24. Çağlar Söyüncü
On September 5, 2017, while playing the biggest start of his international career, Çağlar Söyüncü displayed a level of maturity beyond his 21 years. Söyüncü was rock-solid as ever for Turkey, holding firm in a 1-0 win against Croatia, a win that the Turks desperately needed.
Having lost away to Ukraine three days before, the Crescent-Stars needed a home win vs. the Vatreni in order to keep their World Cup hopes alive, going into October’s final 2 qualifiers. The newly appointed manager, Mircea Lucescu, decided on a new central defender tandem for the Croatia match: Ömer Toprak of Borussia Dortmund, and the wonderkid stopper of SC Freiburg, Çağlar Söyüncü.
Despite Toprak’s international experience, it was the young İzmir native who stood out the most. With his calmness at the back and an uncanny ability to read the game quelled any attacking moves orchestrated by a talented Croatian midfield featuring
Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić. In addition, his combativeness in his one-on-one duels versus the likes of Nikola Kalinić and Mario Mandžukić helped the Ay-Yıldızlılar stay in contention to either win the group or qualify for the playoffs.
When SC Freiburg announced the signing of Caglar Söyüncü last summer, the Turkish defender was something of an unknown quantity. A Turkey senior international at just 19 and the first Altınordu FK player – a team in the Turkish second division – to be called up in 78 years, Söyüncü’s talents are well-known back home. This call-up came after a successful 2015-16 season with the Red Devils, making 30 starts and scoring 2 goals.
Söyüncü owes a lot of his success to the phenomenal training at Altınordu FK. Located on the Aegean Sea, Altınordu is one of the best-run clubs in Anatolia. The association has developed its own guidelines: each player must be a good person, a good citizen and a good player. The club offers many young Turkish talents a good education, as well as a chance to play or practice with a view towards turning pro. In other words, it is the Atalanta Bergamasca of Turkey.
After making the move to Germany in the summer of 2016, Söyüncü became the first player to leave Turkish second tier football for the Bundesliga, and he joined Freiburg despite interest from across Europe; without being able to speak a single word of English or German.
“I give my best, but quite frankly: German is really hard,” Söyüncü said. “I have never learned a foreign language so far, but I am on my way.
His manager at Freiburg, Christain Streich had dismissed the possibility that language would ever be an issue with him, saying that “it doesn’t matter, he speaks football and so do I.”
This is not to say his transition to the Bundesliga went without a hitch. He gave away two penalties in his first two months of the 2016/17 season, against Hoffenheim and Mainz, and had to adapt on the job to the tactical demands of German football.
Blessed with natural pace, especially over short distances, the ability to read and time tackles to near perfection, and an open mind – qualities that have seen him likened to Bayern Munich star Mats Hummels – the progression was never going to take long.
The 21-year-old quickly became Freiburg’s top tackler, winning the vast majority of challenges both in the air and on the ground, as well as becoming a key link between defence and attack in transitional play. He finished 5th in the Bundesliga in tackle
percentage won, behind Niklas Süle, Sokratis, Mats Hummels, and Andreas Christensen; not bad company to say the least.
Söyüncü operates in the central defensive position, preferably on the left side because of his left foot, but has sometimes played as a pivot in midfield. It is in defense where he showcases his top notch physicality, as well as his ability to bring the ball out of the back. He uses his body cleverly to win the ball cleanly on take-ons, leaving opposing strikers dumbfounded as he dribbles away, while utilizing his 1.87 meters to win aerial duels.
A central defender in football today needs to give both long passes and passes between lines in order to support offense, and Çağlar meets these two requirements, passing with vision, technique, and elegance. A ball-playing center back is crucial for teams who play out of the back, and in SC Freiburg, Çağlar Söyüncü is key to the reception, control, and distribution of ball from the back.
Cold and timely in the defensive phase, Söyüncü makes intelligent decisions when snuffing out challenges. At 21, few flaws overshadow his skills: he has a fairly quick recovery speed, he’s good in 1v1 challenges, and in the air, he uses his imperious detachment and coordination to marshal strikers out of harm’s way. Still, he doesn’t know his own strength in getting stuck in, which often leads to him fouling strikers and picking up unnecessary yellow cards. Without a doubt, this is something
that must be improved upon. After receiving four yellows in the Hinrunde (the first half of the Bundesliga season), but in the
Rückrunde (the second half), he improved defensively and avoided picking up a single caution.
He’s [owerful and precise when shooting, and particularly adept with both feet. The Breisgau-Brasilianer man is always dangerous when it comes to aerial duels in the opponent’s area; his strong frame wreaks havoc when crosses and set-pieces are put into the 6-yard box.
Finally, the leadership qualities of Çağlar should not go unnoticed. He is a leader on the pitch, and his ruthless defensive work constantly motivates the team to play well. The Makine will be a driving force in SC Freiburg’s backline this season, in hopes that club will finish strong again this season.
Lastly, the Turkish player’s idols are Carles Puyol and Mats Hummels. The truth is, in seeing and analyzing Çağlar Söyüncü’s style of play, he has the leadership and passion of Puyol, with the passing and touch on the ball of Hummels.
A move to a bigger club is expected next summer, perhaps a similar type move made by former Freiburg teammates Vincenzo Grifo & Maximilian Philipp this summer. However, don’t be surprised if a top club comes calling for this Hummels-Puyol hybrid in January.
By: Victor Charnetsky/@VanDerCharks