TURKEY: Süper Lig 2013/14 Season Preview

Turkey

Even with the Confederations Cup, super cups and friendly matches to tide them over, European football fans have missed their domestic football. Except for a few leagues, Europe has largely been football-free since late May. August marks the return of the beautiful game in most countries. Football fans have a lot to look forward to with the usual competitions on display with the added bonus of the World Cup being hosted by Brazil in June and July of 2014.

European leagues have seen a lot of business concerning both players and managers during this transfer window. That includes Turkey where even the promoted teams from the second division have been spending heavily in order to remain in the lucrative Süper Lig. But last season’s relegated teams – İstanbul Belediyespor, Mersin İdman Yurdu and Ordusspor – have shown that famous players and coaches cannot save a team from relegation. The three aforementioned teams all had better squads than many other teams on paper but, nonetheless, still suffered relegation.

Important Fixtures

Turkish football kicks off on 18 August 2013 with exciting encounters throughout the first few rounds. Beşiktaş and Trabzonspor face off in the first week as do Bursaspor and Eskişehirspor. In the second round of matches Eskişehir travel to Istanbul to take on Fenerbahçe and Bursa host Galatasaray. Then in the third week, Eskişehir entertain Galatasaray and Bursa travel to coastal Antalya. The first few weeks of the season look to be a challenge for these two Anatolian teams.

The annual spectacle that is the Turkish Super Cup will have league champions Galatasaray face off against cup winners Fenerbahçe in Kayseri’s Kadir Has Stadium. Although it’s an overblown friendly this Super Cup is a great opportunity for both managers to give their squads a test early on.

11 August 2013 –  Galatasaray  – Fenerbahçe

Beşiktaş’s Key Matches

Beşiktaş’s derbies are as follows. The Black Eagles take on Trabzonspor in the first week in a match that, while not a derby, has a strong rivalry. The forth week sees Beşiktaş take on Bursaspor, another strong rivalry between Beşiktaş and a team outside of Istanbul.

The week after that sees Beşiktaş host Galatasaray in an encounter which is known for producing many goals consistently. That is opposed to the Fenerbahçe – Galatasaray derby which is a more cautious affair on the field.

Week thirteen is when Fenerbahçe hosts Beşiktaş. Last season’s match at the recently demolished İnönü Stadium provided unforgettable late match heroics. Although the rivalry between Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş is just as alive as the Fenerbahçe – Galatasaray rivalry, the former is almost always overshadowed by the latter. There is more of a sporting rivalry between when Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş supporters.

Although Kasımpaşa is not seen to be much a rival, all of Beşiktaş’s home matches will take place in Kasımpaşa’s stadium which has added tension to the two teams’ fans. Beşiktaş’s new stadium is currently under construction. Kasımpaşa fan group Aşk-ı Semt (Love of the Neighbourhood) upped the ante a few days ago with threats of violence against Çarşı, Beşiktaş’s most vocal supporters group.

18 August 2013 and 1 January 2014 – Beşiktaş – Trabzonspor

15 September 2013 and 16 February 2014 – Beşiktaş – Bursaspor

22 September 2013 and 23 February 2014 – Beşiktaş – Galatasaray

1 December 2013 and 20 April 2014 – Fenerbahçe – Beşiktaş

15 December 2013 and 5 May 2014 – Beşiktaş – Kasımpaşa

Galatasaray’s Key Matches

Galatasaray face Bursaspor early on during the second week of matches. The fifth week, as mentioned above, is the derby with Beşiktaş.

In the eleventh round, the football world will come to a collective stand-still as Fenerbahçe host Galatasaray at Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium. This fixture has been called the world’s greatest derby along with the Argentinian spectacle that is Boca Juniors vs. River Plate. (Note: Boca Juniors is written first by reason of alphabetical order.) Often to the indignity of their countries’ reputations, both encounters usually involve violence.

In round sixteen, Galatasaray take on Trabzonspor a fixture in which the goals floweth over more so than other big matches. In recent years, Galatasaray has made it a transfer policy to poach talented Trabzon players including Burak Yılmaz. This has no doubt added tension to the rivalry although the fans of both teams have largely united in their opposition to all things Fenerbahçe.

25 August 2013 and 2 February 2014 – Bursaspor – Galatasaray

22 September 2013 and 23 February 2014 – Beşiktaş – Galatasaray

10 November 2013 and 6 April 2014 – Fenerbahçe – Galatasaray

22 December 2013 and 11 May 2014 – Galatasaray – Trabzonspor

Fenerbahçe’s Key Matches

Fenerbahçe’s first big rivalry is renewed in week seven against Trabzonspor in Istanbul. The two clubs’ fan bases have been at one another’s throats in recent years due to the controversy surrounding Fenerbahçe’s alleged match-fixing. Fenerbahçe won the 2010/11 crown based on head-to-head results versus Trabzonspor, the first tie-breaker in the Turkish league.

