Not long ago, Caglar Soyuncu was playing in the second tier in Turkey for Altionordu. Within a short space of time, though, everything would change forever.
Just two months before his 20th birthday, the centre back made his debut for the Turkish national team. He was even called up for the provisional squad for the European Championships that summer and, despite failing to secure a place in the final squad, clubs all over Europe were alerted and smelled a bargain.
In the end, Soyuncu decided to go Freiburg in Germany. Freiburg are a club notoriously known for signing young players, letting them develop and allowing them to leave the club when the time has come.
By making the switch to Freiburg Soyuncu followed in the footsteps of players like fellow Turk Omer Toprak or World Cup winner Matthias Ginter.
Two years later it seems the defender, who has been likened to Mats Hummels in his home country, is ready to make the next step. Although Manchester City and Arsenal have shown interest in signing him in the past, it appears that he is on his way to Leicester for a fee that could rise to £19 million.
When he arrived at Freiburg for a fee of around €2.5 million — a considerable investment for a club like Freiburg — he was seen as something of a raw talent.
The physique was clearly there and he seemed comfortable in possession. However, with Freiburg being his first club in a top tier league and with him not speaking any German, there were bound to be some growing pains.
Initially, the plan was to avoid throwing the young defender in at the deep end and instead develop him slowly. However, several injuries meant that he found his name on the team sheet almost every week.
Photo credit: Fenerli1978Watching him back then it wasn’t hard to see why he was so highly rated by Freiburg at the time. From the first minute, the centre-back was a strong physical presence and club captain Nils Petersen described him as a “driving force from the back that keeps spurring the team on”.
But where there’s light, there’s also shadow, especially when it comes to young players. In his first months at the club, Soyuncu was visibly struggling with the high intensity in the Bundesliga compared to the Turkish second tier.
He made a number of mistakes during his first few months and, as it goes with centre backs, those mistakes were amplified since they often led to goals. These errors included giving away two penalties and playing a pass right into the feet of an opposition striker.
Following in the steps of greatness
Luckily for him, the media and fans in Freiburg are some of the most patient in the country and even as criticism grew he could always count on manager Christian Streich to defend him publicly.
And like many times before, Freiburg were rewarded for their patience. After a topsy-turvy first ten games, Soyuncu managed to adapt to the new environment and slowly but surely turned into one of the best young defenders in the league.
This is when fans back in Turkey first started comparing him to his idol Mats Hummels.
Soyuncu does possess many traits that are commonly associated with Hummels. Despite only being six foot tall, he is an imposing figure in the air and just like Hummels, the young Turkish international is very adept at playmaking from the back with his right foot. He also has the pace necessary to make quick recoveries which is one of the few things that Hummels lacks.
REUTERS/Andreas GebertWhen he first arrived at Freiburg he was a bit too eager sometimes and tried to everything on his own without too much tactical consideration which lead to some of his mistakes. But after a while, his tactical understanding improved or, to put it in his words, "the tactical puzzle started to make sense".
By the time 2017/18 came around, Soyuncu had made himself a name not only in Germany and Turkey but also across with Europe with Arsenal trying to lure him to London.
But with neither Freiburg nor Soyuncu willing to take the step just yet, he stayed in Southern Germany for a second season. During that time he further solidified his status as one of the top centre-back talents playing in the Bundesliga.
Patience is a virtue
That is not to say, that Soyuncu does not make any obvious errors anymore; there are still some lapses in concentration and, whilst his positional awareness is improving, he still gets caught out of position more often than a player in his position should. But then again, most players aren’t finished products at the age of 22.
As his development shows, experience and the proper support are a key factor when it comes to improvement. Whoever signs Soyuncu needs to be aware that they’ll have to be patient with him and that he’ll probably make some mistakes.
But if the development curve in the last two years is anything to go by, supporting him will pay off.