Callum Doyle was a tall and raw teenager when he arrived at Sunderland for his first taste of senior football two years ago.

He was obviously a technically gifted player, having come through the Manchester City academy from the age of 11, brought up to play the Pep Guardiola way. However, the battle-hardened pros trying to drag Sunderland back to the Championship from League One couldn’t help being a little cynical when they first saw him.

“He took a massive chance coming to Sunderland but he believed in his ability,” Lee Johnson, the Sunderland manager who signed Doyle on loan in July 2021, tells The Athletic.

“I remember his first training session. (At first), the lads were all saying, ‘I don’t know. A 17-year-old centre half coming through the door here at Sunderland. He won’t cope with the pressure’.

“He then went past four players and scored a goal. Everyone turned their heads straight away and a couple of them were chuckling and laughing to themselves, saying, ‘Yeah, that’s a real player’.”

If Sunderland’s squad thought Doyle wouldn’t be tough enough for the rigours of a League One season, he proved them wrong, starting all but two of the first 35 league games, until Alex Neil replaced Johnson in February 2022 — although Neil did think the City loanee had been exposed to too much football for a player so young.

“Callum was similar to Dan Neil last season in that they’re two supremely talented lads who I thought looked burnt out by the time I arrived at the club,” Neil explained on BBC Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport programme in July last year. “I thought they’d been overworked. I actually gave Callum a week’s holiday at one point, literally just to let him go rest and recover physically and mentally.”

Callum Doyle

Callum Doyle (centre) grapples with Lincoln’s Conor McGrandles (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Although Doyle only played a handful of times in the closing stages of the 2021-22 season, his first proper spell in senior football ended with play-off victory at Wembley Stadium.

His success continued that summer as he played a key role for the England Under-19s as they won the European Championship in Slovakia. He started all but one of England’s games on the left side of a back three and scored the crucial equaliser against Israel that took the final to extra time, where England eventually ran out 3-1 winners.

Doyle almost made it a hat-trick of triumphs last season in his next loan spell at Championship surprise packages Coventry City, once again reaching the play-off final, but this time falling short in the final.

No wonder then that Leicester have pushed to sign Doyle, now 19, as they look to return to the Premier League. Not only is he a player admired by new manager Enzo Maresca — who knows him from his time as Elite Development Squad manager and first-team assistant manager at Manchester City — but he could prove to be a lucky omen considering his last two loan sides have reached the play-off final.



Why Leicester have picked Enzo Maresca as their new head coach

It is Maresca who has pushed for Doyle to sign, as he will give greater balance to his defensive options. Doyle is a natural left-footer and can play on the left of a back three — where he featured for Coventry under Mark Robins — and on the left of a two.

Leicester initially wanted to agree a permanent deal for Doyle, with Manchester City valuing the player at £10million ($13.1m). Although despite the sale of James Maddison for £40million to Tottenham, until a deal is agreed for Harvey Barnes to leave, Leicester still have concerns over meeting financial fair play (FFP) rules.

A loan with an obligation to buy was also discussed but that may have drawn out the negotiations and, ultimately, all parties wanted to move on quickly so Doyle can join Leicester’s pre-season.

Leicester have paid a loan fee of £500,000 and there is an understanding that Doyle will feature regularly. If Leicester are successful in getting promoted back to the Premier League, then they will be in a prime position to make the move permanent if they choose to.

Callum Doyle

Doyle at the 2022 UEFA European Under-19 Championship (Photo: Vladimir Simicek/AFP via Getty Images)

So what will Doyle bring to the table? The potential is certainly there — although there are still improvements to be made.

Looking at Doyle’s smarterscout ratings from last season — which are ranked using advanced analytics to break down elements of a footballer’s game into different performance, skill and style metrics to provide a score against their peers out of 99 — in this pizza wheel (below), there are areas of Doyle’s game that stand out.

Doyle appears to be a very progressive centre-back, who likes to move the ball forward as much as he can — 53.3 per cent of his passes went forward last season, which was the seventh-highest rate of any Championship centre-back.

He is ambitious with the ball at his feet, trying to break the lines in front of him to progress his side, and he has a carry and dribble rating of 89, which is extremely high for a central defender. He will take risks.

However, his pass completion rate of 74.1 per cent is quite low, as reflected by his “ball-retention ability” rating of 9.

This suggests that Doyle’s pass selection may need working on, although watching footage of his display in Coventry’s play-off final loss to Luton Town, he played a lot of long balls forward, with varying degrees of success. They were mainly hopeful long balls for a target man (Viktor Gyokeres).

Under Maresca at Leicester, he will be encouraged to remain more patient in the build-up.

Here, against Luton, Doyle immediately looks forward and spots the run of Matt Godden…

… and hit a long ball right into his path.

In this game, he often took possession from keeper Ben Wilson but then went long.

Doyle’s smarterscout rankings also illustrate that he can be aggressive and is often the most important defender when his side is out of possession. Last season, he averaged 3.1 true tackles per 90 (true tackles is a combination of tackles, failed challenges and fouls, rather than just the number of tackles he won) which was the 13th-highest rate of all Championship centre-backs.

However, his true-tackle win percentage was down to 60.3 per cent, while he won just 52.4 per cent of his aerial duels.

Doyle’s defending intensity is highly rated at 76 and his ability to disrupt the opposition attacks is rated 88. He has a committed defensive style, attempting to win the ball back frequently. And while he makes an impact, he can also miss a few challenges too — especially when defending one-on-one.

The tackles and interceptions map below illustrates where Doyle tends to operate. It’s noticeable that he can find himself defending in wide areas; a strength Maresca will utilise considering his use of inverted or high full-backs.

Doyle’s journey began when he was five years old at Beechfield United in Salford, Manchester. He and his older brother Alex, a former Salford City midfielder, were coached by their father Craig at the club and his performances soon attracted interest from scouts.

“They both stood out early on,” Keith Long, Beechfield United club secretary, remembers of the brothers. “You could tell they had the potential to go further than grassroots.

“He is very down to earth and won’t forget where he has come from. He knows where his roots are.”

Doyle trained with Manchester United at under-nines level and Liverpool at under-10s. At 11, he chose Manchester City. Initially, he didn’t stand out as one of the better players in his age group until they moved up to full-size pitches. After the step up, he shone in his capability as a natural left-sided centre-back — seen as a rarity in the game — and, given greater space, he could demonstrate his passing ability over long distances.

His temperament and ability to learn more about the technical side of the game have seen him emerge as one of the more promising youngsters coming through the City ranks in recent years.

Doyle is a long way off the finished article, even if the potential is undoubtedly there. However, Johnson believes Leicester have a future England senior international on their hands — even if only for one season.

“He is a top lad and a top player,” he says. “He is maturing now from a boy into a man and he can handle the pressure.

“He is very good in terms of his ability. He can cut the ball through lines with progressive passing. I am delighted to have played a part in his journey.”

That next step in his journey is under a familiar coach who plays the style of football on which Doyle was raised. The next chapter at Leicester could be the spell where Doyle truly comes of age.

(Top photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)