The tenth week sees Bursaspor host the Canaries in a special rivalry stemming from Bursa’s national title in 2009/10. The Fenerbahçe stadium announcer proclaimed that Beşiktaş had equalised with Bursaspor so Fenerbahçe fans rushed the field when Fenerbahçe’s match with Trabzonspor ended 1-1 and the Canaries were handed the title for the first time since 2007. But in reality, Bursa were a goal ahead against Beşiktaş and the combination of these two results caused Bursa to claim the title for the first time in their history.

The eleventh week is the game against Galatasaray. Much to the displeasure of the fans, both teams won their home match 2-1 last season in what were largely anti-football conditions. After Galatasaray’s most recent defeat at Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium, a Fenerbahçe fan named Burak Yıldırım was killed by a group of Galatasaray fans when he was walking home from the match.

Week thirteen is the match against Beşiktaş. Beşiktaş has a better record against Fenerbahçe than Galatasaray do. Fenerbahçe boast twenty-three wins over Galatasaray compared to the only four wins Fenerbahçe has over Beşiktaş. The Fenerbahçe – Galatasaray derby is currently the only local derby that is played across continents; Fenerbahçe hail from the Asian side of the Bosphorus strait and Galatasaray from the European.

6 October 2013 and 9 March 2014 – Fenerbahçe – Trabzonspor

3 November 2013 and 30 March 2014 – Bursaspor – Fenerbahçe

10 November 2013 and 6 April 2014 – Fenerbahçe – Galatasaray

1 December 2013 and 20 April 2014 – Fenerbahçe – Beşiktaş

The Kayseri Derby

It is also worth mentioning that Kadir Has Stadium will host the Kayseri Derby for the first time. The Kayseri Derby is similar to the derby between AC Milan and Inter Milan in Italy in that both matches are played in the same stadium.  Both sides have made big signings and this is a match worth watching.

September 29 2013 and 2 March 2014 – Kayserispor – Kayseri Erciyesspor

The Turkish FA imposes restrictions on foreign players in Turkey

The Turkish Football Federation recently announced a new foreigner rule for teams competing in the Süper Lig. The new foreigner rule, referred to throughout the federation’s literature as ‘6+0+4,’ states in their own words, that ‘Six (non-Turkish) players may be included in a match day squad while four may watch from the stands.” It should be noted that the current dependence of Turkish clubs on foreigners will likely result in all six slots being used on the starting eleven. Teams will probably have to settle for employing six to eight foreigners as having four sit out every week is both a waste of funds and offensive to the players who or may not have already attracted disapproval for going to play in Turkey.

The change comes at a desperate time for Turkish international football. The senior international team risks missing out on a berth in next year’s World Cup in Brazil pending results in group D of European World Cup qualification. The threat of a third absence from major international competitions has raised suspicions that the Süper Lig, which consistently ranks among the top ten leagues in Europe, hosts too many foreign players.

In addition to the large number of foreigners playing the beautiful game in Turkey, many of the players who do play for Turkey are coming from Turkish communities across Europe. Many of these players start out in German national youth teams and choose to play for Turkey later. Due in no small part to lack of results on the international scene, Turkey has lost out on many of the world’s best players recently including Mesut Özil and İlkay Gündoğan who chose to represent their homeland instead of their nation of ancestry. Even the most ardent patriots must admit that the Turkish national team has never lacked talent and players who don’t see any way of playing in the World Cup have every reason to play for another national team.

Including naturalised players, many Turkish teams could potentially play with only three or four Turkish players. Naturalised players, who usually get their Turkish citizenship after five years in the country, are often close to thirty years old when they are eligible not to count against the foreigner limit. Besides arguments against foreigners playing for the national team as unfair, players advanced in age are not of very useful for long-term national team development. The only naturalised citizen to play for the Turkish national team is Marco ‘Mehmet’ Aurélio who got his first call up in 2006 at twenty-nine years of age.

Galatasaray have even filed a law suit against the TFF with the European Court of Human Rights over the new foreigner rule. Turkey’s richest and most successful team both internationally and domestically has not asked the TFF to rescind the TFF’s new rule but to include citizens of member states of the European Union as domestic players.

The Turkish champions believe that the TFF should reciprocate the status other leagues give Turkish players. La Liga and the Segunda Division don’t count Turkish nationals in the three non-EU slots Spanish teams are allowed. This is possibly to encourage Turkish players to come to Spain, although Spanish teams could pick and choose players from just their own province (like Athletic Club from Bilbao) and still field the best teams in the world. Turkey has been in talks to join the European Union for over fifty years.

