After Leicester City’s remarkable triumph in the Premier League last season it seems there has been a rush of teams in the leagues of Europe looking to emulate the Foxes’ story. İstanbul Başakşehir currently sit top of the Süper Lig in Turkey ahead of their more illustrious city rivals Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce. How have they got there?
Understanding the history of İstanbul Başakşehir
While İstanbul Başakşehir and Leicester City are both unfancied teams who have led their respective top flights, the similarities end there.
İstanbul Başakşehir were founded in 1990 and were formerly owned by the municipality’s water distribution company. After a year in the amateur leagues, they qualified for the 3rd League and steadily pushed their way up the league pyramid.
Their first promotion to the Süper Lig came in 2006-7. They did well at first, finishing 6th in 2010 and again in 2012. They fell away the next season however, finishing 16th in 2012-3 finding themselves relegated to the second tier.
Their return to the TFF First League was brief. In their first season back in the second tier İstanbul Başakşehir finished as Champions and returned to the top flight.
The 2014-5 season showed how much further İstanbul Başakşehir had improved, finishing fourth on their return to the top flight and qualifying for the Europa League Third Round where they lost to AZ Alkmaar 4-1 on aggregate.
They repeated that finish last season but with a much bigger seven-point gap and once again qualified for the Europa League. In their qualifying round games this season they squeaked past Rijeka on the away goals rule before losing to Shakhtar Donetsk 4-1 on aggregate in the playoff round.
Although their lofty position is going to draw comparisons with Leicester City’s success last season a better comparison would be Southampton – something board member Mustafa Erogut agreed with in a recent interview.
İstanbul Başakşehir – a young team
While their name isn’t one people would expect to be top of the league their steady improvement shows that it might not a flash in the pan. As Istanbul’s youngest club it’s expected that they should be one that is growing. However, their fanbase is also much younger than their rivals.
Unlike the other big clubs, İstanbul Başakşehir are located in one of the newest constructed areas of Istanbul. The district is younger than the club – and as such it’s no surprise that for a while İstanbul Başakşehir were lucky to attract 100 fans to a league fixture. Having 100 fans rattling around the huge 76,000 capacity Ataturk Olympic Stadium can’t have made for a good atmosphere.
Crowds have grown in recent times. Gates are much higher than they were, but still average just over 2,000 in the newly built 17,800 capacity Başakşehir Fatih Terim Stadium. The fans who have come to the club – the Boz Baykuslar (Grey Owls) are mainly university students. They have not come to support the club out of passion; their support has been born out of protest.
Turkish football has been marred with violence for a long time. Away fans were banned at fixtures between Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbahce until recently. The extreme animosity between these city rivals drove fans away – and into the arms of İstanbul Başakşehir.
While it’s nice to have a fanbase in the millions, it does bring pressure. The big three clubs spend much of their time fighting crises – imagined or real. Coaches quit frequently, and are fired just as often. The news are always looking for the next big story. Planning is impossible. For İstanbul Başakşehir this isn’t a problem; the lack of pressure from fans has allowed them to grow slowly and to improve year on year. The results speak for themselves.
The İstanbul Başakşehir Team
Because of the way they have grown, İstanbul Başakşehir have had to focus on players who had potential and who could improve while at the club.
Goalkeeper Volkan Bobacan was discarded by Fenerbahce after making just ten league appearances in six years, all while making his way through the various age groups of the Turkish national side. After spending two years at TFF First League club Manisaspor he came to İstanbul Başakşehir and hasn’t looked back. He has since become first choice national goalkeeper with 25 caps to his name.
Striker Mehmet Batdal was once seen as the next Hakan Sukur but he wasn’t given a chance either at Galatasaray. He made seven league appearances and ended up going out on loan to three different clubs. Since signing for İstanbul Başakşehir he’s become a fixture in the side and received his first call up to the national team this month at the age of 30.
Bosnian winger Edin Višća was an unknown when he came to the club from Fudbalski Klub Željezničar In five seasons has become a firm favourite and was voted Bosnian player of the year for 2015 In February of this year.
Can İstanbul Başakşehir win the title?
At the moment, manager Abdullah Avcı is refusing to acknowledge that they are title challengers to keep the pressure of his players. There is a quiet confidence within the club that they can do it; drawing away to current Champions Besiktas 1-1 in their last game will only have confirmed how far they have come.
Even finishing 2nd would see İstanbul Başakşehir enter the Champions League – which would be a huge story for a team that can still barely attract more than a couple of thousand fans to each game. However, as Leicester are finding out now, how much pressure would competing in Europe’s premier continental competition add to them and how would they deal with it?