With six top-flight titles to their name, Trabzonspor are the most domestically successful Turkish club outside of Istanbul, and possess an impressive unbeaten record from their 12 European games so far this season.
A fundamentally local squad in its composition, Trabzonspor’s leading lights among the 17 Turkish players are goalkeeper Onur Kivrak and top scorer Olcan Adin.
However, the team, founded in 1967 and based in the city of Trabzon on the Black Sea, can also count on a group of established household names in European football, including Didier Zokora, Jose Bosingwa and Florent Malouda.
The former two have already played against the Bianconeri when they featured for Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea side in the 2008/09 Champions League campaign quarter-final. The Portuguese defender was named in the starting line-up for both legs, while the French winger replaced Salomon Kalou for the final twenty minutes of the opening tie at Stamford Bridge.
The highlight of Mustafa Akcay’s short reign in the Trabzonspor dugout will undoubtedly be his team’s sensational run to the competition’s Round of 32, during which they went 12 games unbeaten and conceded just one goal away from home.
Having seen off Derry, Dinamo Minsk and Kukes in the preliminary rounds, Akcay’s men recovered from an early setback to get their Group J campaign off to a victorious start with a 2-1 triumph at Apollon Limassol through Malouda and substitute Yusuf Erdogan.
A reverse scenario then played out in their next game against Lazio, where they squandered a two-goal lead established ten minutes before the break, succumbing to Sergio Floccari’s quick-fire double on 84 and 85 minutes.
Trabzonspor reacted by taking control of the group with two routine 2-0 wins home and away against Legia Warsaw, before making mathematically sure of qualification by seeing off Apollon Limassol 4-2 thanks to an Adin hat-trick.
Group J ended with a goalless stalemate against Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico, a result that cemented the Turks’ finish ahead of the Biancocelesti.
In stark contrast to Trabzonspor’s strong European momentum is their form in Turkey, where they have failed to record a single win since the turn of the year.
Currently in ninth position and 17 points off league leaders Fenerbahce after 21 games, the club’s patchy domestic record led to Akcay tendering his resignation in the wake of a home reverse at the hands of Akhisar Belediyespor on Sunday 10 February.
The 55-year-old, who stepped up to take the reins of the full side in the summer of 2013 following a successful stint in charge of feeder club 1461 Trabzon, has been initially replaced by former assistant Hami Mandıralı, a popular former player who has also coached the Turkish Under-21 side.
Out to return the team to winning ways for the first time since 29 December 2013, Mandirali appeared to have got off to the perfect start when Emre Gural opened the scoring away at Karabukspor last Saturday.
The side’s defensive fragilities threatened to undo their strides made in the first half, as Murat Akca and Michael Eneramo tapped home shortly after the break to turn the match on its head.
Just when it looked as if the hosts had completed their revival, Gural popped up with three minutes remaining to clinch a point apiece with his second of the game.