PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Who is Callum Doyle?
Callum Doyle is a Manchester City academy graduate on the first loan spell of his career with Sunderland AFC in League One. To join a League One side on loan aged 17 says a lot about Doyle – but he has since made an even bigger statement on the pitch with his performances.
Just under one quarter of the way through the season, Doyle has solidified himself as first-choice centre-back under head coach Lee Johnson. He’s done this for a team that, for the fourth season running, are aiming to escape the ails of third-tier football and climb back up the EFL.
Hitherto he had featured in double digits on Wearside before team-mate Bailey Wright took to the media to hail the youngster as a future England captain.
Although he has no credentials as a captain for the City youth teams, he was certainly a leader who played a key role in a couple youth league triumphs, making appearances for both the U-18s and the Elite Development Squad (essentially U-23/reserve football) above his age group. Now at Sunderland, Doyle is making significant strides in his game, potentially preceding a loan in the Championship next season.
Callum Doyle's style of play
Havinh only turned 18 years old in October, Doyle comes up particularly strong in a physical sense compared to other senior pros. 6’1” and 85 kg, he weighs up pretty stocky for a player of his height, yet his frame still looks like there is room to grow, potentially indicating that he has inches to grow vertically yet.
Nonetheless, his build is conducive with pure speed, as shown when he has to turn on the afterburners in an attempt to recover the ball running backwards.
So far in the 2021/22 season, Johnson has dished out plenty of minutes to youngsters in the first-team, but none more so than the youngest of them all: Doyle. In the coach’s 4-2-3-1 system, Doyle has been the left-sided centre-back of choice, swapping in and out with the aforementioned Bailey Wright whenever there are midweek matches (of which there are a lot in the EFL). Doyle’s most common partner, Tom Flanagan, is usually the slightly more active of the two on the defensive front, but this suits Doyle’s style of sweeping up loose balls with his swift speed.
What becomes immediately clear about Doyle when you are prefaced with the fact he is 18 years old, is that he does not look one bit out of place physically. His broad shoulders are put to good use when defending on the run, and he utilises his frame wisely to block the ball and make goal-line clearances – a regular feature of his game.
This, compounded by his vocal nature in the backline, often beckoning his fellow defenders to move into a different position, you would be forgiven for mistaking Doyle for a more seasoned pro.
For a lad who is still growing too, his aerial prowess is impressive, especially when you consider the type of opponents he regularly faces in League One. He currently sits at a 66% aerial win rate, and if he doesn’t win the ball, he does a good job in putting an attacker off balance, and recovering possession afterwards anyway.
He possesses a good leap, and his timing is generally solid too. Sometimes he does get a little overawed by some bigger centre-forwards, which is understandable for someone so young, and something that can only improve with time.
In terms of his ground duels, Doyle is less active than the midfielders ahead of him due to the system he is apart of, and while he can be a bit heavy-footed in his challenges sometimes, the 18-year-old maintains a solid tackling technique which allows him to come away with the ball more times than not.
In addition to this he has a good positional sense in an expansive back four, which is good when we consider the style of play at City, his parent club. Sometimes through balls can go pinging past Doyle, but his tremendous pace allows him to catch attackers before they are allowed to do anything dangerous with the ball.
On the ball, however, is where Doyle shines the most and brings the most benefit to this Sunderland team. He is fairly one-footed, so it helps that he is naturally left-footed, a unique attribute to have at centre-back, and he strikes the ball well, with confidence and elegance.
He has already learned about the perils of playing in League One in a 5-0 drubbing to Portsmouth, where the playing conditions were quite frankly more suited to a swimming lesson than any sort of football match. It did give a good opportunity to see how Doyle adapts in the face of adversity, and although he did struggle tremendously, it should be a good learning experience.
His role in build-up is paramount – no player in the Sunderland squad completes more passes per game than Doyle – and it all begins with some solid fundamentals. He receives the ball well, moves into position smoothly, and scans the space ahead always before passing the ball, and if he spots an opportunity to play the pass into the attacking unit, he will do so.
Five long balls per game is indicative of a young defender who is not afraid to be a bit more aspiring with his passing. His timing of passing is good too. Regularly he will move into the left channel and wait for his teammates ahead to move into a passing triangle in order to progress play down the flank, so his variety of passing is good as well.
The incisiveness of his passing was clear to see at youth level, where he would regularly ping low-driven passes directly into midfield, and at senior level, it seems as if he has only developed this side of his game further.
This is testament to the level of football he was already playing at in City’s academy, and why age is truly not a prerequisite to top-level ability. While his passing % on paper is anything but impressive, sitting at a meagre 72.1%, this really is more down to tactical instruction than a lack of ability. Though, sometimes his short-medium passing can be underhit, allowing opponents to intercept.
Doyle could also deal better under pressure on the ball. At the moment, he comes across as a subpar ball-carrier and an awkward dribbler, and as such when he is the target of some intense pressing, he can be made to think twice about his decision-making.
Let me be clear, he can handle pressure capably on occasion, but for the most part he seems relatively uncomfortable and not entirely press-resistant. He would do well to introduce a level of finesse to his ability on the ball, to escape such moments of pressure, or at least have a better idea of how to not lose the ball in these situations.
Forecasting Callum Doyle's Future Prospects
As it stands, Doyle’s immediate goal should be to maintain his current form and solidify his place as a starter in Lee Johnson’s side. Seeing out a successful season on Wearside, adding a potential promotion to his CV, would be very positive progress early on into his career. Learning a winning mentality at this step in his career is also a bonus, if his long-term goals are to feature for the City first-team.
Next season, a Championship loan should definitely be the aim, perhaps one aiming for at least a mid-table finish, lining up in a back four with a focus on possession football. In the long-term future, Doyle has some steep competition to overcome in order to become a first-team starter for City themselves.
Not only are Rúben Dias and Aymeric Laporte a solid and somewhat young partnership, but the likes of Taylor Harwood-Bellis on loan at Anderlecht, or Luke Mbete who is making senior appearances for City in the Carabao Cup already (aged 17), present Doyle’s closest contenders for a slot in the XI. Regardless if City find room for Doyle, another Premier League club, two or three years in the future, certainly will.