustafa Denizli, already under pressure, was quoted as saying that he was considering leaving the club following the 1-0 loss to Manchester United in the Champions League. While they may not have been expected to beat the English champions in Europe's top club competition - even at home - the ball started rolling with their abysmal domestic performances, which led him to say: "I have the responsibility through the good times or the days when things are not going how we want them to. There are ten days to the CSKA Moscow game [in the Champions League]. Until that day, things have to change at Besiktas. I may be one of the things to change."
Certainly a 1-0 defeat at home to Kayserispor will not have helped his situation and, despite playing reasonably well, the club have not picked up the points they need. Beaten 3-0 by cross-city rivals Galatasaray in their Istanbul derby last Saturday, some gossip from the Black Eagles' fans has suggested the team are 'hexed'; although footballers have always been a superstitious lot.
Of course it may just be that Galatasaray are one of the most in-form sides in Europe at the moment. Averaging around three goals per game, Frank Rijkaard has turned the Lions into a real attacking force. Always blessed with some of the best Turkish players - such as Arda Turan - his two main stars have Premier League pedigree.
Former Manchester City midfielder Elano and ex-Liverpool striker Milan Baros have settled well in the Turkish league and wingers Harry Kewell and Abdel Kader Keita have also proved themselves to be tricky customers. Rijkaard's team rarely loses once going ahead, and they seem to have adopted a Dutch style. Unsurprising given their backroom staff.
Assistant manager and Dutch legend Johan Neeskens that their unbeaten run is no big mystery. "There are no secrets to this," he said. "This is an important statistic, but we need to work hard to maintain it. There is no doubt that this is what we are going to do."
Fenerbahçe are the only other side in the league to have maintained an unbeaten run. The fourth-placed side from last year have come out of the traps well in the league and matched its best-ever start to the season, if not in the Europa League where they were defeated by FC Twente.
Recent form suggests that the Yellow Canaries may be losing their tempo, as they failed to convince despite picking up three points from their games against Manisaspor and Bursaspor; yet German coach Christoph Daum said his team will learn from its defeat against FC Twente, which will make the team a better side in the league. ''That loss will make us stronger, I am sure of it," he said.
And it may well do. Fener have started the season aggressively and while they need to be more efficient in making passes that may lead to goals, they are looking capable of maintaining a push towards the title. While Galatasaray have turned their attention to flowing attacking football, Fener seem to have gone the other way. Something that is backed up by Daum: "We battle until the final whistle,'' he said. ''That shows that the new Fenerbahçe never stops combating in a game."
While the top two continue to battle in their own ways for control of the league, the Turkish top flight has been unable to ignore a scandal that has seen Ankaraspor demoted to the second division. The club were punished following links to top flight rivals Ankaragucu - the new home of Darius Vassell - which the country's football authorities said were anti-competitive.
The debate was sparked after Ahmet Gökçek, son of Ankaraspor's honorary chairman Melih Gökçek, who is also the mayor of Ankara, was elected the chairman of Ankaragücü at the end of August. Two of Ankaraspor's best players were transferred to Ankaragücü on the final day of the transfer window for undisclosed fees and TFF officials found that the ''merging process'' of the two clubs was damaging competition.
Neither club made the best start to the season, but the news has made significant waves in the region, overshadowing the impact made by Ankaragücü's high profile summer signing Vassell, who has two goals in six starts.
Any hopes that one of the smaller clubs could fight the established order this year for the title appears to have been put to bed already. With Sivasspor and Ankaragücü struggling with issues that do not always fall on the pitch, Trabzonspor's 1984 title looks set to stay as the last time one of the big three clubs in Turkey failed to win the trophy.