Çağlar Söyüncü

Çağlar Söyüncü: Turkey’s Sensation

Seldom do you see a player transform so swiftly from a relatively unknown quantity to one of the Premier League’s most in-form defenders than the way Çağlar Söyüncü has done in Leicester City colours.
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An undisclosed fee for the central defender was agreed in August 2018, when he arrived from Bundesliga outfit SC Freiburg, following two successful years of first team action in Germany’s top tier.

There, as an inexperienced but inspired defender, he came up against some supremely gifted attackers, including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ousmane Dembélé, Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski to name but a few. 

To discover his path into professional football, his interview with Issue 10 of LCFCQ, published last year, started where it all began.

Çağlar was born in Menemen, a district of İzmir, which is the third most populous city in Turkey. Over 2.9M people reside there, and a namesake of its capital town, Konak, is where he unveils the life choices that has led him to England. 

“It’s one of the best places in Turkey, it’s wonderful,” Çağlar says of İzmir while seated in Konak – an authentic Turkish restaurant situated on London Road, Leicester, where he is about to enjoy a familiar cuisine. 

“It’s a beautiful city and the people there are friendly and it’s a very good place to be. I was born in Menemen and lived there until I was maybe eight or 10-years-old. 

“I haven’t been to Menemen for a long time. My family are in another part of İzmir, so that’s where I go to see them. My parents, Ayse and Omar are still in İzmir and I have two brothers Çağatay and Kazim. My mum, she doesn’t travel, but my father has come to some of my games.

“İzmir is quite a modern city. I could say that people in İzmir, their mentalities are different to other areas in Turkey – it’s a nice place to be. 

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Çağlar Söyüncü
Çağlar Söyüncü

Söyüncü has settled into life in England, but still enjoys home comforts to remind him of life in Turkey.

“Whenever I play for the national team, that’s when I go back, and for when I go on holiday, too – I love to go anywhere in my country.” 

In 2008, the 23-year-old watched Turkey reach the semi-finals of the 2008 UEFA European Championships, where they were narrowly beaten by a last-minute winner from Germany’s Philipp Lahm, despite İzmir-born Semih Şentürk’s late leveller in Basel, Switzerland. 

He recalled huddling around TV screens as Turkey recovered from their Group A opening defeat by Portugal to beat joint-hosts Switzerland in injury time, before a three-minute brace from Nihat Kahveci saw them come from behind to win 3-2 against Czech Republic – qualifying for the knockout stages in turn.

“I remember the World Cup in 2002 too, that must be one of the first things I remember about football,” says Söyüncü. “I was six or seven-years-old and I’d just been introduced to football then. 

“In 2008, I think I remember Turkey finishing third in the European Championships.”

They met Croatia in the quarter-finals and more late drama followed as Şentürk struck in the 120th minute of extra-time to cancel out Ivan Klasnić’s 119th-minute opener. 

Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić both missed their spot-kicks in the penalty shootout before Mladen Petrić was denied by Rüştü Reçber to send the sea of fans wearing red into ecstasy in Vienna.

“Everybody was glued to the screens and they were our role models, I could say,” he continues. “You’re proud and you want to be like one of them, to be like one of the players. You share the happiness that it brought to Turkey, which is something very special for me.” 

About a decade later and Söyüncü is now one of the rising stars of the Turkey national team, and now it is his turn to try and deliver joy to his country through international football. 

“I can’t even describe it, it’s amazing to play for Turkey,” says the defender, who at the age of 23 has already been capped 28 times at senior level. “I’m sure that it’s a special moment for every player to play for their own national team, so it’s hard to describe in words when I play for them.”

There are plenty of players that Söyüncü has idolised during his career so far, but they have gradually changed depending on what position he would play. 

It was quite difficult for me in the beginning because I was very young and I had to leave my family behind.

Çağlar Söyüncü LCFCQ

At Menemen Belediyespor, now Menemenspor, he was a prolific striker. At Bucaspor he played just in front of the back line, and it was only at Gümüşorduspor, where one of his team-mates got injured, that he would drop into centre-back to replace him. 

“I’ve changed so many positions in my career, so it’s hard for me to pick one player that I looked up to when I was younger,” he explains. “Of course, there are names that I looked up to, but it’s not possible to pick just one player because there are so many.

“At the very beginning of my career, I was a striker when I was at Menemen, which was in my neighbourhood. I had just gotten my licence and compared to the players that were in the same age group as me, I was quite good. I wasn’t that tall, but I was good.

“After, I was a striker, I started to play as a no.6 at my second club, Bucaspor, which is on the outskirts of İzmir. The manager there told me to play in that role, so I did.

“At Menemen, my schoolteacher was also the manager there. It was good because we were together at school and also there at the football club, so we were close and that helped me.

