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Since last August, a new football league has been added to the TV schedule of many countries. The 2017/2018 Süper Lig is different from the other historical challenges which already took place between Istanbul and the Anatolian lands: the international coverage guaranteed by BeIN Sports brought an unprecedented attention around the Turkish league. It’s going to be the richest Süper Lig ever, due to a profitable deal that will finally raise Turkish clubs’ revenues as never before; all of it was set in a system that has been evolving in the last 10 years, saying goodbye to a controversial foreign players’ limit and building modern infrastructures. MondoFutbol offers you five reasons to start watching one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world.
1) Samir Nasri and the other stars: the Turkish charm
With the new TV rights deal, Turkish football is expected to become the seventh league in the world (right behind the English Championship) considering clubs’ revenues. That’s a revolution, one that Turkish fans noticed also on TV screens, with more in-depth analysis than in the long previous Digitürk era (check out this report by Emre Sarıgül for The Guardian), with upcoming comments in English too. On the pitch, the summer transfer deals brought on the Bosphorus shores players in the prime of their careers like Gaël Clichy, Giuliano, Bafétimbi Gomis and Sofiane Feghouli.
Moreover, Qatari money (it may be interesting to check out whether the Turkish support to Qatar against the Arab block has something to do with this) from BeIN and QNB Bank, a brand new Trabzonspor sponsor, coupled with the new stadiums reshaping Anatolia, are slowly re-balancing the hierarchies. Anatolian sleeping giants like Antalyaspor showed their potential by signing Manchester City misfit Samir Nasri, after having convinced former AC Milan striker Jérémy Ménez to pack his bags for the magnificent Turquoise riviera. That’s not a secret, in fact, that the Süper Lig charm affects players also thanks to an environmental factor: warm supporters and the pleasure of living in welcoming places like Istanbul, Antalya and Izmir (this year the great revival after years of drought) played a decisive role in many players’ choices. And so it’s natural that Brazilian striker (born in ’84) Vágner Love is blossoming again in Alanya, small but beautiful city near the southern shores of Turkey. Love has been topscorer last season, beating a fierce opposition – amongst others, former Arsenal and Manchester United star Robin van Persie, contested by his new supporters due to controversial medical absences in his last months in Istanbul.
The Süper Lig isn’t the fallen stars’ kingdom anymore, and whoever wants to establish himself there needs to make a great effort.
2) The big test for Beşiktaş and Başakşehir
Emmanuel Adebayor didn’t come to Turkey just to set aside a large amount of money before his retirement. He has been a true leader of last season’s revelation Başakşehir (keep an eye on them in Europa League), he penned a new deal until 2020 with the orange-and-blues from Istanbul suburbia. His impact since January 2017 has been good, with the right advices to his young team-mate Cengiz Ünder (1997, Izmir), now fled to AS Roma, and an innate feeling with Bosnian winger Edin Višća, silent working-class hero of the team that surprised and amazed a lot of people last year. The arrivals of Inler and Clichy bring the club to a different level and their aims will surely be higher. IBFK will play against title holders Beşiktaş, a club coming off a fabulous summer not just thanks to magnificent signings like Pepe, Medel and Negredo. Their social media success and, most importantly, their will to maintain their vital structure formed by talents like Quaresma, Özyakup and Anderson Talisca are keys to the project led by confirmed coach Şenol Güneş, at his third year at the helm. Also Başakşehir won’t give their guru away: Abdullah Avcı, maestro of a tactical and ordered football, will be (also philosophically) opposed to the hyper-offensive, humoral and hectic Beşiktaş futbol style.
The two best teams of the last Turkish season, opposed in everything, will be soon face to face. Once again.
3) Bafétimbi Gomis’ brand new Galatasaray
The precocious Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe elimination from Europa League play-offs made a lot of noise on the Bosphorus. Once tigers, now the former giants are open construction sites. The red-and-yellow outfit continued with Igor Tudor, in spite of fan criticisms: the former Juventus defender made no secret of his admiration for Antonio Conte‘s style of play, which is why the new cimbom manager asked more physical and powerful players. His desire has been fulfilled, as pure talents Bruma and Sneijder were sold, while workhorses like Papa Alioune “Badou” Ndiaye (1990, write down his name) are expected to be the new core of the team. The offensive position will be responsibility of Bafétimbi Gomis, who started in style: 5 goals in the first 4 matches of the league. To Canal+ he declared he’s perfectly fine in Istanbul, stunned by what he simply defines as “Turkish madness“:
My colours now are just yellow and red,
he says smiling, while he watches videos of Turkish kids imitating his celebration. Gomis and his new fans will play a remarkable role in the title race, with no European commitments and with Fenerbahçe still under construction.
4) Okan Buruk, Akhisar and other “Italians”
Despite Turkey not being depicted under a positive light in Italy, there are a lot of similarities between Serie A and Süper Lig. Someone who played and learnt a lot in Italian lands is Okan Buruk, former Inter Milan midfielder and now Akhisar coach. There, in Occidental Anatolia, he will try to repeat the good work he did during his experiences in Gaziantep and Izmir (where he built the team that brought glorious Göztepe back to the first division). In the final moments of the last season, with 6 wins in 7 matches, he showed he had been building something special, waiting for the new stadium that will finally bring back Akhisar to his town after years spent playing in Manisa, one hour by car from their home.
Other “Italians” in Turkey, also by passport, are Davide Petrucci (1991) and Stefano Napoleoni (1986). The former, an ex-Manchester United youth academy player, will restart from the second division at Rizespor, looking for an immediate return to the first league. The latter, after spells in Poland and Greece, will play his third Turkish season at Başakşehir, where the Europa League-Süper Lig turnover will give him chances to show his talent.
And furthermore, show his fabulous Colosseum tattoo, a symbol of Rome he literally has on his body.
5) Yeni Malatya, football in Anatolian Eastlands
Beyond Izmir’s return with Göztepe, there will be a rookie club playing for the first time in the Süper Lig. Yeni Malatyaspor, a reality coming from a town lost amongst East Anatolian mountains, will replace relegated Gaziantepspor as the most Eastern side in the first division of the Country. South-Eastern Turkey, the most suffering part of the nation, won’t have chances to see top-flight football this season. Media from all over the world followed Deniz Naki‘s Amedspor story, but the club based in Diyarbakır will play just in the third division. For this reason, Malatya is the only hope for the East.
A complex and stratified reality, the former Roman city (its ancient name in Latin language was “Melitene”) is a crossroad of languages and stories, having Armenian, Kurdish and Turkmen presences. It’s the hometown of Ahmet Kaya, the most famous Kurdish singer of all times, and there futbol saw their team falling into pieces after appearances even in Balkans Cup and UEFA Cups. “Yeni” means simply “new“: the club has been founded after the financial collapse of “old” Malatyaspor, due to debts and mismanagements. The yellow-red-and-black’s rebirth allowed them to sign even former Olympique Lyonnais leftback Aly Cissokho, who’s going to be the star of this unexpected East Anatolian club. Cissokho will play in a brand new stadium covered by an orange structure in honour of apricots, peculiarity of the city with the spicy and tasty Kağıt Kebabı.
Yet another strangeness of a league that deserves more credit. Because for many towns there, and Malatya is just one of them, football is more than a simple game.
Cover and article photos ©AA