Turkish club Beşiktaş surprised many with how close they came to landing Brazilian superstar Robinho during the summer. Rather than a vain attempt at publicity, this move was a signal of intent. Thomas Wood looks at ambition on the banks of the Bosphorus.
Legend has it that when playing the now defunct Süleymaniye S.K. in 1941, defending champions Beşiktaş were leading the championship, playing free flowing attacking football with a young enthusiastic side featuring captain Hakkı, Şakir and the iconic Şeref Görkey (who became well known for his volleyed goals, he scored 3 in this match alone).
Despite leading the match with twenty minutes remaining, Beşiktaş launched yet another attack. As they raced into their opponents half a voice from behind the goal echoed through the stadium. Fans, journalists and players alike all froze in their tracks.
“Come on Black Eagles. Attack Black Eagles".
The voice belonged to fisherman Mehmet Galin. Beşiktaş went on to crush their opponents 6-0 and thus the legend of the Black Eagles or Karakartallar was born.
Fast forward 67 years and Beşiktaş romped to victory in the 08/09 season, winning their 11th Süper Lig title with 71 points, scoring 60 goals in the process with strikers Bobo, Holosko and Nobre grabbing 11, 10 and 10 respectively. It was a good year for the black and white side, as they added the Turkish Cup to their championship trophy.
Automatic Champions League qualification followed, and the Turkish champions were drawn in a group with Manchester United, CSKA Moscow and Wolfsburg. Unfortunately they came bottom, winning only one match (a 1-0 away win against a weakened United side at Old Trafford). Their domestic season suffered too, finishing 4th.
Looking back perhaps it was the best thing to happen to the Karakartallar since Gordon Milne managed the side in the late 80s. Back then they won three consecutive titles and the honor of being the only undefeated defending champion in Süper Lig history. Now Beşiktaş are at the beginning of new era, which started with the signing of ex-Real Madrid manager Bernd Schuster.
The capture of Schuster represents something of a coup for the Turkish side. Harshly treated by Real Madrid after winning La Liga in 2008, he has been able to bring in big name signings José María Gutiérrez Hernández, aka, Guti on a free transfer and perennial underachiever Ricardo Quaresma for €7.3 million.
Guti will bring his vast experience and although he flickers like an old lightbulb, on his day his passing can light up any match. This may be his last club, and with nothing left to prove it may backfire. Nevertheless Guti is Guti and one thing is for sure, his tenure will be anything but dull.
Quaresma is the opposite, at 26 he still has everything to prove. His CV would make you think otherwise; Barcelona, Porto, Inter and Chelsea. The reality is that O Cigano has failed to consistently perform for all of the above bar Porto (where the standard of the league is inferior), occasionally showing flashes of brilliance. At €7m his purchase represents a sizable investment for a club who got their fingers burnt on €8m Rodrigo Tabata, but Quaresma has already started to deliver. His first goal for the club in a Europa League qualifier against Viktoria Plzen was an absolute beauty; the player receiving the ball with his back to goal, darting past 2 players before unleashing his trademark trivela with astonishing power. The Portuguese winger has netted five times so far, not since playing for Porto in 07/08 has the player managed as many.
Elsewhere, the club have purchased goalkeeper Cenk Gönen from Denizlispor for €1m, 33 year old Trabzonspor legend Fatih Tekke from defending Russian champions Rubin Kazan for an estimated €750k, defensive midfielder Mehmet Aurelio from Betis and right winger/fullback Roberto Hilbert from Hamburg both on free transfers.
The most exciting transfer was one which never materialised. The club were poised to close a deal for Manchester City’s record signing Robinho for €16m. This was a sign of their ambition, surely in an attempt to succeed in European competition and usurp fellow Istanbul rivals Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray. That it never succeeded is not a reflection on Beşiktaş, rather the pull of A.C. Milan. Beşiktaş fans should be excited that the club is aiming for such illustrious players.
The club also looked to get rid of a lot of dead wood (and decrease their foreign quota) and have moved on captain Matias Delgado to Al-Jazira for an estimated €2.25m along with a host of other under-performing players who don’t fit in with their new model.
Having retained Holosko, Bobô and Nihat, combined with the arrival of Quaresma, the Black Eagles are now a very attacking side, which was badly exposed as they lost 2-0 to relative minnows İstanbul BŞB. Schuster isn’t likely to suffer from overconfidence again.
So what next for Beşiktaş? Winning the Turkish league twice in ten years is no longer enough, the aim must be greater success. In the Europa League they have done brilliantly against mediocre opposition and have been rewarded with a group consisting of Porto, Rapid Vienna and CSKA Sofia. Maybe this is the year for them to better their best ever result of Quarter Final defeat to Lazio in ‘03, and then to top their ‘87 Quarter Final Champions League defeat the following season.
Whatever the case, hopefully they can honor the memory of Mehmet Galin, do the fisherman proud and the Beşiktaş İnönü Stadyumu will once again hear those words.
“Come on Black Eagles. Attack Black Eagles".
Thomas has previously written for The Guardian in the UK. If you would like to read more from him, please visit Heaven's 11.