“I only became a defender because one of our centre-backs got injured. We beat the other team 2-1, but no, I didn’t score!” 

The nature of becoming a professional footballer is a challenging one, but Çağlar, with the support of his family, ensured he used his energy and enthusiasm to achieve his aspirations. 

“It was quite difficult for me in the beginning because I was very young and I had to leave my family behind,” he says. “I was only 11 when I left them, but I had my goal, my targets, so I had to work hard, and I did. My family had high expectations of me, and I worked hard for that – and I’m here now.” 

Such was his talent, he became the first player ever to make the move from Turkey’s second tier to Germany’s top flight, the Bundesliga, after two years at Altınordu F.K. – a club that is well known for producing Turkish talent, including one of Çağlar‘s close friends, AS Roma attacker Cengiz Ünder.

Reflecting on his decision to leave his homeland to further his career, he explains: “I was playing in the second division in Turkey, so it was going to be the first time ever that a player from the Turkish second league moved to the Bundesliga. It was difficult. There was no one with me and I was very young, so of course, it was difficult.”

Freiburg im Breisgau, where he lived, is situated in the south-west of Germany near to the French border and is a hub of tourism that contains several areas of historical interest with easy access to the Black Forest. 

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Çağlar Söyüncü
Çağlar Söyüncü

The Turkey international is now a popular member of Brendan Rodgers' squad.

“My football friends – I made quite a few friends that were my team-mates, so we used to hang around with each other in my free time,” he continues. “I spent almost all my time with my friends, and it was in the city centre, so it was okay, actually. I had time to do some sightseeing and go here and there.” 

During the time period immediately before he completed his transfer to SC Freiburg, he was linked with moves to Turkish Süper Lig sides Beşiktaş J.K. and Galatasaray S.K., as well as Spanish outfit Sevilla, who had just won their third-straight UEFA Europa League title. 

But it would be a historic transfer if he joined Freiburg, and that was a decisive factor in him heading to the Bundesliga.  

“Of course, it would have been easier to stay in Turkey, and it was very difficult to make that decision at the age of 19 or 20-years-old,” he says. “When I first started playing football, I had my goal – to represent my family and make them proud, as well as the people that knew me. I wanted to make them proud. That was my aim. 

“I was going to be the first one, the first player, to move from the second division in Turkey to the Bundesliga – and that’s hard to resist.”

The support of his countrymen, not only while on international duty but also since he has become a regular in Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI in the Premier League, has been a catalyst for him to continue his fine work at the Foxes. 

Turkey, with Söyüncü’s help, meanwhile, have secured their spot at the 24-team European Championships Finals, by following up their 1-1 draw with France by playing out a stalemate with Iceland and then defeating Andorra. 

Discussing his involvement at international level, he says: “At the moment, we are doing so well and the fans are amazing, they’re great because the people, the Turkey supporters, they like me. That’s a proud moment because it makes me happy that they respect the team that I play for. They’ve followed me here.” 

The City No.4 is one of just 16 Turkish players to have featured in the Premier League, and only the second Turkey international to play for Leicester City alongside Foxes icon Muzzy Izzet, who featured in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Semi-Final against Brazil. 

I knew that my time would come, but meanwhile, I was focusing on my own skills as a footballer. I was trying to learn every day. I was working hard, and now, I work even harder because I’m playing regularly.

Çağlar Söyüncü LCFCQ

“At that time, the Turkish national team didn’t have many players who played in Europe, or abroad anywhere, really, but I was aware that he played in England and he played for Leicester City,” says Söyüncü. “I was aware of him, and he was a great player.” 

Söyüncü’s time in England’s top flight has provided him with a steep learning curve that has been made much more manageable thanks to the work of his Foxes team-mates, as well as Rodgers, who has a reputation for developing young talent. 

“There is a lot of pressure and responsibility on you as a player in the Premier League,” says the 23-year-old. “For me, I try to focus on my football. Whatever role is given to me, I try to do it to my best ability, and I try to listen to every comment or piece of input. Obviously, my coach and my team-mates – they all have input as well and that’s very important. With their help, I deal with that pressure.”

Now a key figure in City’s XI in 2019/20, Söyüncü was prepared to step into the fold at any time after a frustrating first season in England. 

He did not lose sight of the targets that he set himself when he was a youngster back in İzmir, where the dream of becoming a professional football is now very much a reality. 

“It’s good here in Leicester,” he concludes. “It’s been much better since I started playing regularly, of course! Last year, it was fine as well, when I wasn’t playing that regularly, but you have to get used to it. As a footballer, it’s part of the game – you have to adapt. 

“I knew that my time would come, but meanwhile, I was focusing on my own skills as a footballer. I was trying to learn every day. I was working hard, and now, I work even harder because I’m playing regularly.”

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