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On paper, Bursaspor shouldn’t have come anywhere near the Süper Lig title in 2009/10. In the 51 seasons before, only Trabzonspor had prevented the Big Three of Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray winning the league.
If you had to pick a club to change that, chances are that one promoted to the top flight less than three years before would not be the natural choice. In Ertuğrul Sağlam, Bursaspor had a manager who had lost 8-0 to Liverpool during his previous role at Beşiktaş. In the opening five games, his squad took an unremarkable seven points from fifteen, no surprise given its lack of big names.
The most renowned of these was probably Pablo Batalla, an Argentine midfielder signed that summer from Deportivo Cali. Up front there was no prolific goalscorer, with the attacking triumvirate of Ozan İpek, Sercan Yıldırım and Volkan Şen only scoring 18 goals between them. Where Bursaspor did impress though was defensively, keeping 17 clean sheets across the season.
In terms of signs of a title challenging outfit, these first reared their head at the end of November 2009. Bursaspor beat Galatasaray 1-0, with Volkan scoring a fine winner. Then a few weeks later, they defeated defending champions Beşiktaş in a 3-2 thriller at the İnönü Stadium. The last game before the winter break, it put Bursaspor third going into the second half of the season. More importantly they sat just two points behind leaders Fenerbahçe.
This new year brought about a phenomenal run of form. Bursaspor went unbeaten in nine matches through till the end of March, beating Fenerbahçe 3-2 away from home. After Ozan’s late winner, the whole squad performed the club’s famous crocodile walk celebration. This dance was introduced by the late Ugandan striker Majid Mususi in the 1990s and pays homage to the club’s nickname Yeşil Timsahlar (Green Crocodiles).
To deem these celebrations a precursor to the title however, is jumping the gun. Bursaspor lost 2-1 to Istanbul Büyükşehir Belediyespor in late March, and after goalless draws with Gençlerbirliği and Galatasaray, fell behind Fener with only three games of the season left.
In these matches, Bursaspor recorded a 2-0 win at home to Kayserispor, which featured a goal from penalty taking ‘keeper Dimitar Ivankov. They were then awarded a 3-0 walkover for their match with Ankaraspor because their opponents had been thrown out of the league for fraud.
The end result meant that Bursaspor went into the final day with a chance of the title, but on paper that was very slim. Simply put, they had to beat Beşiktaş, whilst hoping Trabzonspor would get a result at Fenerbahçe’s Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium.
After just fourteen minutes, Dani Güiza put Fener in front. The unlikely now seemed impossible. Never mind that, Bursaspor did their job, taking the lead after half an hour, meaning Trabzonspor needed to score.
Then, Burak Yılmaz did. Level in Istanbul, and Bursaspor moved back to Süper Lig’s summit. A minute before half time, Beşiktaş defender İbrahim Toraman scored an own goal. Provided Trabzonspor kept their nerve, Bursaspor were champions.
It appeared too little too late for Fenerbahçe fans when Uğur İnceman scored for Beşiktaş with four minutes to go. But then their stadium announcer joyously declared that their city rivals had equalised. 2-2 in Bursa, and Fener overtook them once again.
Needing little prompting, fans stormed the pitch in their thousands. Some went to congratulate their players, whilst others thought to perform their own crocodile walk. It seemed necessary to point fun at their challengers. How dare little Bursaspor think they could defeat the might of Fenerbahçe. After a topsy-turvy season, the status quo had been continued.
Unfortunately, this crocodile would come back to bite Fenerbahçe on the proverbial behind. You see, Bursaspor had not conceded a second goal. Instead, they held on for a 2-1 victory. At the end of the night, the only thing anyone associated with Fenerbahçe got their hands on were the seats which furious fans ripped from the stands.
Bursaspor were champions of Turkey, the first time in nearly three decades that the Süper Lig trophy had to leave its effective home of Istanbul. It made a two-hour ferry journey south across the Sea of Marmara, docking in Bursa for the first time. To put their triumph into perspective, Bursaspor’s budget was less than a tenth of the £125 million present at Galatasaray.
Heading into their maiden Champions League campaign, Ertuğrul stayed loyal to his miracle workers. Midfielder Federico Insúa (Boca Juniors) and left back Gökçek Vederson (Fenerbahçe) were the only noteworthy summer signings. Unfortunately, the dream of wider European wonders was quickly quashed, with a draw against Rangers the only point Bursaspor earned from a group also containing Manchester United and Valencia.
The club failed to defend their title, coming third after an impressive start. Ertuğrul left in 2013, becoming something of a journeyman coach, and is now at second tier Samsunspor.
Much of his squad fared little better. Sercan and Volkan struggled after big moves to Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe respectively. The former is currently a free agent at just 30, whilst the latter plays for Adana Demirspor. Meanwhile, their partner in crime Ozan ended up in the fourth division.
In 2018/19, Bursaspor were relegated from Süper Lig on the final day of the season. Last year, they lost in the 1. Lig play-offs to Demirspor, with Volkan ironically captaining the opponents against his former employees. This season, they have started well, although their league position does not reflect this fact.
The main problem is a low average age, with coach Mustafa Er having to work with a squad in which most of the players are under 23. They have scored first in nine of their eleven matches this season, only for inexperience to show. Of these games, Bursaspor have won only four.
Nevertheless, keep an eye on young striker Ali Akman and creative winger Burak Kapacak, who both appear to have bright futures. The duo may well follow academy graduates Sercan and Volkan by firing Bursaspor to a title. After what happened in 2010, anything is possible.