Is it worth persisting with Emre Can?

Let’s talk about Emre Can: the player whose on-field performances over the past few weeks have divided the opinions of fans and pundits the most, compared to any other current player in the Liverpool squad. The bullish German midfielder drew the ire of the fan base last month for some lacklustre displays at the centre of the park and then stalling contract talks amidst speculations of demanding inflated wage. Doubts were expressed about his Liverpool future and he was derided by the fans for holding the club hostage for higher wages, some of whom also have begun demanding his exit by the summer. However, some back to back strong performances, notably against Man City and Everton have put to cold storage all such debates, at least for the time being. However, it is pertinent to examine what the next summer has in store for Can in the Liverpool squad: should he be replaced or should he be given more time to flourish?

Emre Can was signed by Liverpool under former manager Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2014 for a bargain sum of £10m from the Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. Touted as a promising player for the future, Can’s acquisition wasn’t met with much fanfare and  pretty much slipped under the radar. However, Can found himself regularly starting for the team on account of injuries to key players on the team and his own versatility. It is fair to say that his versatility was used as a valid reason by Rodgers to hand him game time on a regular basis and ultimately he did finish the 14-15 season with flashes of brilliance. He was asked to play out of his preferred position, at times as a center back, right back or as the right sided center back in a 3 man defense employed by Rodgers.

However, the appointment of Jurgen Klopp as the manager of Liverpool bought a change in the fate of the player too. Can was immediately reinstated back in his favoured position, which was at the middle. In fact, it was Can who scored the first goal under Klopp’s reign. Buoyed by the backing of his compatriot, Can did put in some solid and eye catching performances from the midfield, notable ones being in the run up to the Europa League finals. However, it was his dominant and flawless performance against Villarreal in the home leg in the Europa League semi-finals that stood out and endeared him to the fans. Ruled out till the end of the season, Can fast tracked his returned to the team amidst an injury crisis and eventually bossed the game. He didn’t put a foot wrong in that match and dictated the tempo of the game throughout.

It was precisely at this juncture that Can was dubbed as the heir apparent to Steven Gerrard and the future captain of Liverpool FC. Some fans even went to the extent of opining that the captaincy had to be stripped from Jordan Henderson and to be given to Can. The current season was supposed to be the year which would have seen Can becoming the superstar and the next Kop hero. However, the German picked up an injury during the national team duties at the Euros and then missed most of the pre-season. Can also missed out the initial quarter of premier league matches and his return was made even more difficult by the well-oiled midfield trio of Henderson, Gini and Lallana who had formed a really effective partnership in the midfield. Although he bagged a few goals, he was well off the high standards that he had set up for himself.

Can’s dip in form coincided with Liverpool’s meltdown in form post Sadio Mane’s absense to represent Senegal in the African Cup of Nations. In January, Liverpool failed to win a single league match and also got knocked out of both the cup competitions. Can was one of the player who was singled out as one of the worst performer during this poor run and attracted criticisms from all quarters. He was accused of losing possessions on too many occasions, slowing down the tempo of the game and giving away needless fouls. Can was considered to be too slow for the fast paced and fluid Liverpool attack on account of his extra couple of touches. What Gini used to accomplish in his first touch, Can would take 3 touches to do the same.

Although it is no doubt whatsoever that the German is gem of a player and has the natural physique and raw abilities to be a top player, some of the Pundits and fan base believe that Can lowers the high tempo midfield which is very instrumental to Liverpool’s game. He doesn’t have the pressing/creative abilities that Lallana can boast of, the quick and intelligent passing game of Gini and the defensive awareness of Hendo. He is considered too undisciplined to play in that shielding role and too one dimensional to play in that box to box role.  He is far too inconsistent, whose performance in a game can oscillate between jaw dropping brilliance and frustratingly lacklustre. The unresolved contract talks with the club where it became public knowledge that he has refused to sign the contract demanding higher wages (he is reportedly asking for £100 thousand per week and the club is offering £80 per week) did not help his cause since some of the fans were quick to label him as a money grabber who should be let go in the summer.

However, Can was quick to come out and clarify that it was his fitness that has been a roadblock to him matching the standards that were expected from him. He commented after the Burnley game, “When I play at the eight I have to go forward and sprint more and I had a few problems with my calf. When I play at six you are in the middle and you have to make challenges and I don’t have to go far away”. He also clarified that the contract stalemate had got nothing to do with money and assured that the situation would be sorted in the summer. His recent upturn in form since the Burnley game lends credence to the fact that he was not restricted to play at the optimum level.

It is very apparent that Can is a big match player who steps up on the big occasions, making those marauding runs, making those crunching tackles and dictating the tempo. With Liverpool set to compete in Europe in some form (Unless we go on a full meltdown mode and West Brom wins all their matches),  we need players like Can who can take the games by the scruff of the neck. Far too often, the Liverpool team has been accused of not possessing a tough side, getting bullied by the physical sides and not being physical enough against. Can is one of the few players in the Liverpool team who has that edge when it comes to physicality. Can conducts himself as a leader on the field and comes across as a player who is very passionate about representing the club. He is a good professional and if his development continues, he could go on to become the next captain of the club.

Can has also become a full German International and we must understand that if he is part of a project of managers like Klopp and Joachim Löw, he must be talented enough and must have a high potential. If he can find ways to establish his place into that famed Germany midfield comprising of big names like Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze, Tony Kroos, Sami Khedira, Ilkay Gundogan and the likes, he is clearly talented enough to be a midfield general. I see Can as a typical player who would fit in the Klopp’s project, a young hardworking player with raw abilities and who has the right attitude to hit the ceiling. At 23 year old, his best years lie ahead and he can mature into a truly great midfield player.

During the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on April 2, 2016 in Liverpool, England.

It’s true that overall, Can has had a disappointing season after the promise he showed last year, but we have to also consider that he was playing through pain and was not at his best fitness. He is 23 years old now (he is younger than Kevin Stewart, but has made over 100 appearances for the first team) and it will be foolish to cash in on him in the summer. The club should tie him down with a long term contract so that he commits his peak years to us. Personally, I can see him improving and becoming a top class midfielder in the next 2-3 years. In the worst case, he will be a good squad player to rely upon when we are playing in Champions League who can step up in the absence of starting XI player without a substantial fall in quality. If we sell him, there is no certainty that we can land a player with similar quality and talent: a young player who has acclimatised with the Premier League and has 3 years of experience under his belt.

It was only last week that United announced offering a contract of 100 thousand pounds a week to a squad player i.e Jesse Lingaard. It is no surprise that combeting clubs are offering ridiculous wages to the youngsters tipped for success in the  future and just about to enter their prime years. Keeping that in mind, I don’t think the club should hesitate to pay a player of Can’s calibre and the future star of the team a 100 thousand a week wage. What he is demanding is not completely unreasonable and it doesn’t need a lot of convincing to offer him a contract that is acceptable. Remember, this guy could be a gem of a footballer in a few years and probably the next club captain. Yes, he has a lot of convincing to do but I am sure as hell he will be up for it.

Come on Emre Lad, score those screamers from 30 yards and we shall wait for your knee slides.

 

Swapnasarit Satpathy

(I am a law student and a passionate Reds fan from Bangalore. Didn’t witness the glory days, but they will be back soon anyway.)

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