x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Champions League qualifier: Sevilla travel to Istanbul to face rising star of Turkish football in Basaksehir

With a squad boasting the experience of Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Gokan Inler and Emre, Basaksehir are looking to step out of the shadows of city rivals Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Beskitas.

Basaksehir Istanbul's Emmanuel Adebayor, left, scores a diving headers against Bruge during the Uefa Champions League third qualifying round second-leg match in Istanbul, Turkey, 02 August 2017. Tolga Bozoglu / EPA
Basaksehir Istanbul's Emmanuel Adebayor, left, scores a diving headers against Bruge during the Uefa Champions League third qualifying round second-leg match in Istanbul, Turkey, 02 August 2017. Tolga Bozoglu / EPA

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made a point of being at the stadium of the club he supports two weeks back. Erdogan likes to be associated with victory and the match he attended held no guarantees. Basaksehir, playing the first home Uefa Champions League match of their short history, were hosting Bruges, seasoned campaigners in the European Cup. The first leg of the qualifier in Belgium had ended in a 3-3 draw.

Fortune smiled on Erdogan. And quickly. After seven minutes, a veteran had eased the anxieties of Basaksehir’s loyalists and their most famous fan. Emmanuel Adebayor, 33, owner of a glorious and sometimes chequered backstory, recorded his first goal in the Champions League since scoring for Real Madrid against Tottenham Hotspur – one of his many former employers – in May 2011. Adebayor set up Basaksehir’s second, too, for a 5-3 aggregate win, sending them into the play-off round, and a meeting with Sevilla on Wednesday.

There is evidently zest in the mercurial Adebayor still. Basaksehir, runners-up to Besiktas in a 2016/17 Turkish championship that Adebayor joined in the January transfer window, hope that the sort of been-around-the-block knowhow that the Togolese totem has brought to the club will be supplemented by a clutch of experienced players hired this summer.

Gael Clichy, who joined the Istanbul upstarts just before his 32nd birthday last month, will play his 87th Champions League match. He was part of the Arsenal squad who reached the final back in 2006, and part of the Manchester City who lost a semi-final a decade later. City did not renew his contract in June, and the left-back is embarking a new adventure by the Bosphorus.

Then there’s Gokan Inler. He captained Switzerland at the last World Cup, and was a fringe member of the Leicester City squad who won the Premier League in 2016. He picked up another league winners’ medal with Besiktas last season, but again he was starting too many matches on the bench for his liking and moved across town. Inler has points to prove, questions to answer about whether he has the same dynamism in midfield that he showed so forcefully in Serie A in his years with Napoli.

At Basaksehir, they hope that a midfield axis of Inler and Emre Belozoglu - ex of Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, Newcastle United and both Fenerbahce and Galastasary - can roll back the years. Emre and Inler will have a combined age of 70 when the former turns 37 next month.

Add Eljero Elia, the 30-year-old Dutch international forward whose career has wandered through Germany, Italy, England and to a Dutch title last May with Feyenoord, and it is easy to decipher Basaksehir’s medium-term strategy. Theirs is a young club, founded only in 1990; experience is a commodity the market can provide.

“It would have been unthinkable a few years ago that we’d be playing a Champions League play-off,” said the club president Goksel Gumusdag. “It’s an opportunity we have to seize.” Whether Istanbul, a great football city, has room for an ambitious club to build up a very sizeable support-base, given the traditions of Galatasaray, Fennerbahce and Besiktas, remains to be seen.

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Certianly, Sevilla are unlikely to find the Fatih Terim Stadium, which seats 17,000, as intimidating as the homes of Gala and Fenerbahce can be. But the Spanish club arrive sensitive to the fact that Basaksehir, who began their league campaign at the weekend with a 1-0 win over Bursaspor, already have some momentum. Sevilla, bedding in their third different manager in just over a year, Eduardo Berizzo, will be playing their first competitive fixture of the season.

Berizzo, who guided Celta Vigo to the semi-final of the Europe League in April, has taken several of his new signings to Turkey, including Jesus Navas and Nolito, who exited Manchester City with Clichy; Ever Banega, who has returned to the club from Inter; and centre-forward Luis Muriel, for whom Sevilla paid Sampdoria €20 million (Dh86m).

“Basaksehir may be less well-known than some of the teams we might have been drawn against,” Berizzo said, “but we have to show them a lot of respect. They lost only three games in the league last season, and they finished above Galatasaray and Fenerbahce.

"We’ve seen them knock out Bruges already. I hope we can come away in a position to win the tie in the home leg.”