Just when you thought the Turkish Super Lig would maintain its 51-year status quo and produce a predictable title race, the 2009-10 season has thrown up a major surprise: the Anatolian invasion.
“Anatolia” is a word used to describe the region of the country outside of Istanbul, so all non-Istanbul clubs are referred to as Anatolian clubs. And in the first half of the season, the Anatolian invasion was led by Kayserispor and Bursaspor.
Kayserispor have lost just once at home in their Kadir Has stadium so far and sit in fourth place, just five points behind leaders Fenerbahce, and, with ex-international midfielder Tolunay Kafkas as coach, they have impressed with an attractive, positive style of play.
Their key figure this term has been striker Ariza Makukula, a DR Congo-born Portugal international. He may have only arrived on loan from Benfica this season, but he has been scoring as if he had been in the country for years. With 15 league goals so far, there is even talk of him squeezing into Carlos Queiroz’s World Cup squad.
However, Makukula has not been the only impressive figure at Kayserispor. Young Turkey Under-21 defenders like Serdar Kesimal and Eren Gungor have made a big difference, while the talented Furkan Ozcal and Argentinian dribbler Franco Cangele have excelled in midfield.
Bursaspor have done even better than Kayserispor, ending the first half of the season in third place. The team from the olive city of Bursa feature the talented and in-demand striker Sercan Yildirim and are coached by Ertugrul Saglam, who made his name at Besiktas.
But news from Anatolia has not been limited to Kayserispor and Bursaspor. The Turkish FA’s decision to expel Ankaraspor from the league has sent shock waves through the Turkish game.
Ankaraspor were judged to have “anti-competitive” links with city rivals Ankaragucu and the situation came to a head when Ahmet Gokcek was elected chairman of Ankaragucu. Gokcek is the son of the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, who is also the honorary chairman of Ankaraspor. The FA considered this to be “contrary to sporting competitiveness”, kicked Ankaraspor out of the league and awarded all other teams a 3-0 win over Ankaraspor.
Of the big four clubs, only Trabzonspor have changed their coach so far. They sent Hugo Broos back to Belgium after just three months and appointed former national boss Senol Gunes, who was a popular choice with the fans. After making the change, Trabzon regained their fighting spirit and just lost once in six weeks.
League leaders at the halfway stage, Christoph Daum’s Fenerbahce, made a good start but have been dogged by scandal. The club offloaded Kazim Kazim – the London-born forward known as Colin Kazim-Richards when he played in England – to Toulouse after he was involved in a hotel sex scandal.
The most talked about club, however, has been Galatasaray, who currently lie second but are seen as the strongest contenders for the championship. Club captain Arda Turan is in exceptional form and has received support from experienced players such as Harry Kewell and Kader Keita.
Gala are currently joint-top scorers in the league, with 39 goals in 19 games, which prompted many to question coach Frank Rijkaard’s January loan signings from England: Jo (Manchester City) and Giovani Dos Santos (Tottenham Hotspur).
The most disappointing team so far have been Besiktas. The Black Eagles, double winners last season, could miss out on silverware altogether this time. Their biggest problem has been scoring goals, with Nihat and Bobo both out of sorts – leading many to question the judgement of coach Mustafa Denizli.