The Turkish Premier League or the Super Lig as its known is not one of the more premier leagues within Europe. The standard of Turkish football has dropped since their superb performances at Euro 2008 and they failed to qualify for the successive tournament four years later. That generation had yet to kick on but with the 2014 World Cup qualifiers looming Turkey once again look like a serious football nation.
So much like Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Turkey is dominated by a select group of clubs. Since the league’s creation in 1959 there have only ever been five winners of the league and of those five, three – Fenerbache, Galatasary and Besiktas – have won 49 titles between them. The former two have 18 apiece whilst Besiktas have 13 championships to their name whilst the other two; Trabzonspor and Bursaspor have six and one respectively. The most recent champions were Galatasary who won the league by nine points fending off arch enemies Fenerbache. English fans will be familiar with players such as Emmanuel Eboue and Albert Riera who are both plying their trade for Galatasary, alongside former Liverpool hit man Milan Baros. Midfielder Selcuk Inan led the way last season with 13 goals and he was ably supported by January signing Necati Ates, who also hit 13 after his move from Antalyaspor. Despite notching an 18th title Galatasary have already been busy in the transfer window with Hamit Altintop arriving from Real Madrid and midfielder Nordin Ambarat joining from Kayserispor. The biggest deal of their window however, was to pounce for the man who set the Super Lig alight last season.
Burak Yilmaz is now, after signing a deal with Galatasary, only the second player ever to have played for all four of Turkey’s big clubs. In his nine previous seasons in the Super Lig he had only ever scored 54 league goals and 19 of them came in the 2010/11 season, so you could be forgiven for not being aware of this player. Last season however, everything this man touched turned to goals as he banged in 33 league goals in 34 games. He propelled his club, Trabzonspor to third place in the table and rightly gained the attention of a number of top clubs in Europe. He chose, sensibly in my opinion, to stay in his native Turkey and to play for the champions. At the age of 27 and with only one really prolific season behind him, a move to Europe could have had catastrophic consequences so I am pleased to see him try and gain more reputation by representing Galatasary in the Champions League.
On paper Fenerbache have an extremely strong squad and it was certainly a surprise to see them finish as far off Galatasary as they did. National team right back Gokhan Gonul is one of the more solid players in a shaky defence which conceded 11 goals more than their rivals. They are lead by their talismanic captain Alex, who is now entering possibly his final season in professional football. The 2010/11 season was memorable for the Brazilian as he scored Fenerbache’s 3000th goal in the Super Lig to help them win the title. In addition to this he also won the Golden Boot with 28 goals. The attack is also bolstered by former Chelsea youngster Miroslav Stoch, Semih Senturk and January signing from Lille, Moussa Sow. As a Chelsea fan it is particularly pleasing to see Stoch develop into the player everyone at Stamford Bridge knew he could be. Obviously first team opportunites were limited so the move to Fenerbache was inevitable and he is looking more and more dangerous with each season. Their most interesting signing of the summer this year has been Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt for £1m. It was amazing to see such a hardworking player who has been so important over the years to leave for such a small amount and I wonder if Liverpool will miss having him as a squad player.
It was a disappointing season for Bursaspor which culminated in a 4-0 demolition by Fenerbache in the final of the Turkish Cup. The 2010 champions finished in 12th place this season and finished way behind the other challengers to the big two, Besiktas and Trabzonspor. Apart from Burak Yilmaz no other player managed to score over 15 goals and one of the four players to reach that milestone will be very familiar to English football fans and that name is Diomansy Kamara. The former Portsmouth, West Bromwich and Fulham striker bagged 15 goals in his debut season for Eskisehirspor as he helped his new team to eighth place.
The Turkish Premier League is growing as Turkish football grows and there is an exciting crop of youngsters taking the nation forward. Playmakers Nuri Sahin and Arda Turan are both creative and exciting players. It is not without good reasons that they both secured moves to the two biggest Madrid sides whilst former Chelsea prospect Gokhan Tore is flourishing at Hamburg and completed more successful dribbles than anyone else in Europe. Turkey face a tough challenge to qualify for Brazil 2014 having been drawn with Holland, Hungary and Romania but under Abdullah Avci, the people of Turkey can look forward to a new and exciting era.