Istanbul Basaksehir: From crowds of 100 to top of the Turkish league

.
Istanbul Basaksehir are unbeaten in their opening 11 league games this season, winning nine

European football is littered with 'little Leicester Citys' this season - the clubs top of their league when nobody would have expected it.

While RB Leipzig and Nice have made headlines in Germany and France respectively, an even more unfancied underdog leads the way in Turkey.

Istanbul Basaksehir shrug off comparisons with Leicester, though - because their sights are set higher.

"They were a fairytale last season, but before that they were 14th and now they're in a similar position again," senior board member Mustafa Erogut told BBC Sport.

"We want to be in the top four or five every season."

From crowds of 100 to top of the league

Galatasaray have won four of the past 10 Super Lig titles, with Fenerbahce claiming three, Besiktas two and, in 2010, Bursaspor became champions for the first time.

But if Basaksehir win the Istanbul derby with champions Besiktas on Saturday (16:00 GMT), they will be five points clear at the top.

It is a remarkable rise for a club that until recently struggled to attract crowds in three figures to matches at their 17,800-capacity Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium.

"Up until two years ago we had about 100 fans at Super Lig games," said Erogut. "There are some advantages to that, though - when you're on a bad run you don't have anyone protesting at matches.

"At the same time, when things go well you want a sold-out stadium."

Basaksehir's lack of support is mainly a result of being a relatively young club.

Whilst Fenerbahce and Galatasaray have districts of the city to call their own on the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus, the league leaders, founded in 1990, are located in a newly constructed part of Istanbul.

"Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have hundreds of years of history, it's the same with the big clubs in Istanbul," said Erogut.

"Nobody can say they are from the Basaksehir district because it's only about 10 years old. It's difficult to break barriers here."

Turkish Super Lig

'Student following'

Not only are Basaksehir the city's youngest club, they also have a much younger fanbase than their rivals. In fact, almost all of their supporters are students who follow the club not out of passion, but out of protest.

"We started to support the club to show that there is another way," said Basaksehir supporter Alperen. "We wanted to show it's possible to follow football without conflict."

Alperen, a member of the club's Grey Owls supporters' group, is referring to the politics and violence which have damaged the image of the sport in Istanbul.

Earlier this year, a five-year ban which prevented away fans attending fixtures between the city's big clubs was lifted. It had been imposed after repeated incidents of violence at matches.

The extreme animosity between rivals drove disillusioned football fans to Basaksehir.

"I think it's like your child is growing," added Alperen. "It's a really good feeling because you supported this team and expected no achievements, you just wanted to support them.

"Then they become successful and it's a great feeling to follow them. I feel good when I say to people that I support Basaksehir."

.
Istanbul Basaksehir play in the 17,800-capacity Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium

'Football's Warren Buffet'

So who is the mastermind behind Basaksehir's rise to the top?

Head coach Abdullah Avci is in his second spell with the club having returned in 2014, three years after leaving to manage Turkey.

Since the 53-year-old's return, Basaksehir have achieved back-to-back fourth-placed finishes.

"He's like the American businessman Warren Buffett," said Erogut. "Buffett is a very rich man because he buys undervalued stock. Mr Avci is very good at finding undervalued players and making them better."

'We're more like Southampton than Leicester'

Basaksehir are a club on the rise, and as their small corner of Istanbul continues to breed a new generation of supporters, they could soon become the city's most fashionable side.

So what are the chances Basaksehir, who have beaten both Fenerbahce and Galatasaray this season, will be crowned champions of Turkey for the first time?

"We don't want to admit that," said Erogut.

For a man who shuns comparisons with Leicester, his answer copies Ranieri's approach last season, when the Italian repeatedly played down his side's title chances.

"I have read Ranieri's books and I like him a lot,' added Erogut. "He has a servant mentality, which fits well with Turkish culture.

"But, for us, Southampton is probably a better model. I read their chairman Ralph Krueger's manifesto. He says: 'We don't buy success we breed it.'"

.
Istanbul Basaksehir have beaten local rivals Fenerbahce and Galatasaray this season

Top Stories