The old rule allowed eight in the match day squad and did not limit the number of foreigners a Turkish team could sign. The TFF plans to mandate a limit of five foreigners on the field at a time for the 2014/2014 season.

The Teams and Their Changes

Istanbul: Still the Focal Point of Turkish Football

The new foreigner limit seems to affect Fenerbahçe the most. Their foreigner-based squad has seen three foreigners added in just the last month. Portuguese centre back Bruno Alves, İstanbul Belediye’s relegated Swede Samuel Holmen and Czech defender Michal Kadlec all joined the Istanbul giant in the month of June. Fenerbahçe now boast eleven foreigners in their squad; one above the legal limit and three or four above the realistic number a team can handle.

Manager Ersun Yanal, can either part ways with a large part of his squad or make an attempt at setting up a rotation system. Yanal, beginning his term as Fenerbahçe manager following three erratic years under Aykut Kocaman, will have to part ways with at least one player just to meet TFF guidelines. Serbian winger Miloš Krasić will most likely be the player to leave although Joseph Yobo is also rumoured to be on his way out. Considering the Yellow Canaries will not be playing European football for at least a year, giving all players enough playing time will be Yanal’s greatest challenge.

With the departure of Semih Şentürk, Fenerbahçe have a serious forward problem. With no Turkish forwards or strikers, Yanal will have to continuously play foreigners up front. Even the players rumoured to be in Fenerbahce’s transfer plans are foreign forwards like Óscar Cardozo and Emmanuel Emenike.

Fenerbahçe have been playing without the injured Gökhan Gönül and his absence showed in their first leg draw against FC Salzburg. The Austrians constantly attacked the right flank of defense where Mehmet Topuz was filling in for Gökhan. The match ended 1-1 and Fenerbahçe scored a penalty well into stoppage time.

Kocaman’s strategy, or lack of strategy, was not a sustainable environment despite great performances at different points during the season. Fenerbahçe are always title challengers but Yanal’s first year may end up being a transitional year if he doesn’t take charge from the start. The standard of play in Turkey has risen considerably over just the past season and all the while Fenerbahçe have relied on individual heroics from players like Pierre Webó and Emre Belözoğlu to secure the precious three points every week.

National champions Galatasaray will feel the squeeze as well from the new foreigner regulations. Fatih Terim will be tempted to part ways with former Bolton striker Johan Elmander in order to free up space for one more foreign player. That is unless Emmanuel Culio, who has spent the last two years on the Black and Mediterranean Sea coasts with Orduspor and Mersin respectively, sees another loan move. Then Galatasaray will have an extra foreign spot to fill.

The Galatasaray board will be sorely disappointed that goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, who fulfilled every goalkeeper’s dream and scored from the penalty spot in the 2011/12 season, is not a Turkish citizen as that affords them one less foreign outfield player. Cross city rivals Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe, as well as Trabzonspor, have the advantage in this respect.

Galatasaray have bolstered their squad and have only themselves to blame if they fail to win the title again this year. Spreading his team thin across the Champions League and Süper Lig, however, will be a concern for Fatih Terim.

The aforementioned Beşiktaş have a young squad made up mostly of Turkish players. Beşiktaş have eight foreign players. That is plenty of room to fill over the summer and Shakhtar Donetsk forward Dentinho will return to Ukraine in January at the end of his loan. That leaves new manager Slaven Bilić with one more space to fill come January.

Leading the midfield for Beşiktaş again in the upcoming campaign will be Manuel Fernandes. The Portuguese playmaker has not been linked with any foreign teams, but one has to imagine he is always on the radar of teams across the continent. Canadian international Atiba Hutchinson has joined from PSV after three years in the Netherlands. The central midfielder is a somewhat surprising transfer at thirty years of age but he adds experience and a physical presence to the Beşiktaş midfield.

At first glance, Hugo Almeida, Filip Hološko and Mustafa Pektemek seem to provide enough quality up front for Beşiktaş. Chairman Fikret Orman, however, had a different plan to challenge for the championship. Beşiktaş have transferred Michael Eneramo from Sivasspor. Their hope is that Eneramo will light up the pitch like Pierre Webó did for Fenerbahçe. Both players came to major Istanbul teams from similar situations; both players came to Turkey in 2011 and both had decent strike rates for mid-table teams. At twenty-seven years old, Eneramo definitely doesn’t carry the same margin of risk as thirty-year-old Webó did when he joined the Canaries this year. Eneramo underwent knee surgery a few weeks ago but he is expected to be ready for training sometime in September.

