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On Besiktas and donuts

Tuesday 13th February 2018

Twitter can get you in trouble. Everyone knows this. Everyone forgets. For instance, @EliotRothwell.

Eliot has been writing on football for nearly a decade as far as I know. At first, for whatever obscure blog would have him. Then ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Huff Post, and other outlets. Not your typical Englishman, he enjoys breaking cultural barriers to cover the game in places most football fans dismiss. Non-league. Russia. Eastern Europe. Turkey. I admire him for it. He's taken a sabbatical while learning how to be an Englishman in Moscow. I still follow him on Twitter because he keeps me in touch with players, leagues, and other news that would otherwise fade from my consciousness.  

Like all of us, however, he occasionally gets caught up in his passion. Evidence this tweet.

When I read this, I immediately replied, asking if I could be an apple fritter. I paid for my sarcasm, having to then explain exactly what an apple fritter is.

For those who don't know, it's a glazed donut deliciously injected with apple pie filling. Typically lumpy, it looks something like a shaved tribble. For those who don't know what a tribble is, watch more Star Trek. The point is, and was, if I had to be a donut, I would choose to be an apple fritter. They are simply the best.

Eliot's excuse that he was British and therefore had never seen one seemed a bit hypocritical from someone so well-traveled. Then again, his gaze is always to the east. He has only to stop by the local Tim Horton's to experience absolute bliss next time he's home. The UK Tims do carry apple fritters. I have since checked. You should stop by, as well. You don't know what you've been missing.

But Besiktas. If not believing the Black Eagles are the world's best club transforms one into a donut, then the vast majority of us are in fact baked or deep-fried pastries. As I said to Eliot, Senol Gunes' squad is indeed excellent, but top of the food chain is stretching matters. 

Yes, they bossed an exceedingly difficult Champions League group including Porto, RB Leipzig, and AS Monaco. Some would argue they caught Monaco at just the right time. Leonardo Jardim's squad was in transition. So many key parts had been snatched up by bigger clubs. Benjamin Mendy. Bernardo Silva. Tiemoue Bakayoko. Kylian Mbappe. Newcomers Youri Tielemans and Keita Balde hadn't time to settle.

Point conceded, but such reasoning fails to account for the 2016/17 Bundesliga and Primeira Liga runners-up, Leipzig and Porto. Drawn into arguably the most perilous quartet in the group stage, Besiktas dominated.

The Black Eagle's supremacy awarded membership in a club to which neither Real Madrid nor Chelsea were admitted. That's saying something. Unfortunately, the Turkish side can't claim to be running away with the Super Lig in the manner fellow group winners Manchester City, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich are in their respective domestic divisions.

The Super Lig, courtesy a fat broadcasting contract with beIN Sport, is no longer a local division sprinkled with a few stars. Restrictions on foreign players have been lifted. It's a difficult competition to win. Besiktas sat third, having dispatched bottom side Karabukspor on the weekend. Fenerbache took back the spot after defeating league leaders Istanbul Basaksehir away. To be hailed conquering heroes, the Black Eagles still have some conquering to do. Yet, even with talisman Cenk Tosun decamped to Everton, Senol Gunes has a squad that can do damage. 

To defend his own goal, the manager has Pepe, Gary Medel, and Dusko Tosic. The former Real Madrid man has the steel and fiery temper to win in the ramped-up Super Lig and the Champions League. Zinedine Zidane perhaps thought the Portuguese was past his sell-by date at 34. The man himself begs to differ. He scored the opener against Karabukspor on 14 minutes to drive the point home. Medel, 30, guards the door for La Roja while Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez venture forward. His presence has helped ensure Chile two Copa America trophies on the trot. Tosic has been injured but is scheduled to return in the coming week, bringing his three goals with him.

European fans know the danger Ricardo Quaresma poses. The enigmatic Portuguese didn't have the consistency to stick with Barcelona or Inter but he always seems to pop up, scoring or creating a crucial goal. He has six league assists to date. That said, Talisca is the attacking midfielder on whom Bayern Munich had best do its homework. The 27-year-old Brazilian flies under the radar, but he does fly. His goal against Karabukspor, just before the half-hour settled matters early. He would add a second, late, to bring his season total to a baker's dozen plus one.

Ryan Babel has beaten Dusko Tosic back from the physio's room. He featured in the Karabukspor match. Before taking a knock, the Dutchman had been enjoying a renaissance at Vodaphone Park with nine goals and three assists between the Super Lig and Champions League. He had been providing able support from the wing for centre forward Cenk Tosun. With Tosun off to the Premier League, Besiktas brought Vagner Love's 11 goals and 3 assists over from Alanyispor to compensate. The former CSKA Moscow legend potted his first for his new team on the hour, snuffing out the visitors' last faint hope, then his second in added time to close out the scoring.

The Black Eagles have talent and experience. Bayern will be their first test in the knockout stage. With Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, and Thomas Mueller, die Roten also have some wise old souls. It's their younger, swifter stars who will gauge the Turkish side's worthiness, though. James Rodriguez. Kingsley Coman, Leon Goretzka. Corentin Tolisso. Thiago Alcantara. If Gunes' side can pass that test with flying colours, more difficult examinations will follow. PSG or Real Madrid. Juventus or Tottenham. Barca. City. Besiktas can't be favoured to run that gauntlet.

We may all have to accept our fate. It's no fun being a donut. Doomed to live a fugitive existence, always fleeing the taste buds of hungry cops. On the other hand, if Besiktas somehow fight their way through to Kiev and hoist the Champions League trophy, well then, Eliot Rothwell will have saved us all.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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