Harry Maguire joined Manchester United this summer in a world record deal for a defender, with Leicester City acquiring £80 million from the sale.
The Foxes were immediately linked with a variety of centre-backs including Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake, Burnley’s James Tarkowski and Brighton’s Lewis Dunk, but all at inflated prices due to their new-found wealth.
However, Leicester had already signed a promising centre-back in 2018 and in Caglar Soyuncu they have a player that possesses many of Maguire’s characteristics.
The Turkish international’s standout features are his proficiency in possession and dominance in the air, skills which will be on show when Maguire faces his former team-mates on Saturday.
In the opening four Premier League matches of this season, Soyuncu has averaged a pass completion of just over 85% (which was the same as Maguire last year) and managed to win 34 of his 48 aerial battles. Only Ben Chilwell has made more passes, which illustrates how quickly he has adopted the responsibility bestowed upon him.
The 23-year-old had enjoyed two successful years in the Bundesliga and was attracting the attention of a number of Europe’s elite clubs. It’s easy to forget that he was playing for Altınordu in Turkey’s second division not so long ago.
“Caglar came to us as a very young lad,” SC Freiburg manager Christian Streich told Yahoo Sport. “He couldn’t speak a word of German or English and he was far from home for the first time in his life.
“He met all challenges with an open-minded character and he let himself be helped by us. That speaks in his favour.”
His adaptability and willingness to learn are two valuable assets and that’s the reason why he has been able to fill the gaping hole left by Maguire’s exit.
“When he came over he was very aggressive, not just in his tackling but the way that he pressed and the way that he engaged - by going to floor too easily at times,” admits former Leicester defender Sean St Ledger to Yahoo Sport.
Last December in a match with Fulham, Soyuncu did exactly that when he dived in on goalscorer Aboubakar Kamara, which allowed the striker time to beat Kasper Schmeichel.
“It is not the same level that he has played before, but I am happy with his game and with his progress,” said then coach Claude Puel after the game.
Soyuncu has shown significant progress since then. “His main attribute is that he is very comfortable on the ball and his speed. He is very quick, very mobile and agile on the turn,” says St Ledger.
He has also been assisted by the experience within the defence of Jonny Evans, Ricardo Pereira and Chilwell. “For Caglar to come in and play alongside someone of Jonny Evans’ calibre - his intelligence,” adds the former Republic of Ireland international.
“I wouldn’t say that Jonny is the most powerful, athletic defender, but his knowledge of the game, his reading and positional sense is superb. Those two players balance each other really well.”
Leicester have changed manager in the last 12 months with Brendan Rodgers replacing Puel, whilst their head of recruitment has also varied since they won the Premier League in 2016. However, they have still maintained the same approach to the players that they desire and director of football Jon Rudkin has been in position since they were in the Championship.
There’s an overall ethos within the club and lessons could certainly be learnt at Old Trafford. United have been searching for a director of football for the last year and their squad is made up of various personnel that have been signed by four different managers in the six years since Sir Alex Ferguson left.
They had six centre-backs at the club this summer, but due to their poor long-term planning, none had the capability to marshal the back line. “Harry is 6 foot 4 inches, fantastic at progressing with the ball and aerially very dominant, so you almost have the complete package and it’s why Manchester United have spent so much money because he is a defender in his prime,” St Ledger continues.
“He is going to have to be a leader there and he is going to have to organise. I’m sure the people around him will be looking up to him. He is a top player, so I don’t think any situation will scare him.”
Soyuncu has done a remarkable job since he has replaced Maguire in the team, but he will make mistakes over the season. He lacks maturity given his short period at the top-level, although it’s clear by his evolution that his education will be swift.
He is also his own defender and whilst the comparisons with Maguire are obvious, it’s important that he isn’t judged by the England centre-back’s high standards. St Ledger agrees: “You can go out and get defenders with similar traits, but at some point they are all different. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.”
And those strengths and weaknesses will be on display when the two teams go head-to-head at Old Trafford on Saturday.
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