Beşiktaş have been looking for a new goalkeeper to replace English Premiership-bound Allan McGregor. A move for Turkish Belgian Sinan Bolat was said to be on the cards, but Beşiktaş opted for Trabzon keeper Tolga Zengin. Although with two places to fill a foreign keeper was not out of the question, but Zengin was thought to be seeking a move to Istanbul in order to be close to his mother who is undergoing cancer treatment there.

Beşiktaş is setting up both itself and the Turkish national team for success in the future but it remains to be seen if Beşiktaş’ purely young squad can win their first league championship since 2009.

Kasımpaşa rounds out the four Istanbul teams in the Süper Lig. Previously famous for being an ‘elevator team,’ Kasımpaşa established themselves as a top contender by finishing sixth after being relegated from the Süper Lig in 2008 and 2011.

The Apaches transferred goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson from PSV last season. Isaksson was an integral part of Kasımpaşa’s resurgence.  Number One for Sweden since the 2004 Euro Cup, Isaksson frustrated teams across Turkey – he only conceded thirty-seven goals all season. That’s only two more than Galatasaray and less than every other team.

Kasımpaşa have added Ryan Babel to the team during the current transfer window. The former Liverpool forward joins an already impressive group of forwards including Kalu Uche. Uche scored nineteen goals and was only second to Burak Yılmaz in goal-scoring. Ezequiel Scarione, top-scorer of the Swiss league last season, brings another dimension of goal-scoring to Kasımpaşa. The Argentinian found the back of the net twenty-one times over the thirty-six week season.

In terms of defense, Kasımpaşa have transferred Orhan Şam. Şam was released by Fenerbahçe this summer despite being the only back-up right back in Kadıköy. Orhan Şam almost saw his Kasımpaşa career end before it started mid-way through July. Şam contributed to the Court for the Arbitration of Sport’s tribunal regarding match-fixing allegations against Fenerbahçe. The Kasımpaşa board were disgusted with his participation in the hearing and were reported to have terminated his contract. A few days later, however, Şam was back on the team and the issue was over.

Dutchman Ryan Donk has joined the team from Club Brugges. The twenty-seven-year-old made over one hundred appearances for the Belgian club but never won the Belgian play-offs.

Manager Shota Arveladze will enter his second season in charge and has taken a step towards European qualification spots with his transfers. Causing the big teams trouble will be the objective once again – Kasımpaşa surprised the nation with critical wins against Fenerbahçe, Bursaspor, Trabzonspor, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş last season. Nonetheless, the one-on-one competitions with Eskişehir and Antalya will be the main factors which dictate the success of Kasımpaşa.

The Anatolian Challengers

Bursaspor, champions in 2009/10, have eleven foreigners on the team with the recent arrival of French goalkeeper Sébastien Frey and Nigerian defender Taye Taiwo.  To meet the new foreign player regulations the Marmara-based team will have to part ways with one player. Bursa have a high quality per foreign player ratio in their South American duo of Pablo Batalla and Sebastián Pinto. Bursaspor now have three Argentinians on the team and former Gaziantepspor manager Hikmet Karaman will hope that that added harmony will add to his players’ cohesion in their Europa League qualification attempt.

Semih Şentürk has joined the team after spending his entire footballing life at Fenerbahçe. He will play alongside another former Fenerbahçe player, Tuncay Şanlı. Şentürk set records in the 2007/08 season by scoring seventeen goals despite coming on as a substitute for the majority of his appearances. So the İzmir native set a record for goals per minute played and was crowned top-scorer on top of that. Semih’s career took a dive after that as Luis Aragonés and Christoph Daum did not give the man formerly known as Young Semih much in the way of chances. Şentürk slipped into irrelevancy under Aykut Kocaman and some might say he left Fener too late in his career.

Bursaspor have played consistently for the last few years and have claimed European places every year. Bursa have failed to make an appearance in the groups stage of the Europa League but their transfers this year have set them up for success. They need only the proper circumstances and a second national title would seem possible.

Eskişehirspor have nine foreign places filled and, with eight players added during the current transfer window, the west Anatolian team look to be done on transfer market. Manager Ertuğrul Sağlam inherits a team which only six seasons was in the second division. Eskişehirspor, perhaps with one eye on the upcoming years, have added several Turkish youngsters to the squad. Cameroonian Henri Bienvenu arrives from Fenerbahçe by way of the Alper Potuk transfer.

Eskişehirspor have a lot of quality upfront; French-born Senegalese forward Diomansy Kamara, veteran goal scorer Necati Ateş and Turkish Swede Erkan Zengin can all be top-scorers if they play at their best. Henri Bienvenu showed moments of potential during his spell at Fenerbahçe and, although he may have been overlooked by both fans and commentators, can play a role in taking Eskişehir to Europe.

