The streets of Istanbul became a sea of black and white at the weekend as Besiktas fans in their tens of thousands riotously celebrated the Kara Kartallar's (Black Eagles) first Turkish league title in six years. The team coached by Mustafa Denizli had already won the domestic cup and thus became the first club to do the double since 2000. The feeling on the Bosporus now is that Besiktas are finally poised to stretch their wings and regain long-term parity with bitter city rivals Galatasaray and Fenerbahce.
"Winning the double is a great achievement and I’m overjoyed. It felt like a volcano erupting inside me,” Denizli gushed after the title-clinching 2-1 victory away to Denizlispor on the last day. "We’ve succeeded in bringing a long adventure to a happy conclusion," continued the 59-year-old, for whom the triumph means not one but two entries in the Turkish roll of honour: he is not only the first Turkish coach to lead Besiktas to glory, he is also the first to win the Super Lig with all three of Istanbul’s major clubs. "My team totally deserves their triumph,” the former Turkey international summed up.
Sivasspor miss out, Gala fall short
However, a real upset looked on the cards for a long spell in Turkey this season. Surprise package Sivasspor were never far from the headlines after leading the league for most of the last five months. A first championship triumph for a club from outside Istanbul since 1984 seemed on the cards, but coach Bulent Uygun’s valiant side ultimately ran out of steam on the home straight. In an ironic twist, it was Besiktas' fierce rivals Galatasaray who administered the coup de grace, as new Turkey superstar Arda Turan struck a brace on the last day to seal a 2-1 win over Sivasspor and hand the title to the Black Eagles.
At the end of the day, a extra touch of class made the difference, as Besiktas finished five points clear at the top, with more victories and fewer defeats than Sivasspor. Uygun and his men thus failed in their attempt to become only the fifth team outside the Istanbul triumvirate and Trapzonspor to claim Super Lig glory, but were consoled with second place and a shot at qualifying for the UEFA Champions League. Trabzonspor, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray took third, fourth and fifth respectively, and have to be satisfied with place in the newly-formed UEFA Europa League.
Of this trio, Gala were the most disappointing this term. The previous year’s champions lost seven times on their travels, including a 4-1 defeat to Fener and a 3-1 reverse against Besiktas. Their record of 39 goals against was easily the worst of the teams in the top seven, and they sneaked into Europe only by virtue of Fenerbahce’s 4-2 defeat to Besiktas in the cup final – Fener qualified for the Europa League on the basis of their league position.
A small consolation for the Lions of the Bosporus, who rate as the nation’s joint-most successful club alongside Fenerbahce with 17 league titles apiece, was that Milan Baros recaptured the form of his golden years and finished Super Lig top scorer on 20 goals. Aided and abetted by Harry Kewell, who enjoyed a productive first season in a Gala jersey, Baros provided moments to celebrate for the boisterous and excitable Ali-Sami-Yen stadium crowd, although everyone at the club realises it was still not enough. "There is just one place for Galatasaray and that is the number one position. If you don't get that, there is going to be a backlash,” Kewell exclusively told FIFA.com just a few weeks ago. A stormy summer beckons for the wounded Gala crew.
Dawn of a new era?
Konyaspor, Kocaelispor and Hacettepe proved unable to escape the relegation trapdoor, but Besiktas' 11th domestic title has raised hopes of a new era for the men in black and white. The media spotlight has fallen on Yusuf Simsek and Fabian Ernst as the orchestrators and architects of the latest triumph. "Our midfield, and particularly Simsek and Ernst, made a major contribution to our triumph. Both absolutely lived up to expectations,” commented coach Denizli.
Ernst, capped 24 times by Germany, switched to the Bosporus from Schalke during the winter break. "We’ve played good football, and we’ve made our fans happy,” reflected Ernst. The next step for the Black Eagles is success on the international stage, with the aim of matching the achievements of Galatasaray, UEFA Cup winners in 1999/2000, and Fenerbahce, UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists in 2007/08. With the expertise and cunning of Denizli at their disposal, Besiktas certainly appear to have exactly the right man in charge of their destiny.