Başakşehir’s crazy story

A stereotype is a “preconceived idea, not based on direct experience and hardly modifiable”.

When you hear about Turkish football, you may think about very warm stadiums, with the classical cliché of magical atmospheres sometimes flowing into ultras disorders. Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş’ original and coloured coreographies, as well as the unconditioned and loyal support of the claret-and-blue Trabzon wall when the whole stadium was cheering the team in spite of the 0-4 defeat vs. Napoli, these examples always confirmed our impressions: Turkey is a country where supporters are in the middle of the game, also outside the pitch. Another example, the ultras group çArsi from Beşiktaş got involved in an attempted coup process. Yes, exactly: çArsi would have tried to “take down the government”, as reported on court sheets.

In front of this last event that well resumes the importance of this phenomenon in Turkey, to talk about Istanbul Başakşehir – absolute revelation of 2014-2015 season – looks like an enormous paradox. Reading on Wikipedia or online websites there are just vague information about them; the title “Istanbul Başakşehir qualify to Europa League” is not under the spotlights, as if we were talking about a normal sports result. No, it is not like that. First of all, for a simple detail: Başakşehir, one year ago, was founded in Istanbul.

The club raises from contested Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi (Istanbul BB)’s ashes, municipality property.

Yes, you read it rightly: in Turkey this unusual activity is not just possible, it’s even actively promoted by last 25 years’ governments, without too many political party differences. Well, some criticism has been raised: in the 2013 campaign, when Mustafa Sarigul, CHP’s major contestant, declared to shut down Istanbul BB; that bizzarre identity team, playing in the enormous Ataturk Stadium with 80K seats (the one where Milan-Liverpool was played) where the average-attendance of the orange-and-blue team was firmly under 5K people.

An empty cathedral, distressing as few others in the world, where the only supporter group (Grey Owls) distinguished itself from the others because of its surprisingly politically correct chants.

So, in spite of Sarigul’s defeat at the municipal elections, the new major Kadir Topbaş decided to listen to the many citizen’s complaints. Istanbul BB were cancelled, but the promotion to the Turkish Süper Lig, obtained on the 2013-2014 PTT 1.Lig season, was raising uncomfortable questions to the Turkish Football Federation headquarters.

5th june 2014: without even a press conference, Istanbul Başakşehir were founded.

No more tied with the municipality but linked with a district yet under construction on the western peripheric side of the town, the new-born Başakşehir found themselves with a brand-new stadium with 15K seats, originally scheduled to host Istanbul BB matches.

Many Turkish people realized about the new club one month later, during the Presidential elections campaign.

Of course Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the next President of Turkish Republic (10 days later), entered the pitch in the new Fatih Terim Arena. Named after the well-known former Milan and Fiorentina coach, the new Başakşehir Arena is a very modern stadium, respecting the most recent UEFA requests.

The local press’ titles gave too much attention to Erdogan’s surprisingly smooth left foot, while a revolution silently was beginning in Istanbul. Softly, without too much attention: the choice of Abdullah Avci as a manager was a winner one. 4-5-1, the right technical-tactical mix and a cast-iron defensive discipline: a deadly receipt, if supported by the young Bosnian Edin Visca’s sprints and Semih Senturk’s goals. The goalkeeper, a new absolute character: Volkan Babacan, now fundamental also for the Turkish National Team.

Avci talked clearly to the orange-and-blue new-born: “Aim: Europa League”, as written on Twitter by Jeremy Perbet just arrived from Villarreal last august.

A thunderous laugh, my reaction: I admit it with no shame.

Because the show I was about to see would have left me with no words.

24th October 2014: 3 months pass, Başakşehir conquer Turkish football.

And do it with no trophies, but putting a deadly stone on Cesare Prandelli’s adventure in Istanbul. With a “Italian-like” style of play, in front of the former Azzurri coach: the pitch is a shadow game between a Orange shirt and another, while Fernando Muslera sees continuously opponents in front of him, increasing by every action. 1, 2, 3, 4 times: Galatasaray’s tactical ideas do not exist, while Başakşehir give a football lesson to Cimbom (4-0) by dominating a derby that stays in the red-and-yellow story until the end of the season. Maybe because Başakşehir will decide the title as well: it could not have been like that, in a mad year. Another 6-months period passes, this time Fatih Terim Arena almost joins 10K full seats. Incredible, maybe the no-more municipal property change worked out. And Başakşehir give back the favour to Galatasaray, cancelling Fenerbahçe and closing an astonishing match, 11 vs 7, on 2-2. The result is enough, Gala are the new Turkish champions.

While Istanbul turns red-and-yellow, Bosphorus bridge included, Başakşehir are officially qualified to Europa League.

And the destiny is really sarcastic: another time tiptoing, when 80 millions of Turkish people are thinking about Galatasaray’s 20th title. Abdullah Avci, insulted and contested in his Turkish National Team spell, gets his personal redemption: now Europe is right there, in one month in Başakşehir, at the end of july. Starting since the third summer round, where the opponents could be even Borussia Dortmund or Sampdoria. Meanwhile, how many things have changed in Başakşehir, in less than one year.

From zero supporters, to the European enthusiasm during the Fenerbahçe match.

From the promotion as Istanbul BB to the summer transfer market: the Albanian striker Sokol Cikalleshi, the Nigerian sensation Musa Mohammed, bought thanks to a scouting system that is yet to be a standard for many Turkish clubs. Now Başakşehir think about Emre Belozoglu, experienced player available on a free transfer. Despite the AKP Erdogan Party’s friendship – not really seen as positive for many opponents, Başakşehir will be followed with curiosity in their European adventure. This is another mad tale from the football world, this is Başakşehir: a kick to stereotypes.