Caglar Soyuncu emerges as new cult hero at Leicester City as Harry Maguire replacement
Caglar Soyuncu received a standing ovation from Leicester team-mates in the dressing room following his performance against Wolves Credit: Getty Images
There is a huge tattoo of a lion covering his back, while he has the chiselled jaw one might expect of a Marvel superhero. Çağlar Söyüncü is already proving there is life after ‘Slabhead’.
The Turkish centre-back has swiftly emerged as a new cult hero at Leicester City, just a few weeks after Harry Maguire became the most expensive defender in the world with that £85 million move to Manchester United.
Maguire’s departure to Old Trafford could have been a daunting scenario for Leicester, a damaging blow to Brendan Rodgers’s hopes of gatecrashing the top six, yet the plan was already in place last year for Söyüncü to be the long-term successor.
Against Wolves last Sunday, in only his fifth Premier League start, the giant defender known as ‘Cags’ seized his opportunity and received a standing ovation from team-mates in the dressing room after the final whistle.
He is poised to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend alongside the vastly experienced Jonny Evans, aiming to enhance his reputation further.
It is a challenging task for Caglar Soyuncu to fill the boots of Harry Maguire Credit: Getty Images
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“All the players were so happy for him last weekend because it’s not easy to replace someone of Harry’s quality,” Rodgers told Telegraph Sport.
“With Harry going, of course ‘Cags’ is now going to have his chance. He is a modern-day centre-half and there were teams willing to sign him [this summer] if he wasn’t going to play here.
“He was outstanding last weekend and now it’s about sustaining it and showing consistency over the course of the season. He’s a wee bit quirky with his hairdo and everything, and the fans have taken to him.”
It is certainly a challenging task for a 23-year-old to fill the boots of Maguire, a player who transformed his career at Leicester and became a World Cup hero with England, but Söyüncü replacing Maguire was always in the thoughts of Leicester’s recruitment team.
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He made his senior Turkey debut as a teenager and became sought after across Europe during his spell in the Bundesliga with SC Freiburg, where he was watched consistently by Leicester’s scouts for 12 months.
United had been considering a move for Maguire last summer, when Jose Mourinho was still in charge, so Leicester were aware that contingency plans had to be made.
Söyüncü was signed for €20 million last August while another young centre-half, Filip Benković, was signed from Dinamo Zagreb on the same day.
With Benković quickly loaned out to Celtic - then managed by Rodgers - it was, at times, a frustrating season for Söyüncü with Maguire, Evans and Wes Morgan the usual picks at the heart of the back four under first Claude Puel and then Rodgers.
“I spoke to him at the end of last season as he hadn’t played much, but I liked what I’d seen,” said Rodgers.
Harry Maguire left Leicester for Man Utd this summer Credit: Reuters
“I put him in against Huddersfield [on April 6] because I wanted to give Harry a bit of time off to be with his wife and child. He's had that first year where he had to adapt with a lot of players in front of him, but he’d made a great impression.”
United finally completed their protracted pursuit of Maguire on the morning of August 2. It may have been a world record fee for a defender, but Leicester’s stance was purely dictated by market forces, with the £50 million paid out by United to Crystal Palace for Aaron Wan-Bissaka - who made just 46 appearances for the club - reinforcing their position.
Leicester did consider moves for either Burnley’s James Tarkowski or Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake, who have both been on the radar for some time.
However, when it became clear that the fees demanded were unrealistic, the original plan to promote Söyüncü fell into place. After last weekend’s man-of-the-match performance against Wolves, it already appears a shrewd move.
Söyüncü’s idols are Carles Puyol and Mats Hummels, and there are easy comparisons with Maguire in that both players possess a wide range of passing and good temperament.
He is low-maintenance, unfailingly polite but with a rock-solid handshake, and “just gets on with the job”. Some Leicester staff have compared him to Marcin Wasilewski, a popular Polish defender from a few years back, and this weekend on the BBC’s Football Focus Ben Chilwell and James Maddison both revealed Söyüncü is under constant scrutiny due to his unique haircut.
There is nothing questionable over his abilities as a player, however, as underlined by the round of applause last Sunday.
Gerry Taggart, the former Leicester defender who now covers games for the club’s TV station, said: “Other ex-Leicester players have put question marks around him but I’ve always been telling people he has something.
“This guy has what it takes. He has been thrown in at the deep end but I think he keeps it simple. He has the ability to see who is in the better position and pulls it off with his passing. He’s been a bit rash in the past but he has many of the same attributes when I was young, and I think he’s given himself a tremendous start.”