Brazilian offensive left back Dedê, who played for Borussia Dortmund for over twelve years, along with compatriot Diego Ângelo, Jerry Akaminko and Servet Çetin form one of the best back-lines in the Süper Lig as they only conceded forty goals in their eighth place finish last season. Beşiktaş, Bursaspor and Kayserispor all conceded more and finished third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Kayserispor were often seen as the most promising team to attempt to break Istanbul’s 20-year monopoly on national titles. That was until Bursaspor claimed that honour in 2010. Since then, the central Anatolian side have quietly finished in the top half of the table. In addition, they’ve raised some of Turkey’s greatest youth prospects like Hasan Ali Kaldırım and Sefa Yılmaz.

Municipally-owned Kadir Has Stadium, opened in 2009, will host the Kayseri Derby for the first time. Kayseri Erciyesspor secured promotion by winning the second division (Turkish First League) last season.

Manager Robert Prosinečki has brought in Brazilian striker Márcio Nobre from relegated Mersin and Serbian defensive midfielder Srđan Mijailović from Red Star Belgrade during the current transfer window. Nobre, an experienced goal scorer who made his name at Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş, was surprisingly successful at Mersin even though the Mediterranean team finished last in the league. It’s possible the Mijailović transfer was only possible because Prosinečki could afford an extra foreigner due to Nobre’s Turkish citizenship under the name Mert Nobre.

Brazilian forward Bobô will supply most of the goal scoring. His career was rejuvenated last season when he scored 18 goals in 31 matches for Kayserispor. Previously his career was in decline, having been released by Beşiktaş in 2011 and then rejected by Cuizeiro in Brazil.

Kayserispor, much like Sivas and Eskişehir, can challenge for the top five places in the league. But their main challenges will be trying to defeat the Istanbul giants individually.

Antalyaspor had one of the most bizarre campaigns last season. The southern team drifted from twelfth to second place throughout the season. On seven occasions, Antalya scored three or more goals and lost on two of those occasions. To be clearer Antalya shared points on only five occasions; they won or lost in twenty-nine occasions. Antalya had more losses (fifteen) than all teams except the bottom four and finished in seventh place.

The Scorpions have signed former Gol Kralı, or Goal King, Milan Baroš. His goal scoring record, in addition to the clinical records of Isaac Promise, Lamine Diarra and Tita, gives Antalyaspor a good chance at qualifying for European competitions. The transfers of Serkan Balcı and Slovakian Sašo Fornezzi will serve to patch the dips in Antalya’s defense which allowed fifty-two goals last season.

With improved defense and continued effectiveness on the offensive, a top four finish isn’t out of the question for Antalya. Results like last season’s win away to Fenerbahçe will have to be replicated.

The mid-table teams

Trabzonspor will feel the pressure of the new foreigner restrictions. The quality of Trabzonspor’s domestic players, however, will alleviate concerns on the Black Sea coast. Veteran manager Mustafa Akçay has Turkish midfielders Olcan Adın and Volkan Şen at his command as well as Giray Kaçar and Mustafa Yumlu at the centre of his defence.

Trabzon also has the goalkeeping question answered with Onur Kıvrak. Veteran keeper Tolga Zengin has left for Beşiktaş ending that rivalry for the number one shirt. Austrian Marc Janko and Ivoirian Sol Bamba will likely be shown the door in light of their disappointing performances last season.

The Black Sea Storm made important deals with two former Chelsea players. José Bosingwa, a former Portuguese international, joined the cash-heavy Queens Park Rangers project last season and has rightfully jumped ship after a disastrous campaign in which the London-based team finished with only four wins over the thirty-eight games.

Florent Malouda has joined directly from Chelsea. Malouda brings a lot of experience to Trabzon and will look to solve the team’s scoring troubles with his play-making abilities. Trabzon had the fifth-lowest number of goals scored last season. Although Malouda’s transfer reinforces the stereotype that the Turkish league is only fit for star players once they’re near the end of their career, Trabzon are not known to engage in such deals often so they can be given a break on this occasion.

Trabzonspor have never recovered after coming close to winning the title in 2011. Trabzon hasn’t made meaningful additions to the squad and, despite a good performance in Europa League qualifying so far, an upper-table finish seems out of reach for Akçay in his first season in charge.

The tenth placed team in 2012/2013, Gaziantepspor finished the season above the relegation candidates. But manager Bülent Uygun, who led Sivas to second place in 2008 and 2009, no doubt feels his inability to turn Gaziantep’s season around when he was appointed as manager in February has taken a toll on his respectable coaching record.

