The Turkish Super League has played a third of its season. Go ahead and take a look at the standings. You can find them at this link. For the first time in Turkish top flight football, going back to the establishment of top flight professional football in 1959, none of the Istanbul big 3 clubs are in the top 3 spots this far into a season. People may not have noticed due to the fact that, here in the United States, the Turkish league is noticed by Turkish Americans or hardcore fans of the sport.
So what has gotten into the league this year? Considering all the big transfers that are hyped to the moon for the big 3 Istanbul clubs, and the fact that the money the big 3 Istanbul clubs have is far greater, one would think that the big 3 would have no trouble taking care of business against the smaller Anatolian sides. With players such as Guti and Ricardo Quaresma of Beşiktaş, Juan Pablo Pino, Milan Baros, and Arda Turan for Galatasaray, and Alex, Miroslav Stoch, and Emre Belozoglu for Fenerbahçe, the big 3 Istanbul clubs have players far better in quality. So why is there the changing of the guard?
Perhaps this is a residual effect of Bursaspor's historic league title last season. Nobody had expected that Bursaspor of all clubs would win the league title, much less get into a European spot. But considering that an Anatolian club won the league for the first time since 1984, it has perhaps given the impression that other Anatolian clubs can not only compete with the big boys, but can beat them at any given chance.
The current leaders, Trabzonspor, have had a championship tradition going back to their golden generation of the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. The goalkeeper from that time and current manager, Senol Gunes, has a team that looks like they might contend for their first title since the 1983-1984 season. With a gem of a goalkeeper in Onur Kivrak, a backline anchored by the venerable Egemen Korkmaz, a creative dynamo in Gustavo Colman, and finishers in Umut Bulut and Jaja, Trabzonspor looks like they have the necessary tools to finally break their championship drought. Players that should also be mentioned are the speedy Ibrahima Yattara, and the defensive midfielders Ceyhun Gulselam and Selcuk Inan, who can transition the team from defense to offense with relative ease. There's a reason why Trabzonspor gave Liverpool a scare in their Europa League qualifying tie, and if Trabzonspor got another chance, they'd most likely be in European competition. Gunes has a reputation for being one of the more intelligent coaches in the league. Ever since coming back from a stint at FC Seoul in the K-League, Gunes has built Trabzonspor into a contender, even winning the Turkish Cup last season. With many weapons at their arsenal, Trabzonspor look to be the favorites to take the Turkish league title this season and ends their league title drought.
Bursaspor have proven this year that they are not a fluke. Regardless of their Champions League performances, in which they haven't scored a goal, much less win a match, their league play has been stellar. While their only loss of the season came at home against Trabzonspor, Bursaspor is still keeping pace and look like they can get the lead at any time should the other contenders slip. Bursaspor can count on their "big 3" of Volkan Sen, Sercan Yildirim, and Ozan Ipek to create chances for goals. While all three of those players have not been on the pitch together as much as last season, those three have proved that they are players of quality, and should be on the radar for other European leagues. Omer Erdogan, an ageless wonder in his early 30s, anchors a back line that has only given up seven goals so far this season. While some players such as Leonel Nunez and Frederico Insua are still adapting to the league, Bursaspor are proving their mettle in the league. While many point to their Champions League failures, to be fair, Bursaspor have never been in a competition of that sort of prestige before. No team seems to do well in their first season of Champions League play, and Bursaspor is no exception to that rule. As for the Turkish league, Bursaspor are proving that they want another title and destroy the notion that only the Istanbul big 3 should have a stranglehold on the title.
While it may be surprising to those who follow Turkish football in Turkey, and elsewhere, but not surprising to those who follow the sport far more closely, Kayserispor is becoming a legitimate title contender. While his experience as a manager has only been with Kayserispor, Shota Arveladze has built on the foundations left by former Kayserispor managers Ertugrul Saglam (currently Bursaspor manager) and Tolunay Kafkas (currently Gaziantepspor manager) and has gotten Kayserispor to play to their potential. Kayserispor is considered to be a dark horse in the running for the title. Kayserispor can boast the best defense in the Super League so far, as they have given up only six goals so far in the campaign. Perhaps if lady luck had smiled on them a few more times, they'd most likely lead the league. What's more amazing is that they have been playing well without highly regarded striker Franco Cangele, who has been out of action since tearing his ACL against Fenerbahçe in week 4 of the season. Kayserispor can also boast stellar Turkish players, such as Serdar Kesimal (recently called up for the national team match against the Netherlands), Selim Teber, and Omer Sismanoglu. Sismanoglu is one to watch for down the right wing, as his performance against Galatasaray this past week have put people on notice. Their foreign contingent consists of players who fill in key roles for the club. Alexsandre Amulashivili is a good compliment to Kesimal in the central of defense. Marcelo Zayaleta is a finisher in the mold of what Ariza Makukula provided for Kayserispor on loan last season, in that he can finish off attacks by banging the ball into the back of the net. Jonathan Santana is an attacking midfielder that can create plays and score when needed. Kayserispor is a team to watch out for, and probably one of the more complete teams at the moment.
This season has been a weird season for those following Turkish football. People are used to seeing the big 3 Istanbul clubs occupy the top of the table. But now the league has become more competitive. With Trabzonspor back into prominence, Bursaspor looking to repeat, and Kayserispor looking to make history of their own, it will not be a surprise to see any of the three Anatolian clubs currently occupying the top three spots to win the league title. Fans of the big 3 Istanbul clubs will complain that their teams should be doing better. However, this should be a wake-up call for everyone following Turkish football that there is other teams ready and hungry to become champions. The big 3 should not be resting on their laurels, and this season has proved it.