EURO idols promise Turkish delight

Exactly 60 days after Turkey’s heartbreaking 3-2 semi-final exit to Germany at UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland, football fans on the Bosporus and throughout the land are licking their lips in anticipation as the nation’s footballing heroes return to the limelight for the start of the new domestic league campaign.

Volkan Demirel, Arda Turan and Gokhan Zan were team-mates in the summer, but as of this weekend they revert to their roles as standard bearers and bitter foes in the colours of Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas respectively.

The champions
Galatasaray clocked up 79 points last term to claim the title with a six-point advantage over a trio of pursuers. Gala’s triumph was founded on a stable and miserly defence which conceded just 23 goals in 34 matches. The arrival of Portugal international Fernando Meira adds another first-class name to the Lions' rearguard, while Australia star Harry Kewell has been brought in to assist Shabani Nonda and Umit Karan in the hunt for goals.

After coach Karl-Heinz Feldkamp’s decision to step down as of the end of last season, the reins have since passed to another German supremo, former Bayer Leverkusen boss and Germany assistant coach Michael Skibbe. The league title is clearly the new coach’s main priority, although he can already point to a first trophy after the Lions defeated cup winners Kayserispor 2-1 at the MSV Arena in Duisburg to claim the Turkish Supercup.

The challengers
Only the brave or foolhardy would bet against a three-way battle for the title this term between the Istanbul big guns. The Yellow Canaries (Fenerbahce) and the Black Eagles (Besiktas) are determined to push the Lions (Galatasaray) all the way.

Seventeen-time champions Fener clearly mean business this season after a summer spending spree and the capture of Emre Belozoglu, Daniel Guiza, and new coach Luis Aragones. The Yellow Canaries’ forward line now boasts the potent firepower offered by last term’s leading scorers in La Liga (Guiza, 27 goals) and the domestic league (Semih Senturk, 17 goals). However, Fener have lost one world-class player with the departure of Mateja Kezman. After claiming the title three times in the last five years but missing out last term, Fener are desperate to recapture the top flight crown this season.

By contrast, Besiktas have had a quiet summer and will field more or less the same squad as last season. The only big-name arrival is 25-year-old Czech international midfielder Tomas Sivok, a summer signing from Serie A outfit Udinese. Following third place in 2006, the runners-up spot in 2007, and another third in 2008, the latest Besiktas generation will now seek to push on and emulate the 2003 title-winning heroes who amassed 85 points and 26 wins from their 34 league fixtures.

The outsiders
After a disappointing sixth-place finish last season, Trabzonspor have conducted a thorough overhaul on the playing side this summer, no fewer than 20 players leaving the club in exchange for 13 new faces. The revamped side will now renew its efforts to break the stranglehold exerted by the Istanbul three.

Biggest movers
In the biggest transfer of the summer in Turkey, a reported €17.5m changed hands as Fenerbahce swooped for Spanish UEFA EURO 2008 winner Daniel Guiza from Real Mallorca. New boss Luis Aragones, the architect of Spain’s triumph in the summer’s continental showdown, also welcomes midfield ace Emre Belozoglu to the Bosporus from Newcastle United.

Galatasaray’s outlay for Portugal defender Fernando Meira from Stuttgart was considerably more modest at around €5m, while Australia hitman Harry Kewell arrives from Liverpool on a free.

Have your say

Can Fenerbahce topple champions Galatasaray from their throne? How will star newcomers Guiza and Meira fare at their new clubs? And following the heroics of surprise package Sivasspor in last year’s title race, can another promoted club upset the established order? Tell us what you think by clicking 'Add your comment' below.