The Falcons have not seen much transfer activity beyond securing the services of highly-sought forward Cenk Tosun. At age twenty-two the German-born Turk has a goal every third match over two seasons. The Turkish media routinely report interest in his transfer from the big four but Gaziantep have managed to sign him to a contract until 2017.

Without much needed reinforcements no coach would be able to keep the southern team in the Süper Lig. If Gaziantep do not make transfers over the next few weeks, however, Bülent Uygun is the coach to get the job done. He took Sivasspor close to the national title with similarly sparing resources.

Gençlerbirliği have seen Ankara-based contemporaries Ankaragücü and Ankaraspor relegated over the past few seasons. They remain the only club from Turkey’s capital city in the top flight.

Manager Metin Diyadin has a large contingent of players from what was known as Yugoslavia. In fact, all foreigners at the team are from Serbia, Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina. Turkish Swede Mervan Çelik has joined the team after disappointing spells in Scotland and Italy. The winger may find success playing alongside another Turkish Swede. Jimmy Durmaz, also a winger, has been capped as a full international by Sweden and put in several strong performances last season.

Bogdan Stancu, a stand-out player in a disappointing season for Orduspor, has signed a three-year contract with Gençlerbirliği. The Romanian had a goal every three matches with Orduspor in his two seasons at the Black Sea club before the team suffered relegation last season.

Gençlerbirliği, which means ‘Youths Union’ in Turkish and is pronounced ‘Gench-l’air-bir-lee’, is known for turning young players both foreign and domestic into stars and has relied on such development for most of its history. Continuing to play in the Süper Lig over the long-term will be difficult for them, however as he average level of play has improved in the last few years and Gençlerbirliği have not done much to keep up. The fact that the team lost major players like Björn Vleminckx and Azofeifa will not help them pull up their league position.

Sivasspor are a tricky side to gauge accurately. The central Anatolian team challenged for the title in 2008 and 2009 before faltering near the end. Surprisingly, Sivas came close to relegation in 2010 and finished barely above water in 15th place.

With the transfer of Michael Eneramo to Beşiktaş, goal scoring is a concern for Sivasspor. Eneramo’s replacement is another Nigerian, John Utaka. Utaka is older at thirty-one but brings a good scoring record to the table; with sixty-eight goals scored in Ligue 1. He has also been played as a winger and provides new manager Roberto Carlos da Silva (yes, that Roberto Carlos) with some flexibility up front.

Hernán Rengifo, a striker who has experience in Poland, the Republic of Cyprus as well as his native Peru, scored sixteen goals last year in Sporting Cristal’s 2012 Peruvian league championship. Roberto Carlos will rely on Rengifo to supply most of the team’s goals but Abdülkadir Özgen and Polish international Arkadiusz Piech will be expected to improve their form if Sivas are to mount a challenge for European qualification.

In addition to Hernán Rengifo, manager Carlos has made another South American transfer with Cicinho coming to Turkey from Sport Recife. Carlos and Cicinho both played for Brazil at the World Cup in 2006. The thirty-three-year-old right back was a part of the 2005 Copa Libertadores-winning São Paulo FC squad which included Diego Lugano and Rogério Ceni, history’s highest scoring goalkeeper.

Playmaker Erman Kılıç has departed to champions Galatasaray so moderately experienced Kadir Bekmezci must occupy that vacuum unless an attacking midfielder is transferred soon.

The latest addition to Sivas is Manuel da Costa.  Very much a wild card, the twenty-seven-year-old has played in France, Holland, Italy, England, and Russia as well as his native Portugal since he turned professional. With only 100 appearances in all competitions since 2004, the experience he has from playing in so many nations comes at the price of a deficiency in match experience. There is no doubt that failure to thrive in Sivas may consign centre back to a life of second division football.

With Roberto Carlos trying his hand at management for the first time, Sivasspor’s next season is very much an experiment. With consistent performances, however, a top six finish is not out of the question.

They ended at the bottom and they’re still here. Last season’s close calls with relegation

Akhisar Belediyespor should not be playing top flight football this season. That statement would be true if not for Theofanis Gekas. The former Greek and German league top scorer was instrumental in Akhisar’s survival last year. Twelve goals in fifteen games – including one hat trick against Beşiktaş – kept Akhisar’s head above water as they finished two spots above the relegation zone. The thirty-three year old Greek, who scored in the most recent European national championship, is the nightmare of many a goalkeeper.

Besides Gekas, Akhisar boast experienced duo Çağdaş Atan and Ibrahima Sonko in defense. But the Manisa-based team have so far not made the necessary changes to stay in the the Süper Lig in the coming seasons.

