The 2012/13 Turkish Super League season kicks off in intriguing fashion on Friday night as newcomers and top-flight debutants Akhisar Belediye travel to Atatürk Stadium to take on Eskişehirspor.
It is the off-field antics of defending champions Galatasaray AŞ and rivals Fenerbahçe SK that has caught the imagination of Turkish football fans, however. The duo are unsurprisingly tipped as title favourites after their lavish summer spending and a season-long duel is anticipated.
Galatasaray spent over €20m on a string of high-profile players, bringing in Nordin Amrabat from Kayserispor and Burak Yılmaz from Trabzonspor AŞ, where he had scored 55 goals in 75 league matches. They have also extended the loan of Brazil holding midfielder Felipe Melo from Juventus and agreed another temporary deal for Toulouse FC striker Umut Bulut. Perhaps their most interesting capture is Hamit Altıntop from Real Madrid CF – the first time the 72-cap Turkish international has played for a Turkish side.
Despite these significant reinforcements, Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim has spoken cautiously about the campaign ahead. "Transfers do not win you games," he said. "We have made really good signings but if you don't work as hard as your opponents, they mean nothing. Our strategy is relying on Turkish players, thinking about the future," added Terim.
The champions will face stiff competition to retain their crown, judging by the movement in the blue-and-yellow part of Istanbul. The approach of Fenerbahçe coach Aykut Kocaman, like Terim, has been to recruit predominantly Turkish players and support them with two foreign stars.
Turkish internationals Egemen Korkmaz and Hasan Ali Kaldırım have arrived from Trabzonspor and Kayserispor respectively, while Mehmet Topal returns to his homeland after two Spanish seasons with Valencia CF. Netherlands forward Dirk Kuyt and Serbia winger Miloš Krasić are the marquee additions. Kuyt has been quick to show his class in UEFA Champions League qualifying and the Turkish Super Cup, while a hungry Krasić will bring skill and energy to the attack.
Amid these positives for last term's runners-up, the departure of captain and playmaker Emre Belözoğlu to Club Atlético de Madrid could prove problematic. "We'll have a new game plan for this season," said Kocaman. "Perhaps it will mean we struggle against the teams who press high up the pitch, but we'll work hard to overcome this."
Galatasaray drew first blood by lifting the Turkish Super Cup, snatching a 3-2 win against the Yellow Canaries with a last-minute penalty. The two will not come to blows in the league until December, however, with Fenerbahçe visiting Elazığspor on Saturday and Gala entertaining Kasımpaşa SK on Monday in their respective openers.
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