Breaking down Sam Adekugbe's fit at Turkish giants Galatasaray
It might not have been in the circumstances in which he would’ve hoped to make such a move, but Canadian Men’s International left back Sam Adekugbe made the jump to Turkish giants Galatasaray on Thursday.
Having officially joined the current Turkish Süper Lig leaders on a loan through the rest of 22/23, with an option to buy, Adekugbe has a huge opportunity to impress with a team that has dominated Turkish soccer this season, picking up 17 wins and three draws in 22 league games for a total of 54 points, nine better than the next best team.
Having started the year in a relegation fight with old club Hatayspor, whose season ended prematurely following the tragic earthquake that hit Hatay and surrounding regions a couple of weeks ago, it’ll be a far different situation for Adekugbe, who will now hop into the thick of a title race.
Because of that, it’s an intriguing chance for the 28-year-old to impress in a new environment. As he’s shown with Canada and Hatayspor over the past 16 months, he has looked like someone who could potentially make the jump up to a bigger club, and now, he gets a chance to prove that in his time with Galatasaray.
Here’s a look at what to expect from him as he embarks on this new opportunity.
Ready for the jump up?
To begin, it’s important to look at how he’s fared at Hatayspor across the 1.5 seasons he’s played with the club.
There, he’s done well to establish himself as a regular, playing over 4500 minutes in the league ever since he made the jump from Norway’s Vålerenga.
Along with an increased role at the national team level, where he’s made 20 of his 36 appearances since the transfer, he’s become a mainstay for both club and country, playing a big role for both sides.
Not only that, but he’s done pretty well in that role, too. In 21-22, he helped Hatayspor to a mid table 12th place finish, playing over 3000 minutes for them in the process, before logging 1500 minutes this season, in what had been more of a relegation fight (although they’d just escaped the relegation zone before their season ended).
Playing as a left back in a back four, his role was simple for Hatayspor - defend as much as needed, but play with freedom in the final third, and he thrived in it, as seen in the stats.
Despite playing on a team in the bottom half of the league, he was in the top half of all Turkish Süper Lig full backs for aerial duels, sliding tackles, interceptions, passes, expected assists, key passes, passes to the box and crosses per 90, highlighting his impact at both ends.
Galatasaray officially got #CanMNT LB, Sam Adekugbe, on a loan with option to buy through the rest of 22/23 yesterday— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) February 17, 2023
As he showed in 21/22 with Hatayspor and Canada, when you give him freedom at LB, he can defend and get up the pitch
Intrigued to see his fit at Galatasaray pic.twitter.com/Z0XSAXLBj6
Then, even more impressively, he's stayed in the top half of all of those stats except slide tackles, which is no small feat considering his team’s dip in form.
In particular, his ability to rack up expected assists (57th percentile), key passes (51st percentile), passes to the box (62nd percentile) and crosses (62nd percentile) is doubly impressive considering that his side has scored the fewest goals in the league this season.
For comparison, here are his numbers from 22/23— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) February 17, 2023
I led with the 21/22 numbers as he got up the field much more last year, a role he'll likely take up with Galatasaray, but still a lot stayed the same in 22/23 despite having to defend more#CanMNT pic.twitter.com/hbwTitH2NQ
When given the license to push forward, he’s proved that he can make things happen in the final third, something that Canadians will be well aware of, which moments such as his own-goal assist versus Morocco at the World Cup or his goal versus the US in World Cup qualifiers has shown.
And considering he’s joining a Galatasaray side that averages 55% possession and 2.45 xG per game in league play this year, compared to a Hatayspor side that averaged just under 50% possession and 1.18 xG, scoring more than double the goals, there’s no doubt he’ll have that attacking freedom at his new club, which is a very tantalizing possibility.
Fit in the Galatasaray XI:
Now, the big question will be seeing where Adekugbe might fit in at Galatasaray, however, because while they’ll be happy to have a player of his calibre on loan (especially given that Adekugbe was granted an exception to join them as they’re at their limit of foreigners), they do have some solid full backs, meaning that Adekugbe will have to battle to earn minutes.
There, he has stiff competition to crack the starting XI, as former Lyon and French international full back Léo Dubois has recently picked up starts at Adekugbe’s preferred left back spot, while fellow Frenchman and former Stade Rennais full back Sacha Boey has started at right back.
Elsewhere, Emre Taşdemir and Kazımcan Karataşis are also options at left back, but they’ve struggled with consistency and injuries, hence why Dubois has slotted over from the right.
Likely, given that Adekugbe is a left back, he’ll compete with Dubois for minutes, which considering that Boey is second among outfielders for minutes on Galatasaray, isn’t a bad proposition.
I wish this news happened under better circumstances. However, multiple reports in Turkey say that #CanMNT star Sam Adekugbe will sign with Galatasaray who sit top of the league. The deal will be a loan with an option to buy. Léo Dubois will be Sam's competition, big opportunity.— JJD TV (@tv_jjd) February 15, 2023
Especially when you realize that Dubois is eighth in that statistic, it is encouraging for Adekugbe, as it suggests that head coach Okan Buruk hasn’t always had him locked in as a starter (Dubois did begin the year with an injury, but only missed four games with that knock).
Plus, seeing that Dubois is naturally right-footed and a right back, that’s another plus for Adekugbe, whose natural ability as a left-footed left back could provide him with the comfort that someone like Dubois just wouldn’t have at the position.
Therefore, it’s not that wild to imagine Adekugbe giving Dubois a run, if not battling his way into a good amount of starts. That’s good news, because as he showed at Hatayspor, when he can lock down a spot, he doesn’t like to relinquish it.
Heck, just look at his Canadian career as an example. After struggling for minutes up until 2021, he then grabbed a spot and never looked back, and ended up being a big contributor for Canada during their World Cup qualifying run.
Despite going up against Alphonso Davies at his position, he was so good that head coach John Herdman was comfortable enough moving Davies higher up the pitch, knowing that Adekugbe was deserving of a starting spot.
Because of that, the fact that there is a chance at competing with Dubois should serve Adekugbe well, allowing him to have a good chance at minutes for the rest of this year.
What might the future hold?
From there, things will get interesting for Adekugbe this summer. Given that Galatasaray holds a reasonable purchase option, reported to be just over $1 million, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine they exercise that should he have a good end to the season.
Should they do that, though, they will need to clear out some space, as they’re already at their maximum of eight foreigners, a limit they were only able to clear with Adekugbe’s loan due to an exception.
Logically, the easy solution to that would be to transfer out one of Dubois or Boey, as it wouldn’t make much sense to have three foreign spots tied up at full back, with Boey seeming like the attractive option to sell.
Given that he’s just 22, he could fetch a decent fee, too, one higher than the 1.15 million euros they paid for him in 2021, allowing them to recoup any costs for Adekugbe, and still have room to invest elsewhere in the squad.
Especially given that they just signed 23-year-old Italian international Nicolò Zaniolo for a fee of just over 35 million euros in midfield, it would make sense to try and recoup some of those costs with a Boey sale, as well.
Either way, however, the math is simple for a long-term Adekugbe arrival - he comes in, a foreigner leaves, something that you can imagine Galatasaray is easily able to manage should he impress over the next few months.
This, if were to happen, would be huge for Adekugbe, who could potentially become a Turkish champion, while also getting a chance to taste the UEFA Champions League next year, marking the step that many expected him to take given his performances over the last couple of seasons.