Reports emerged early this week that Atlético Madrid are close to sealing a deal that will see them sign Turkish defender Çağlar Söyüncü from Leicester City.
MARCA were among the outlets to break the story, which claims that an agreement has already been reached for the 26-year-old to join the Colchoneros in the summer, when his existing contract in England runs out.
Söyüncü has fallen from favour under Brendan Rodgers this season, not helped by struggles to remain fit. Leicester are sitting in the bottom half of the Premier League with 17 points from 15 matches.
Who is Çağlar Söyüncü?
Söyüncü is a tall (6’2’’), physical and dominant central defender who initially made his breakthrough playing for Altınordu in the second tier of Turkish football, the TFF First League. Having made his debut as an 18-year-old, he rapidly became an ever-present and made over 40 first team appearances before his 20th birthday.
As he established himself as one of Turkey’s brightest young talents in 2016, Söyüncü had offers from domestic giants Beşiktaş and Galatasaray, as well as from Spain in Sevilla, but he instead opted to move to Freiburg in Germany.
There, Söyüncü slotted in immediately as Freiburg rocketed up the Bundesliga to qualify for European football in their first season back in the top flight of German football, standing out as one to watch.
A move to the Premier League and Leicester followed in 2018, for a fee believed to be over €20 million. Söyüncü initially struggled to adjust, but in his second season exploded onto the scene by building a strong partnership with ex-Manchester United man Jonny Evans. Söyüncü’s stock soared and he rapidly became one of the hottest talents in European football, with Leicester expected to face a fight to keep hold of him.
At the age of 26, Söyüncü should be at the peak of his career. However, the right-footed defender has struggled with injuries this season. In the first half of the season, he played only 162 minutes for Leicester, though he did play 149 minutes for Turkey in the pre-World Cup international break and does seem to be regaining fitness.
How could he fit in at Atlético?
It would be fair to say that Söyüncü is a player who fits the Atlético Madrid mould in the sense that he physically dominant, tough, and doesn’t shy away from a fight.
He has mostly played in a back four throughout his career, usually tending to play on the left. The career heatmap below reflects that tendency, though it also shows that he does have a habit of drifting very wide, usually covering for an offensive left-back.
That could be an element of his game that would make him able to adapt to a back three, with the likes of Yannick Carrasco as his wing-back leaving him to handle most defensive duties.
However, with Turkey, he has played in the middle of a back three. That flexibility may be something that appeals in particular to Atlético, knowing several of their defensive options do need to rotate around.
Aerially strong, Söyüncü ranked in the top 17% of all Premier League players with 3.32 aerial duels won per 90 in 2021/22, but he was also in the top 20% for the number of passes played at 69.74, showing a technical ability that will help Atleti’s ability to bring the ball out from deep.
That has been a growing factor in importance for Diego Simeone in recent years, with arrivals like Mario Hermoso being more adept with the ball at their feet. Söyüncü could be the perfect match between both of those key strengths.
That said, there will be concerns. With only two appearances at club level this season, should Söyüncü arrive in January he will be under immense pressure to step in for Josema Giménez, who could face suspension, or Stefan Savić, who has struggled with injuries all season. Such physical demands will likely not help him to settle.
He has also not been quick to settle in previous moves. The player’s initial struggles at the Premier League could reflect one of the hardest leagues in the world to move to, but moving mid-season is unlikely to make a transition to LaLiga easy, either.
The Reinildo precedent
The deal has drawn similarities to the one that saw Atlético sign Reinildo Mandava in January 2022. The Mozambican’s contract was running out with Lille in the summer, and an agreement was reached for him to join Atleti then. But in the final days of the January window, a deal was struck for him to move to Madrid six months earlier than planned in exchange for a bargain transfer fee.
Caglar Soyuncu Atletico Madrid ⏳— Ekrem KONUR (@Ekremkonur) December 20, 2022
#LCFC #Atleti https://t.co/Vjwt27o1pJ pic.twitter.com/NuhglijqX1
That formula could now be repeated with Söyüncü. Everything is in place for him to arrive in the summer, but winter exits (with Matheus Cunha, João Félix and Felipe all being linked with moves away) could speed up his arrival.
Speculation points to two exits being required as a minimum for Söyüncü’s arrival to be brought forward. That could happen, but swapping two strikers for a central defender would make little sense, and some reports explicitly state that the departures for such a scenario would have to be Felipe and Mario Hermoso.
Sporting director Andrea Berta is clearly looking to learn from the past with this deal. There is plenty of time left for things to change before the winter window slams shut at the end of January, and it looks as though there are several deals to be done in that time period.