Meet Basaksehir, the Istanbul minnows who quietly sit atop Turkey's Super Lig
Leicester City became arguably the greatest underdog story ever told when they lifted the Premier League title last May but just half a season on, Turkey's Basaksehir could end up pulling off another miracle.
Basaksehir have gone from playing in the amateur leagues to the top of the Turkish Super Lig just 26 years after being founded.
The Istanbul minnows currently sit atop the Super Lig after 16 weeks having defeated noisy neighbours Fenerbahce and Galatasaray and drawing Besiktas along the way. In fact, nobody has been able to defeat Basaksehir in the league yet this season.
Turkish clubs are renowned for having die-hard fans, passion and tradition but none of that applies to Basaksehir. The Super Lig leaders break just about every rule when it comes to what is expected from a Turkish club. They attract around 3,000 fans per-game who are generally quite well-mannered. The club operates with fiscal responsibility, spending within their means instead of paying astronomical fees for once-upon-a-time superstars past their sell by date. They also have a long-standing manager in Abdullah Avci who has served for nearly a decade with a brief break in the middle to take over the Turkish national team before returning in 2014.
Perhaps the biggest difference with most of their competition in the league is that Basaksehir believe in long-term plans. Club president Goksel Gumusdag first took charge in 2006 before leaving his post in 2011 and returning to the helm three years later. The trio of Gumusdag, executive director Mustafa Erogut and head coach Avci have managed to build Basaksehir from total obscurity into a force to be reckoned with.
"Clubs in Turkey traditionally have lacked stability, our difference is the way we are structured. We are a new club and have a modern approach. Super Lig clubs have been trapped into thinking short-term. That is our main difference, we have long term plans and due to the way we are set up, the president can stand behind the manager," Erogut said. In a league where the average manager rarely lasts a full season it is remarkable that Avci has been in charge for almost a decade.
Basaksehir have turned heads finishing the first half of the season as leaders but their success is not a complete surprise. The team have been consistently improving for years and finished the last two seasons in the top four.
"We finished the last two seasons in fourth place and we were actually looking to improve upon last season's finish but this has come as a surprise. Our aim is still to do better than last season, we aren't thinking about the championship, yet," Erogut revealed.
Avci deserves a lot of credit for what he has achieved at Basaksehir. The 53-year-old manager has punched above his weight for years. Once regarded as a defensive manager -- a term he rejects -- Basaksehir have scored the second highest number of goals in the league (31) behind only Fenerbahce (34). Avci has built a well-balanced, highly disciplined and organised side who have conceded the fewest goals in the league and attacked with lethal precision going forwards.
The former Turkish national coach has long preached that systems and tactics are ignored in Turkey. Avci said: "Systems and tactics tend to take a backseat to the motivational aspect of the game, playing a compact game is not very well understood in Turkey."
The head coach has drilled his tactical demands and systematic approach into his players. What Avci has lacked in terms of individual quality he has made up with teamwork. Their goal to shot ratio is the second highest in the league. Only Galatasaray, who boast set-piece maestros like Wesley Sneijder and Selcuk Inan, have scored more goals from corners and free kicks. Basaksehir do not take the most shots on target or make the highest number of attacks but they are the most precise and dangerous on the break -- no other team has scored as many goals from counterattacks (four).
What Avci has achieved is remarkable. On a shoestring budget he has managed to build a side capable of taking on clubs with transfer funds he could only dream of. Basaksehir spent just €1.02 million over the summer but still managed to bring in one of the signings of the season in 19-year-old Cengiz Under.
Avci is a savvy operator in the transfer market, mixing experience with youth. Former Newcastle United midfielder and Turkish international veteran Emre Belozoglu was brought in last season. Highly rated 21-year-old Irfan Can Kahveci was snapped up from Genclerbirligi in January and veteran defender Egemen Korkmaz was brought in on a free transfer.
Off the pitch, Basaksehir have been building for the future. The club are in the process of setting up a state-of-the-art youth academy with some of the best facilities in the country. The club want to establish their own system but have not shied away from collaborating with leaders in the field.
"We have built a large academy next to the stadium and want to create our own youth system. Not just any academy but one of the best and to be the best we are working with some of the clubs that have expertise. We have an agreement with Atletico Madrid which sprung from the close relationship Miguel Angel Gil Marin and Gumusdag enjoy. We have consulted with Chelsea over player development. And met with Real Madrid and Manchester City over our plans," Erogut said.
Istanbul is a city of over 14 million which does leave room to attract fans to the cause even with the likes of Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce sharing the same city. Basaksehir -- under the former name Istanbul BB -- were founded in 1990 but the area only became a district in 2009 and has swelled to a population of over 300,000 -- most of whom only recently moved in.
The long term aim of the club is to develop an identity; to become a club with deep roots in the local community. Basaksehir are aware that building a fanbase like their Istanbul cousins is currently unrealistic but this is a club that thinks ahead.
"We are creating a Basaksehir system and identity. We are heavily involved with the community, visiting schools, high schools, colleges and youth centres. Our aim is for the next generations in this area to feel a bond with their local club," Erogut said.
Basaksehir break cliches often associated with Turkish football and their current league position is the stuff of dreams. In a world where football has become about buying success, it would be refreshing to see a club that strives to breed it get rewarded.
Eren Sarigul covers Turkish football for ESPN and Turkish-football.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_ErenSarigul