When Freiburg announced the signing of Caglar Söyüncü last summer, the Turkish defender was something of an unknown quantity. However, following a noteworthy debut season in the Bundesliga, the league’s followers now know exactly what he is all about.
A Turkey international at just 19 and the first Altindoru SK player - a team in the Turkish second division - to be called up in 78 years, Söyüncü’s talents are well-known back home.
His move to Germany in the summer of 2016 made him the first player to make the switch from the Turkish second tier, and he joined Freiburg despite interest from across Europe; without being able to speak a single word of English or German.
“I give my best, but quite frankly: German is really hard,” Söyüncü said. “I've never learned a foreign language so far, but I'm on my way. The mobile phone always rings when the guys do something together and I like to go, too. But I know that I have to listen closely to hear everything, and I understand a lot.”
The language was no real issue for him or the club, however, as Freiburg’s head coach Christian Streich eloquently quipped, “it doesn’t matter, he speaks football and so do I.”
That is not to say Söyüncu’s transition to Germany’s top tier went without the odd hitch. He gave away two penalties in his first two months of the 2016/17 season, against Hoffenheim and Mainz, and had to adapt, for the most part on the job, to the tactical demands of the Bundesliga.
Watch: Caglar Söyüncü's journey from Turkish second division to Bundesliga stalwart
Yet with natural pace, especially over short distances, the ability to read and time a tackle to near-enough perfection and an open mind - qualities that have seen him likened to Bayern Munich star Mats Hummels - the progression was never going to take long.
The 21-year-old quickly became Freiburg's top tackler, winning the vast majority of challenges in the air and on the ground, as well as becoming a key-link between defence and attack in transitional play.
He, for one, has loved watching his own development, and now speaks with an intelligent outlook on those very tactics which gave him a wake-up call when he joined.
“I like the fact that in the Bundesliga, using your head is also very much in demand. Even as a defensive player, I’ve learnt a lot tactically. We prepare ourselves for an opponent tactically with a lot of intensity and try to bring that in the game.
“For me it is like a puzzle - first the instructions are quite abstract, but in the end everything gets a practical dimension. I find this very exciting.”
While it is important to be focused on your work, especially in a league like the Bundesliga, as a young player, it is also vital to reflect and relax. Söyüncü has a lot to reflect on from the last year of his life, in a new country, culture and way of life on and off the pitch. And he says he is “totally amazed” by what he has experienced so far.
“When I sit at home in a quiet moment and think about what has happened in the past six months, it makes me a bit proud. I’ve been able to play against teams and players that I only knew from the television. The experience of proving myself against a player like Aubameyang is extraordinary.”
First impressions are not always perfect; however, they can grow stronger in time. Söyüncü’s first season with Freiburg in the Bundesliga is a perfect anecdote for never judging on those first meetings. At his age, and with his mind-set, the already dramatic development of this young star is sure to continue in 2017/18.