The curtain is down on the first half of the Turkish Super League season with Trabzonspor AŞ leading the way at this stage for the first time in 15 years.
Though they have not won the Turkish title since 1984, hope abounds because of their record of having been top of the pile at the midway point on all six occasions they have been crowned champions before. Trabzonspor last found themselves in this position during the 1995/96 campaign when, as with now, they were under the charge of Şenol Güneş. Pipped by Fenerbahçe SK in dramatic fashion that season, Güneş remains cautious.
"We can't say 'we're the champions' yet," he said. "We're not perfect either.
We're a team who have ideas and character and play brave football. The points we have collected are promising but not enough. I would like to remind you we had collected 44 points in the first half of the 1995/96 season; now we have 42. We'll strive to finish top at the end of the season, but we won't talk about the past nor the future – we'll work during the winter break and then continue on our way."
Trabzonspor were ninth when Güneşreplaced Hugo Broos 12 months ago to begin his fourth spell in charge but the 58-year-old was quick to wipe the slate clean. Bolstered by two years in Korea Republic as coach of FC Seoul, the former goalkeeper has since taken his more familiar employers from strength to strength.
"People without a clear vision are like ships without a captain," Güneş said. "We must, therefore, specifiy our ideas and use them to our advantage. Instant results have no benefit for organisations or the people attached to them. Every day me and my players are improving thanks to mutual dialogue. I think that because we speak to each other we understand what is missing and overcome a number of obstacles."
Despite such modesty, Trabzonspor swiftly gathered momentum under Güneş. Having won the Turkish Cup last season and the Turkish Super Cup at the start of this, the club hit the ground running and laid down an impressive marker by beating Fenerbahçe 3-2 on the second weekend.
A six-match winning streak in October and November – which included victories against Beşiktaş JK, Galatasaray AŞ and titleholders Bursaspor – added further momentum and showed an ominous proficiency against the traditionally dominant Istanbul sides. Defending from the front, Güneş's side have set their stall out at both ends of the field, scoring 40 goals compared to 30 this time last year and conceding only ten times – less than half their 2009/10 tally 17 games in.
"Our game plan is to press," said the former Turkey coach. "Every player is valuable but not indispensable. We know where we are coming from, where we currently are and where we want to go. We're only halfway through this. You can't say mission accomplished before the completion of the task."
Individually, as well as collectively, Trabzonspor's players have thrived under the stewardship of Güneş. Burak Yılmaz and Umut Bulut have provided the goals and subsequently earned national team call-ups for their troubles. Serkan Balcı, meanwhile, has found a consistency lacking before Güneş's arrival and has added five assists to the mix this term.
At the other end, goalkeeper Onur Kıvrak has been transformed from reserve to No1. Recent wins against İstanbul BB SK and Kardemir Karabükspor have added further credence to Trabzonspor's title chances, with even the usually serene Güneş becoming increasingly excitable on the sideline.
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