Elazığspor, still feeling the buzz of their maiden season in the Süper Lig, have brought in manager Trond Sollied to keep the southeastern team in the top flight. The Norwegian has an interesting managerial career: he’s served three terms at the Belgian team Gent, one time each at Brugge and Lierse with spells in Greece, Holland, Saudi Arabia and his homeland spread throughout. He won the double with Olympiacos and two Belgian league titles with Brugge.

Elazığ have brought in a wild card player in Ibrahim Kaş. The utility defender hasn’t settled at a team since he started his career at Beşiktaş. After a disappointing move to Getafe in 2008, Kaş has languished on loan to various lower table teams. At twenty-six, however, his career is far from over.

Mehmet Nas arrives at Elazığ by way of Sivasspor. Nas, possibly on the last contract of his career at thirty-three years old, has over four hundred appearances for Samsun, Gençlerbirliği, Manisa and Sivas.

Former Fenerbahçe player Fabio Bilica gives Elazığ’s defence an air of legitimacy. The Brazilian is something of a legend in football history. He saved a penalty shot from Andriy Shevchenko as a stand-in goalkeeper in the Italian Cup while playing for Venezia (Venice). Bilica was also seen ripping up the penalty spot in a match while playing for Fenerbahçe. He made an audacious tackled during a Beşiktaş break-away and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Clearly frustrated with the call, Bilica proceeded to kick and destroy the penalty spot itself. When (NAME) placed the ball on the spot it seemed to fall into the small crater Bilica had made. Volkan Demirel made the save.

Left-back Çağlar Birinci, who made very few appearances at Galatasaray, may give Sollied a solid option to have his right and left backs push forward in his preferred three-man midfield if he is given ample playing time.

Sollied is used to managing large teams like he did in Greece and Belgium. This time he is managing one of the league minnows and he’ll definitely look to prove himself under these circumstances.  While looking to finish as high as possible, Sollied’s main goal will be keeping Elazığ (pronounced Ela-zuh) in the Süper Lig. His upgrades to the squad are a good start.

Karabükspor narrowly escaped relegation to the second division last season. Despite winning against Fenerbahçe twice, Karabük needed Istanbul Belediyespor to lose to Kasımpaşa on the final match of the season to avoid relegation. Tolunay Kafkas replaced Mesut Bakkal as manager less than two weeks before the end of the campaign and looks set to stay on as manager for the coming season.

Karabükspor was joint highest conceding team last season and has made progress over the current transfer window to improve in that regard. Known throughout Turkey for their association to the steel and iron industry, the northern team have brought in Dutch goalkeeper Boy Waterman who was starting keeper in PSV’s second place finish in the Eredivisie last season. Cameroonian Joseph Boum, flexible in that he can play any defensive position, has joined the team from Mersin.  Malian defensive midfielder Samba Sow has been transferred after a successful career in France with RC Lens.

In midfield, the Red-Blues have acquired three young Turkish midfielders; Erkan Kaş, Furkan Özçal and Beykan Şimşek join Karabük on loan from the big three Istanbul teams. The inexperienced trio may find Karabük the right choice as the team lacks a defined midfield excluding Ahmet İlhan Özek, Hakan Özmert and captain Birol Hikmet.

In terms of goal-scoring, there is not much more Karabük can improve on. They have two established poachers in Lomana LuaLua and İlhan Parlak. In fact, Emmanuel Emenike was brought to Turkey from Cape Town, South Africa by Karabük and has become one of the most sought-after forwards on the continent.

The trio of players Karabük has signed on-loan look promising and new keeper Waterman is bound to frustrate opposition forwards just like he did in the Netherlands. Tolunay Kafkas’ tactics will be key to how well Karabük can do. Considering their circumstances last season and normalisation Kafkas’ first term will bring, it is safe to say that Karabük will not be relegation candidates in upcoming season.

The Promoted Teams: Are they just relegation candidates?

Kayserispor’s rivals Kayseri Erciyesspor return to the Süper Lig after a six-year absence. Kayseri Erciyesspor was called Kayserispor and today’s Kayserispor was called Kayseri Erciyesspor. In 2004 the teams switched names in what was possibly the most confusing name change in football history. In another strange page out of football history, Erciyesspor qualified for the UEFA Cup preliminary rounds as Turkish Cup finalists in 2007 despite being relegated.

Belgian striker Björn Vleminckx now plays at Erciyesspor. Last season he was on loan at Gençlerbirliği and scored four goals in his first match in Turkey. Vleminckx is a dangerous player and gives Erciyesspor a definite threat against all opposition.

Another player arriving from Gençlerbirliği is Randall Azofeifa. The Costa Rican is known for his playmaking skills and, together with Vleminckx and Cem Can, gives a real hope to manager Fuat Çapa that Erciyesspor can stay in the Süper Lig for years to come.

