Can Sivasspor upset the Super Lig dynamic?
Background Image: Ultraslansi, CC-BY-3.0
There’s been a moving of the tectonic plates in Turkey. Sivasspor drives the force to end a four-team Super Lig hegemony. Top of the standings with 27 points from 13 matches, Yigidos is gathering serious momentum. Can Rıza Çalımbay's team press on for a historic first title?
The Super Lig is among Europe's fiercest. The intrigue, animosity and rivalry tend to double every season. The growing influx of foreigners plays a part albeit there's still the belief that it is the ‘fallen stars’ kingdom. For all its competitiveness, however, only five teams tasted glory in 60 years of existence.
Bar Bursaspor's fairytale triumph in 2010, it would have been just four. The Super Lig is rotated among these quartet traditional teams – Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Trabzonspor. A popular cliché in Turkey claims ‘even a big team’s jersey can end the league in third place’.
Istanbul - Turkey's football capital enjoys the lion share. Galatasaray is the country's most successful side with 22 championships and 18 cup victories. It is the only Turkish club to win an international trophy; the UEFA Cup in 2000. The Yellow Canaries follows closely with a combined 25 domestic honours.
Besiktas, meanwhile, claimed 15 Super Lig titles and nine cups. Trabzonspor, from the country’s northeast, was ruled in the 1970s, winning six championships and eight cups.
The last decade has been unpredictable, to say the least. The traditional powerhouses faltered, allowing smaller clubs to jostle for the spotlight. Istanbul Basaksehir punched above their weights but bottled it at the final third.
Founded in 1990, the Istanbulian went mainstream in 2014, finishing as runner-up in 2017 and last season too, missing out on the Championship after a title-deciding loss to Galatasary. This term, it is the turn of Turkey's freezing Anatolian heartland to attempt to upset the balance of power.
Çalımbay's team made a strong start to the campaign, losing only twice - against Rizespor and Gala. They picked maximum points eight times, including impressive wins over Fenerbahce, Besiktas and Trabzonspor. Basaksehir is hoping to be third-time lucky, trailing by two points.
Besiktas and Trabzonspor are third and fourth – three and four points off the summit. Meanwhile defending champions, Gala languish in eight-place with 20 points. Fenerbahce is two spots and points better.
Sivasspor's rise to prominence is a Cinderella tale. Founded in 1967, the "Brave Ones" toiled in the lower ranks for almost four decades before reaching the elite division in 2005. Ten years later they dropped again but returned the following year. They've not let go of this status ever since.
Yigidos had a peek at the title for two consecutive seasons, ultimately finishing fourth and second. In 2007/08 they had the championship in their sights until the penultimate match, beaten 5–3 by eventual champions Galatasaray. A final day defeat at Besiktas the next campaign saw them finish second by five points. They could go one better this term.
Çalımbay's influence can never be overemphasised. The 56-year-old embodies the fighting spirit of the club. A former Besiktas captain and one of the finest players of his time, he earned the nickname "Atom Ant" due to his resilience, determination and hard work.
A seasoned Super Lig manager, Çalımbay handled 13 different sides since 2001. He is in his second stint at the Sivas Stadium, making the sort of impact he never got close to all his career. The 56-year-old inherited a team that survived relegation by a flick of good fortune, transforming them into genuine contenders.
Sivasspor hammered out their success with a combination of strong team spirit, gritty determination and canny tactics based on a counter-attacking game. They are helped by the absence of star names. Everyone plays for the team. Mustapha Yatabare, the club's leading scorer has just five.
The team is littered with experience, consisting majorly of veterans with an average of almost 29. That alone, though, is insufficient. Without squad depth and game-changers, their mission to upset the status quo may ultimately be aborted.