The 2015/16 domestic season across Europe has already seen its fair share of smaller teams flirting with the prospect of reaching new heights towards the top of the table.
Konyaspor are no different. They’ve been late developers this season, but they’ve spurned into life in recent months and are now closing in on European Football for the first time, with a cup semi-final also on the horizon.
Hailing from the large urban city of Konya within southern Turkey, success has never really been thought about for the Konyaspor football club.
They’ve had their fair share of promotions and relegations to and from the Turkish top flight division, the Süper Lig, but they’ve never been able to find that spark which would propel them up to the heights of the Turkish footballing pyramid.
Now, all of a sudden, thanks to a seven-match unbeaten league streak, they find themselves in uncharted territory in third position in the Süper Lig, even in front of a weary-looking Galatasaray side.
They probably wouldn’t have imagined being in such a prosperous position at this stage last Autumn. They only won one of their first five league games and this was followed up by a torrid number of trips to Istanbul where they suffered defeats to four teams from the city within the space of two months.
But since a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Beşiktaş in late December, they haven’t looked back. They’ve since won 11 of their last 14 league and cup games and are the only team unbeaten in all Turkish competitions since the start of 2016.
One very likable characteristic about Konyaspor is their fantastic following from their supporters. Their fanbase is well received across the country and provides a good advert for Turkish football as their euphoric pyro displays pass by with very little trouble or violence.
Despite Konya being Turkey’s seventh largest city, Konyaspor manage to attract excellent crowds to their games. Last season their average attendance was 19,000 – making them the third best supported club in the country, ahead of the likes of Beşiktaş, Bursaspor and Trabzonspor.
This season, their grit and determination on the field has developed them into a very stubborn side who many teams struggle to break down. Their home stadium has progressed into a bit of a fortress with performances on par with the top Istanbul teams.
Their experienced coach, Aykut Kocaman – who has managed Fenerbahçe before – is a very well equipped manager and has helped to bring in some excellent signings for the club this season. Albin Meha was picked up from Paderborn and his excellent performances look set to cement his place in Albania’s Euro 2016 squad in the summer.
Elsewhere, the Swedish stalwart Samuel Holmén has been a revelation sitting in front of a fluid defensive structure and one of the signings of the season has been 21 year old attacking midfielder Rijad Bajić who has excelled since joining from the Bosnian League.
The team’s performance has somewhat managed to bridge the gap a little within Turkish football. The divide in development in football between the prosperous heights of Istanbul compared to the rest of Turkey is very apparent.
Financial backing is much more achievable for the Istanbul teams which is why there is a considerable gulf in class between teams and this is evident when looking at the League table – all five Istanbul teams are in the top seven places of the league.
Konyaspor are this seasons exception as the team look set to challenge for the European spots, something which they are yet to achieve in their rather monotonous history. They’re in impeccable form and they’ve also just eliminated Beşiktaş to reach the Turkish Cup semi-finals, one tie away from reaching their first ever final.
The hard work may still lie ahead of them with a number of tough fixtures ahead, then there is the need to keep hold of their players, a very tough ask when the superior Istanbul clubs come calling.
Whatever the outcome this season, Konyaspor look set to achieve their highest ever league placing, which before this season was seventh spot. The top two of Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe have formed a formidable gap at the top of the table but a third place finish is not entirely out of the question for Konyaspor.
The pressure may begin to increase on them, but they are held in quite high esteem throughout Turkish football, almost like a ‘neutral’s favourite’ – their idyllic fanbase is something of a bright spark for a country which has had a rather poor reputation for fan behaviour in recent times.