After a one-year absence away from the Champions League, becoming more common than it should be, Manchester United are back in Europe’s premier competition. Whether they will make it out of a tough group that includes two of last years’ semi-finalists, remains to be seen.
One side, however, that United should be comfortable in taking points away from is İstanbul Başakşehir. Başakşehir won their first Turkish league title for the first time in their history last season and have been controversial in Turkey and Europe with their links to the autocratic president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Here are ten things you didn’t know about İstanbul Başakşehir, United’s opponents in Group H of the Champions League…
Başakşehir have strong links with the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The side play in the colours of Erdoğan’s political party (orange and blue). The president of the side, Goksel Gumusdag, is related to Erdoğan by marriage. Sponsors of the club are linked closely to the Turkish government, and when Başakşehir’s new stadium (which was gifted to them by Erdoğan) opened in 2014, Erdoğan played in the opening exhibition game, scored a hat-trick and then had his No. 12 shirt retire.
Başakşehir became the second side since 1984 outside of Istanbul’s main three of Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş to win the Turkish Super Lig. Due to the dominance of the main three clubs in Istanbul, it’s extremely rare that anyone else wins the title. A president owning a club in order to gather support for his political party, may change things though, in the future.
United cult hero Rafael da Silva currently plays for the side. The Brazilian joined Başakşehir this summer occupied by a Twitter announcement of him as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
There’s plenty of other ex-Premier League pedigree players in the squad as well. Demba Ba (remember him?) and Martin Skrtel also occupy Rafael in the squad. Gaël Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Gökhan İnler have all played for Başakşehir in the past too. Money talks.
This is the first time that Başakşehir have played in the group stages of the Champions League. The play-off qualifying round in 2016 was the furthest the side had reached in the competition before this season. Başakşehir have reached the UEFA Europa League group stages prior to this season though. In the club’s brief history in Europe, Başakşehir have reached the Europa League group stages twice in 2017/18 and 2019/20, going as far as the round of 16 last season.
The only English side that Başakşehir have faced in Europe is Burnley. The Clarets saw off Başakşehir 1-0 over two legs in the third qualifying round of the Europa League in the 2018/19 season, after they finished seventh in the Premier League.
United’s record against Turkish sides in Europe is indifferent. In 16 matches against Turkish opposition in European competitions, United have only won eight times, losing five of those and drawing three. A repeat of the embarrassing defeat away to Fenerbahçe in the group stages of the Europa League in 2016 must be avoided here if United want to stand any chance of avoiding playing on Thursday nights again.
Başakşehir haven’t had the best of starts to the season. The side are currently bottom of the Super Lig after four games and are yet to win a single game.
Başakşehir’s manager, Okan Buruk is a bit of a journeyman around Turkish football. Buruk has managed six different Turkish clubs since he started managing in 2013 including Sivasspor and Akhisarspor. His playing career is also as varied, Buruk had spells at Inter Milan, Galatasaray and Beşiktaş.
Başakşehir’s UEFA coefficient, puts them in 71st, one spot ahead of Qarabağ of Azerbaijan and one spot below Leicester City.