Leicester Are Becoming the Team They Once Were

Partly thanks to Caglar Soyuncu, their new teenage vampire prince.

by Hydall Codeen
08 November 2019, 4:56pm

As Leicester rocked up to anaesthetise Crystal Palace in their own back garden last week, there was joy in witnessing something that had lain dormant a while definitively reemerging.

Eleven games into this Premier League campaign, Brendan Rodgers' side have achieved escape velocity from the infamous Early Season Blip, possessing the momentum of a team with no expectation of getting sucked back down the rankings from here. If anything, it was tempting to wonder if Leicester might end up running in even higher than third. They couldn't, could they?

The answer is no, they couldn't, but that giddy title win of 2016 felt closer than it has for a while as Jamie Vardy settled the contest in the 88th minute and went trotting off in front of the Palace support, flapping his terrible wings in a flagrant display of contempt for their beloved mascot Kayla the Eagle, deeply deviant behaviour from a footballing dungeon master whose kinks get deeper and darker each week. Condolences to anyone connected to Arsenal Football Club at this difficult time. Lord knows what cruel and unusual punishment Vardy has in store for the Gunnersaurus this weekend.

We know by now that this is how Vardy keeps himself interested in life, by feeding on the hatred of his enemies, guiding their anger into his body like a drug. We know as well the talents of Kasper Schmeichel, the second title winner who continues to play a key on-pitch role at the King Power three-and-a-half years on. Others remain: Marc Albrighton, Demarai Gray, Wes Morgan, Daniel Amartey and Christian Fuchs. But by and large the miracle squad has been broken up, left to go their separate ways and wander through what remains of life with just a Premier League winner’s medal to distract them from the suspicion that things will never be quite that good again.

caglar leicester
Caglar Soyuncu. Photo: Sebastian Frej / MB Media

For others, though, things are looking up. Conspicuous among Leicester's new school of legends and life-ruiners is a handsome Turk who's only played 20 games for the club but has already secured cult hero status among the fanbase, a 23-year-old who was signed last summer for £19 million but held back for more or less an entire year to watch and to learn and eventually come to bloom as the league's preeminent young centre half, a risk-taking, piss-taking messy-bitch-who-lives-for-the-drama with a Mick Jagger haircut and a name that sounds like a sneeze, and who with his flicks and tricks already has a harem of the division's top attacking talent living under his thumb. Two months ago, barely anyone in England had ever heard the name "Çağlar Söyüncü", and no one at all knew how to pronounce it. Now, men in expensive Italian knitwear travel the length and breadth of the country to watch him play and sing songs about how big his penis is.

Aymeric Laporte. Willy Boly. Joel Matip. Issa Diop. A number of impressive central defenders have found themselves parachuted or catapulted into the Premier League in recent years. None captivate quite like Söyüncü, who might be the first centre-back in the history of English football who actively sets out, week after week, to demean and subjugate opposing forwards with a nutmeg, or a Cruyff Turn, or a flip-flap. In each game so far this season, Söyüncü has been able to gather up at least one shattered ego and stash it away in his knapsack as rivals slide by on their arses and he saunters upfield with the ball at his feet.

In the age of the high press, you can see how this kind of thing could be employed as a pre-emptive form of defence by Söyüncü, a kind of advance PR warning, disseminated to opponents in the form of GIFs, Twitter clips and Match of the Day highlights, that says to press Çağlar Söyüncü is to invite public humiliation. Maybe this is why fans, pundits and the press have fallen for him so quickly. Or maybe it's the fact he looks like the leader of a teenage vampire biker gang who killed yuppies and scored speedballs for the Brat Pack in the 1980s.

Either way, there's something endearing about the sight of the English game, which for a while now has haughtily considered itself immune to the charms of the exotic, fainting at the sight of a defender with cool hair who can do dragbacks. It is admittedly the sharpest departure imaginable from the rocks upon which Leicester's team have been built in recent years. Whichever immobile, obstinate pairing have dwelled at the heart of the team's defence have tended to define its style of play – sit deep, dig in, hit on the break – and though they still set up to get Vardy in behind on the counter, Söyüncü allows them to live more dangerously.

Leicester host Arsenal on Saturday evening, and Söyüncü's success must be painful for this weekend's opponents to observe. He was heavily linked to the London club months before Leicester swooped to pluck him from Freiburg in the summer of 2018, and it looks a mistake to have passed him up, even if they have the 18-year-old Frenchman William Saliba scheduled to arrive in June. Söyüncü looks to be exactly the type of player that Arsenal fans crave: a centre-back who is stylistically charismatic and physically dominant enough to prevail in duels, the kind of cultish, coltish presence an entire fanbase can rally behind.

A recent profile in The Times made it clear just how popular the player is behind the scenes at Leicester, a figure treated by the academy boys as a kind of exchange-student curio known to all as "Cags". This must be confusing for Söyüncü, given that the "C" in his name is pronounced "chuh" and the "G" is silent, but you imagine the shaggy-maned young man from an ancient city on the Aegean Coast will take it just as he does everything else: in his sure-footed, swash-buckling stride.


Caglar Soyuncu