Besiktas went into their Champions League clash against Benfica having previously lost every single opening group stage game since the records began. On the surface there was very little reason to be optimistic but as we have been banging on about for quite some time now, this is an altogether different Black Eagles side.
To be fair Besiktas are an altogether different club, midway through a transitionary period. The Istanbul giants became synonymous with paying over the odds for over the mill players and getting themselves in debt trouble trying to keep up with their noisy neighbours – Fenerbahce and Galatasaray. The club were temporarily thrown out of European competition following a financial meltdown a few seasons back.
Current club president Fikret Orman took over a club in turmoil and brought in sweeping changes. The finances were brought into check, the transfer policy went through an overhaul, professionals were brought into important administerial and coaching positions – it was common place for club presidents to appoint loyal backers and friends to these roles before resulting in total incompetence.
To cut a long story short Besiktas have gone through fundamental changes over the past few seasons. The new stadium somehow feels like a metaphor for the new Besiktas – modern, bold, ambitious. The 41,903 seater state of the art sporting complex rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the former stadium. The club will be able to compete with their Istanbul rivals in terms of stadium revenues as a result of the newly completed project and as far as location and design go it is up there with the top footballing arenas across the world.
Slaven Bilic kicked off the new-era Besiktas laying the foundations for the side Senol Gunes took over. The former Turkish national team manager who guided the Crescent Stars to third-place in the 2002 World Cup built upon Bilic’s side bringing in the likes of Mario Gomez to achieve what had eluded the club under the stewardship of the Croatian head coach – the league title.
Gunes is renowned for aesthetically pleasing attacking based football and also has a reputation for developing talent. Under his tutorage Burak Yilmaz, Selcuk Inan, Ozan Tufan and countless other talents emerged. Despite being a goalkeeper as a player he also has an ability to get the best out of a striker. Yilmaz, Fernandao – at Bursaspor – and Gomez are among the strikers that have all finished the season as goal king under his command. Taking a look at this seasons stats and Cenk Tosun already has four goals – Besiktas have found the back of the net nine times in total which is more than any other league side.
If Fatih Terim is the Emperor of Turkish football, Gunes is the wise sensei. To many Gunes is actually a better coach and were it not for his loyalty to Trabzonspor he would probably have as much silverware in the cabinet as Terim.
Gunes has worked wonders with far inferior players and teams on smaller budgets and less ambition in the past. His previous projects were destroyed by incompetent club presidents. At Trabzonspor his prize assets who he developed such as Yilmaz, Inan, Tolga Zengin among countless other names were sold off or ended up being snapped up as free agents. The same happened fate awaited him at Bursaspor.
The former teacher is now at a club that can protect his interests. Gunes also has access to transfer funds that were simply not available to him at previous teams. In his first season in charge of one of the big three Istanbul clubs he won the league title – and won it as the highest scoring team with 75 goals.
Gunes really put his stamp on the team over the summer breaking up the old guard and making sweeping changes. There was a brief period of panic among the Besiktas faithful after losing Gokhan Tore to West Ham on loan but more importantly Jose Sosa to AC Milan on a €7.5 million move and Mario Gomez decided not to return after the end of his loan deal with Fiorentina.
Between them Tore, Gomez and Sosa scored 43 goals and provided 19 assists for the Istanbul giants. While the fans worried about the path the club was taking Gunes and the board assured them everything was under control. It turned out to be the quiet before the storm. In a late splurge Besiktas brought in Adriano from Barcelona, Gokhan Inler from Leicester City, Vincent Aboubakar on loan from Porto, Gokhan Gonul from rivals Fenerbahce, Caner Erkin on loan from Inter and perhaps the most exciting addition of them all Talisca on a two-year loan from Benfica.
In the space of a week the team had two players for each position and strengthened in every area – except arguably the striker department. The total cost of the Eagles transfer activity was £6 million. Meanwhile the club made £10 million – a figure that could rise to £20 million if West Ham decide to sign Tore on a permanent deal. And there you have the new Besiktas. A club that makes a profit on the transfer market while strengthening with astute signings.
The Istanbul giants are a more well balanced side this season making serious upgrades to their full-back positions. There are still a few weaknesses. Tolga Zengin being first choice goalkeeper does not install confidence in fans of the club – his blunders were partly to blame for the Eagles Europa League exit for the last two consecutive seasons. The centre-back pairing is not exactly a stellar force either.
Three weeks into the Super Lig and Besiktas are second – two wins and a draw. More impressively and a testament to the new era at the club the Eagles managed to avoid defeat for the first time in their opening Champions League clash against Benfica. Talisca became the villain of Lisbon and the hero of Besiktas following his last-gasp free-kick goal in the 1-1 draw. Gunes is aiming to defend the title and make it out of the Champions League group stages. Besiktas are entering a golden age and if they do indeed achieve Gunes’ expectations this season they may just go onto dominate Turkish football for the foreseeable future.