Torku Konyaspor have returned to the top flight for the first time since the 2010/2011 season. Konyaspor face a tough task at home to Fenerbahçe on the first match day.

The central Turkish team have secured two players on loan. Charles Itandje, a thirty year-old goalkeeper from Cameroon, has joined from P.A.O.K. of Greece and Chad international Ezechiel N’Douassel has joined on loan from Terek Grozny in Russia.

Itandje has had interesting career to say the least. He started his career at Red Star Belgrade and then returned to his nation of birth , France, and went on to make close to two hundred appearances for RC Lens in Ligue 1. Capped by Cameroon just this year, Itandje then joined Liverpool where he could only manage to play in the FA Cup. He seemed to have settled when he signed for Atromitos in Greece when he played for the Athens-based team for three seasons. A move north to Thessaloniki was completed in 2012 and he made ten appearances for P.A.O.K. in the 2012/2013 season. Konyaspor have done well to secure him on loan.

N’Douassel had a moderately successful career in North Africa before moving to Grozny in Russia. The striker will be looking to prove his determination in the Turkish top flight after making only fifteen appearances for Grozny.

Another Cameroonian, Marc Mbamba has joined the team from Adanaspor. The winger narrowly missed out on the promotional play-offs and manager Uğur Tütüneker has deemed him worthy of the top flight.

Konyaspor has several wildcards on the team including former Kayserispor winger Semih Aydilek. He’s found himself in the top-flight once again and, at twenty-four years of age, knows that performing at his best now is his last opportunity to avoid a career in the lower leagues.  Aydilek switched allegiances to the German u-19 squad in 2008 after previously playing for Turkish youth teams but hasn’t proven himself to be an effective winger at club level.

Çaykur Rizespor is playing in the top flight for the first time since 2008. After fellow Black Sea side Orduspor’s relegation, Rizespor take up the pseudo-derby they had with Trabzonspor.

Managed by former Sivasspor manager Rıza Çalımbay, Rize have brought in an experienced goalkeeper in Mariusz Pawełek. The Pole has been capped for Poland and had made over one hundred appearances for Wisła Kraków before joining Konyaspor in 2011. He returned to his homeland to play for Polonia Warsaw for the 2012/13 season. Having previous experience in Turkey will come in handy for the thirty-one year-old but taking up a foreigner place is not efficient as was mentioned earlier. To be entirely clear, Pawełek should still be playing in Poland but sixth-place Polonia Warsaw struggled financially and suffered the same fate as Glasgow Rangers did last year; relegation to the lowest division.

Relatively speaking, Rizespor have good options on the attack. Argentine-Slovak David Depetris’ six goals as well as Cenk Alkılıç’s ten goals were integral components of Rizespor’s promotion from the TFF First League and will be assumed to. Rizespor have also transferred Tevfik Köse from relegated Istanbul Belediyespor who, at twenty-five years of age, is exiting the promising-young-player stage of his career.

Over the summer, Rize have signed experienced Ivoirian defender Ousmane Viera bringing an end to his five-year career in Romania. An actual Romanian, Florin Cernat, scored nine in seventeen games last season and has first division experience with Karabükspor two seasons ago where he had a respectable strike rate of nineteen goals in sixty-eight appearances.

Perhaps the most surprising addition to Rizepsor’s squad is Ali Adnan Kadhim. The Iraqi played at the u-20 World Cup hosted by Turkey this summer and was one of the key players in their semi-final run. Reported to have attracted interest from the likes of Arsenal and Galatasaray, Adnan may have done himself a big favour by moving to a smaller team in order to develop his own career and not slip into irrelevancy like so many young players do every year.

Rizespor’s signings have unquestionably signalled their intent to remain in the Süper Lig for years to come. The northeastern team has made better signings than a lot of last season’s mid-table teams but it was Mustafa Denizli who brought Rize to the top division. Denizli is the only manager to have won the Süper Lig with all three of the Istanbul big three. Apart from winning the Iranian Pro Leaguein 2006, Denizli also took Turkey past the Euro 2000 group stage before losing to Portugal in the quarter finals. It remains to be seen if Rıza Çalımbay can even come close to Denizli’s level as a manager.

The Possible Outcome

After reading about all eighteen of these teams it is clear that the upcoming season will be one of the most competitive in recent memory. Many of the teams which one might pass off as minnows have made great transfers – like Çaykur Rizespor and Erciyesspor. And the clubs that haven’t had a lot of transfer activity have hired excellent managers – like Gaziantepspor. The next season will almost certainly have a lot of surprises.

Yusuf Nasihi

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