After our pre-season game against Fulham this Saturday, it's a quick turnaround and a flight to Austria for the boys, where they'll line up against two European heavyweights as part of their preparation for 2018-19.
Today we profile the first of our two opponents - Tuesday evening sees us take on Beşiktaş in Graz.
Beşiktaş vs Reading
Tuesday 17th July, 7pm CEST (6pm BST)
For many clubs, the idea of playing top-tier football is the height of ambition. But for Beşiktaş, it is a given: like their Istanbul rivals Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, they have never been relegated from the Süper Lig or its predecessors since the league’s formation in 1959.
Before the domestic league was established, the ‘Kara Kartaller’ (Black Eagles) had already become the first Turkish side to play in Europe. The Turkish Football Federation failed to register the club in time to enter the 1957-58 European Cup, but they would face eventual champions Real Madrid in the first round. They had been handed a walkover in the preliminary round; Greek side Olympiacos refused to travel to Istanbul, owing to tensions between the two countries.
15 league titles and nine Turkish Cup victories make Beşiktaş one of the most decorated clubs in Turkey. And it was an Englishman – Gordon Milne – who ushered in their most successful era. Born in Preston, the former Liverpool midfielder took charge of the Istanbul outfit in 1987 and led the team to three consecutive titles in 1990, 1991 and 1992 – the last of which saw them become the first and only side in Turkey to go undefeated for an entire season.
Last season, Beşiktaş finished fourth – four points behind champions Galatasaray and just one point shy of cross-town rivals Fenerbahçe and İstanbul Başakşehir. That means they will compete in the UEFA Europa League next season; their qualification campaign begins a week after our friendly fixture, where they will meet either Faroese side B36 Tórshavn or Montenegrin club Titograd Podgorica.
There are several famous names in the Beşiktaş squad – but whether those who were involved in the World Cup this summer will feature in Austria remains to be seen. Pepe and Ricardo Quaresma (Portugal) and Duško Tošić (Serbia) have already headed home, while Domagoj Vida remains involved with Croatia… although from an English perspective, hopefully not for much longer!
Spanish striker Álvaro Negredo – formerly of Man City – joined the club last summer from Valencia, and he was joined in the front-line in January by Brazilian international Vágner Love. Chilean roadblock Gary Medel is known in England for his tough-tackling season in the heart of Cardiff’s midfield – and he made the move to Vodafone Park last summer too.
Other famous names include former Barcelona full-back Adriano, Dutch duo Ryan Babel and Jeremain Lens (the latter converting a loan from Sunderland into a permanent deal recently), and former West Ham loanee Gökhan Töre.
Şenol Güneş has been in the dugout for Beşiktaş since 2015 – the highest-profile club job that he has taken. But previously he had great success with the Turkish national team – he guided his country to just their second ever appearance in the World Cup finals in 2002, and ultimately claimed the bronze medal by knocking out co-hosts Japan in the quarter-final and only succumbing 1-0 to a Ronaldo goal for Brazil in the semi.
Joining Güneş on the touchline this summer will be Guti – the Real Madrid legend finished his playing career with Beşiktaş, and just last week it was announced that he will be returning to Istanbul to work as assistant manager.