Strange things have been happening in Turkish football this year. Fenerbahce’s 3-0 away defeat by lowly Akhisar earlier this month marked a new nadir in the Istanbul club’s 111-year history. The humiliating beating left Fenerbahce mired in the Super League’s relegation zone, and the club’s president, Ali Koc, so disgusted that he refused to let the team fly home. Instead, they were forced to make the 300km-plus journey back from the western province of Manisa by bus.
Fenerbahce’s problems are particularly dire, but its bitter local rivals Besiktas and Galatasaray are also nowhere near the top of the table. While many smaller teams are thriving in an unpredictable season, the so-called “big three” are struggling. It’s an almost unthinkable predicament for clubs who, between them, have won the vast majority of Turkish titles and are supported by 80 per cent of the country’s fans. In October, thousands of Fenerbahce supporters refused to leave the stands after a match, and hundreds gathered at the club’s stadium after the Akhisar game to angrily demand a new coach.
While each side has its own unique problems, the biggest Turkish clubs are all labouring under crippling debt, caused by overspending and a lack of accountability. Aspirational, dysfunctional and perilously over-leveraged, the Super League holds many parallels to the wider national economy. In fact, the two are inseparable.
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