The Turkish Süper Lig has recently become a league known for developing young talent. I’ve long been a big fan of the league, and recent sales and player developments have increased the potential of Turkey’s top flight. However, while things have been improving for the first tier, the lower tiers are slightly dicier.
Finances for Turkish clubs are, simply put, not great. I discussed this more in a post about Galatasaray —you can find that here — but the short story is that teams have been spending money they don’t have. In the second tier, this is particularly true: it’s full of fallen giants with high debts and worsening facilities.
Despite this, the second tier (known as the 1.Lig) has produced some talented players in recent years. Along with many Süper Lig stars, the likes of Leicester City’s Çağlar Söyüncü, Marseille’s Cengiz Ünder, Roma’s Zeki Çelik, and Bielefeld’s Burak İnce started their careers in the league.
Now, another talented prospect is starring in the second flight: Manisa FK’s Aybek Karapo.
CB Aybek Karapo, 18, Manisa FK
Karapo was born in Manisa, Turkey: a city without much previous soccer success. Manisa FK (Karapo’s current team) is playing in the second flight for the first time in their history. Manisaspor was formerly a Süper Lig team, but that didn’t last long, and they now play in the third tier. Many other Manisa-based clubs dot Turkey’s lower leagues.
Karapo did not start his career in Manisa’s academy. Instead, he featured for the youth teams of Altinordu — the famous talent developers who rarely play foreigners. This dedication to playing and developing young stars has helped the club produce some of the finest players in Turkey. However, after multiple years in the club’s academy, Karapo returned to Manisa FK in 2018.
Karapo played several seasons with various youth teams before making the jump to the first team this season. Manisa wasted no time — Karapo started and played all 90 minutes of the first twelve 1.Lig matches. In his third game, he scored his first goal — a dramatic late winner against Samsunspor.
In his latest match — a Turkish Cup match against Süper Lig side Antalyaspor — Karapo was impressive, winning several important tackles. Antalyaspor won 1-0 thanks to a penalty conceded by Karapo on a last-gasp tackle, although the call was controversial as Karapo arguably won the ball in the end. Regardless, it shows he’s ready for bigger things. He limited US striker Haji Wright to one goal, the same number he scored against the Netherlands in the World Cup.
Karapo is far from a finished product. His positioning is less than perfect, and there are times he tends to ball-watch. However, his strengths are too good to pass up. Slightly over six feet tall, he regularly wins the ball in the air and poses a threat off of corners and setpieces.
His tackles, both sliding and standing, help him dispossess attackers with ease. Karapo’s passing and ability to carry out the ball from the back make him useful in build-ups, too. Karapo tends to feature as a right-sided center-back, although he can play right-back too or feature as a left-sided center-back.
Remarkably, Manisa are currently just outside of a promotion playoff spot, largely because of Karapo’s defensive and offensive contributions. Only ten sides in the 1.Lig have allowed fewer goals (not bad for a recently promoted side), and Karapo scored two game-winners and assisted an equalizer. If he keeps it up, Manisa could be in the Süper Lig soon.
However, Karapo could be in the Süper Lig a lot sooner. He is under contract until 2027 and Manisa will be reluctant to let him leave midseason, but he will be more expensive in summer. Frankly, any team in the lower half of the Süper Lig should consider taking a chance on him, as he could probably start for them. Andrea Pirlo’s Fatih Karagümrük in particular should be interested, with the worst defense in the league and limited depth at the position.
Karapo is already a youth international for Turkey, a starter for a 1.Lig side at the age of 18, and likely on his way to becoming Manisa BK’s record sale. Things look bright for the Turkish talent.
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