Football Features

‘Silky’ Soyuncu is ready to fill Maguire’s ball-playing shoes at Leicester City

By Ben Green

Published: 12:56, 14 August 2019

A pall of anxiety engulfed the King Power Stadium after the sale of Harry Maguire to Manchester United, but that unease was lifted over the weekend as Caglar Soyuncu announced himself at Leicester City.

Signed from SC Freiburg last summer, the Turkey international joined the Foxes with high expectations, but endured a difficult maiden campaign in the East Midlands, featuring sporadically as the Maguire-Jonny Evans partnership blossomed.

As such, the curly-haired centre-back mustered just four league starts, but with Maguire now out of the picture after completing his much-anticipated £80m switch to Old Trafford, Soyuncu looks set to play a prominent role this season.

Sceptics were certainly wary of Brendan Rodgers’ reluctance to strengthen his backline, but that penny-pinching approach may prove a masterstroke from the Northern Irishman, as Soyuncu passed his Premier League audition – against Wolves – with flying colours.

Last season was a write-off as the young Turk adjusted to Premier League life, but this campaign will be a true test of his mettle, resolve and ability. And so, does Soyuncu truly have what it takes to succeed Maguire at Leicester and be a hit in the English top-flight?

A-grade audition

It’s safe to say that things didn’t quite work out for Soyuncu last season following his £19m switch from the Bundesliga, with a combination of injury problems and work permit issues culminating in what the 23-year-old has since described as an “unlucky situation”.

Despite relocating to the King Power with a burgeoning reputation, he was unable to dislodge the imperious trident of Maguire, Evans and elder statesman Wes Morgan, that is, until the more forward-thinking Rodgers stepped into the equation.

Rodgers, as we know, has a penchant for the aesthetics of the game, preferring idealism over pragmatism, with his sides tending to play a more free-flowing brand of football, which suits a competent ball-player like Soyuncu down to a T.

He featured just once under the former Liverpool manager last term, but the 46-year-old identified even then that the Turkey international would play a big part in his future plans once he acclimated to Premier League football.

He stated in April: “He is a young lad who has come in and I know he played in some of the cup games early on but perhaps things haven’t quite gone for him as he would want, but I have found him a really good boy who wants to learn.

“He is strong and aggressive, but he hasn’t had a lot of game time. He is adapting. It is a different game in the Premier League and he is adapting to it.”

And so, now that he has had time to settle, his starting place against Wolves at the weekend was a true audition to see whether he has the capabilities of fulfilling his slightly dampened but still bountiful potential.

Well, his defensive exploits yielded an opening day clean sheet, with himself and Evans tidily holding the fort against very dangerous opposition in Wolves. The Turkey international looked assured, calm in possession and unshaken whenever Nuno Espirito Santo’s side surged forward.

Such was his form, that he completed the second-most successful passes of any Premier League centre-back over the weekend (71), the second-most dribbles (1) and registered the fourth-most touches (86). He also attempted the second-most tackles of any CB (5), won the fourth-most aerial duels (5) and completed the most accurate short passes (69), illustrating not only his defensive credentials, but also his proficiency on the ball.

The writing was always on the wall

During his two-year stint alongside Freiburg’s Dreisam river, Soyuncu attracted the attention of some of Europe’s top clubs, including the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Atletico Madrid before finally settling on Leicester – and with good reason.

Despite playing just 26 matches in the 2017/18 Bundesliga season, Soyuncu completed the second-most successful passes of any Freiburg player (928) – the most of any defender at the club. He also won the second-most aerial duels of any defender (55), registered the second-best passing accuracy (81.26%) and completed the second-most touches (1,445) at Freiburg.

His form drew widespread comparisons with idol Mats Hummels and even earned him a permanent spot in the Turkey national team, where he made his debut at just 19, whilst plying his trade in the Turkish second division with Altinordu FK – even during his formative years he was making considerable noise.

It is no wonder then that former Freiburg head coach Christian Streich has previously heaped praise on his “maturity”, while Germany international Nils Petersen has lauded his “character” in the past – two strong indicators that Soyuncu has the mental fortitude to adapt to English football.

The way he got accustomed to a completely different culture had been amazing. It shows very good character.

– Petersen on Soyuncu

And even last season with Leicester there were signs to suggest Soyuncu would flourish once he got some consistency and a run of games under his belt. He registered the second-most successful passes of any Leicester defender per 90 minutes (44.52) – behind only Maguire – as well as the most blocks per 90 of any player (1.21).

It should also be encouraging for Leicester fans that Soyuncu’s only previous minutes alongside Evans – his partner against Wolves – at the back was against Southampton in the League Cup last season, which brought about a clean sheet as well as the former Man Utd centre-back labelling the Turk: “the future of the club without a doubt.”

As centre-backs, there is a communication there and I’ve been very impressed with him as a player. He’s been really impressive. He’s the future of the club without a doubt.

– Evans on Soyuncu after the Southampton match

Of course, Soyuncu is still raw and by no means the finished article; he failed to keep a single clean sheet across any of his six league appearances last term, while it may be a cause for concern that it has taken him this long to adjust. But a solid first performance of this season, coupled with his previous form for Freiburg and a relatively young age, suggest this could be the start of a promising Foxes career, and Rodgers was certainly glowing in his assessment of the young defender after keeping the likes of Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota and Patrick Cutrone quiet.

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“He got a round of applause from the players [in the dressing room] afterwards so he certainly impressed them,” said Rodgers.

“He’s a young player and playing alongside a top‑class centre‑half in Jonny [Evans]. Jonny will help in his positioning in the game.

“But I thought he was excellent, really aggressive, won his headers, defended forward. And he’s good on the ball and has a good turn of speed. He did really well.”

“Soyuncu is the future of Leicester City”

Soyuncu’s first match of the season certainly drew attention across the board at the weekend, and Evans was not the only one under the impression that the 23-year-old is set to be the future of the Foxes…