Pretty much everyone expected a case of business as usual as the Turkish Super Lig went into its final weekend: Trabzonspor appeared set to remain the only club from outside Istanbul ever to win the national league in its current incarnation. Prior to Sunday’s showdown fixtures, Fenerbahce looked odds-on to maintain the city’s stranglehold on the title.
But 'The Green Crocodiles' from Marmara were to cause a major upset. Bursaspor, briefly top of the standings twice in the latter stages of the season, beat Besiktas 2-1 in a heart-stopping finale and leapfrogged Fener, who were held 1-1 at home by Trabzonspor. The north-western outfit thus claimed only their second-ever national trophy to go with the domestic cup in 1986.
It was also the first time since 1984 that a non-Istanbul based club took the top-flight honours. The big three from the Bosporus boast a total of 44 league titles between them, with a golden Trapzonspor generation providing an element of change on six occasions between 1976 and 1984.
"It's just unbelievable. Obviously, we clung to our hopes, but we’re actually champions now, and it’s fantastic," beamed Bursa boss Ertugrul Saglam in the immediate aftermath of his team’s triumph. Back in March, after watching his Kasimpasa side fall 2-0 to Bursaspor, coach Yilmaz Vural tipped the north-westerners for success. "They’re playing like potential champions," he said, drawing agreement from his director of sport Suha Sidal: "Hopefully Bursa will bring off the revolution."
However, what looks at first glance like the a revolution or shock appears less so on closer examination. The new champions were the league’s top scorers, ran up the most wins (jointly with Fenerbahce), boasted the best goal difference, and had the second-best defensive record. Crucially, they lost only five of their 34 matches, fewer than any other team.
It's just unbelievable. Obviously, we clung to our hopes, but we’re actually champions now, and it’s fantastic.
Another critical factor was Bursa’s fine record against the Istanbul three, who finished second, third and fourth in the final standings. Bursaspor were undefeated against third-placed Galatasaray (one win, one draw) and fourth-placed Besiktas (two wins), and managed a win and a defeat against runners-up Fenerbahce.
It was an agonising end to the campaign for Fener, stumbling at the final hurdle with the prize in sight to a team rapidly emerging as their bogey opponents. 'The Yellow Canaries' also lost 3-1 to Trabzonspor in the cup final.
"We want the championship three times in a row," club president Aziz Yildirim pronounced at the start of the season, but the bitter outcome was two runners-up spots. The local media made no attempt to soothe their disappointment. "The same old story" and "a disgrace" thundered Fotospor, while Fotogol wrote of "a historic fiasco".
In a particularly gruesome twist of the knife, the men in yellow-and-blue went into stoppage time of their final match believing themselves to be champions, as the stadium announcer trumpeted news of a Besiktas equaliser against Bursaspor, erroneously reporting rumour as fact. That would have been enough to seal the title for Fener, and the players, coaching staff and the crowd celebrated accordingly for fully five minutes after the final whistle, until the sobering truth finally dawned.
Nevertheless, boss Christoph Daum and his men have earned a shot at qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. UEFA Europa League places went to cup winners Trabzonspor, Galatasaray and dethroned double-winners Besiktas. Diyarbakirspor and Denizlispor will join compulsorily relegated Ankaraspor in the second division next term.
The race for the title continued to the final minute of the final day, but the honour of finishing leading scorer was effectively settled weeks ago. Kayserispor hitman Ariza Makukula ran off with the crown on 21 goals, streets ahead of Julio Cesar (13), Necati Ates and Bobo (both 12). Largely as a result of his magnificent season, the Kinshasa-born top scorer was named in Portugal’s preliminary squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Intriguingly, the newly-crowned champions provided none of the top marksmen of the season. Their best-placed goalscorers were Pablo Batalla and Ozan Ipek, level in 15th place on eight goals, followed by Turgay Bahadir on seven.
In the wake of Bursaspor’s historic triumph, the new season promises drama and excitement galore. All eyes will be on the Istanbul three, as 'The Yellow Canaries', 'The Lions' and 'The Black Eagles' can hardly tolerate the title leaving the Bosporus another time. But who knows: maybe 'The Green Crocodiles' can follow up their stunning success and emulate Trabzonspor, who retained their inaugural crown in 1977.