One transfer that went under the radar in January was Robinho signing for İstanbul Başakşehir FK. While a Turkish club signing a striker with his best days behind him (here’s looking at you, Darius Vassell), the interesting part to this story is that Robinho joins a team that could be considered a ‘Grade B Galacticos’ side. Their squad is filled with players that everyone will know from either past glories or the ‘promising talent but never quite filled their potential’ category. The seemingly crazy, shortsighted policy of recruiting these players is actually working. İstanbul Başakşehir FK sit top of the Turkish league and are on course to win their first ever Super Lig title.
Turan to Abedayor to Demba Ba
Emmanuel Adebayor was one of the trailblazers for this project. After 6 months of inactivity following a disappointing spell at Crystal Palace, the player with a CV that contains Arsenal, City, Madrid and Spurs, signed for İstanbul Başakşehir FK in January, 2017. Adebayor is in good company up front at the club. Eljero Elia was once considered one of the most exciting wingers in Europe. Juventus signed him to a five-year contract in 2011. It didn’t quite work out, and after spells at Bremen and Feyenoord, with a loan spell at Southampton in between, Elia is now playing for İstanbul Başakşehir FK.
Demba Ba’s Chinese adventure ended prematurely. His contract was cancelled by mutual consent meaning Ba was free to join the revolution at İstanbul Başakşehir FK. A front trio of Robinho, Adebayor and Ba back in 2009 would have been a force to be reckoned with.
In midfield, the Turkish legend, ex-Newcastle player, and occasional racist, Emre, is also playing for İstanbul Başakşehir FK at the grand old age of 38. Joining him in midfield is Arda Turan, on loan from Barcelona. Turan was a 35 million signing for Barca back in 2015 but it never went well at Camp Nou. Gökhan İnler, once a stalwart at Napoli and a one-season non-wonder at Leicester, is also at the club at the age of 34. In defence, Gael Clichy also joined back in 2017. The French full-back at 33 is probably considered a youthful member of the squad.
A wage bill to end all wage bills?
İstanbul Başakşehir FK’s stadium has a capacity of just 17,156. Their average attendance is the lowest in the Super Lig at just 2,766. Compare that average to the 35,417 and 35,667 at Galatasary and Fenerbache respectively. How does İstanbul Başakşehir FK afford to pay these ‘Grade B Galaticos’? While details of the packages being offered are kept under wraps, it’s clear that players like Adebayor and Robinho would not be at the club if their wage demands weren’t being met.
İstanbul Başakşehir FK have strong ownership links to the Turkish Government. Their ownership was moved to the Ministry of Youth and Sports in 2014 after previously being owned by the Istanbul municipality. Critics say that they’re nothing but a state-sponsored outfit and this gives them an unfair advantage. The ties run all the way to the long-term President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
It was rumoured that Arda Turan wanted to move back to one of the ‘Big 3’ in Turkey. However, Fenerbache, Besiktas and Galatasary all baulked at his wage demands. In stepped İstanbul Başakşehir to foot the bill. It’s this sort of deal that has made the club despised by opposition fans. Even in their home town of Başakşehir, the 300,000 strong population take little or no interest in the success of their B Grade Galaticos. That’s unlikely to change even if they win the Turkish Supr Lig. What’s also unlikely to change is the conveyer belt bringing once-brilliant talent coming to the club. It seems that money can’t buy you fans but it may just pay for the league.