At some point in November, Liverpool were said to have had the worst transfer window in the Premier League era and that the lack of talent, or latent talent, in their buys would result in the Reds getting a mid-table finish at the end of the season. While it is tough to predict where Liverpool will end their season, it can be safely said that Brendan Rodgers’s side has inspired an exceptional comeback in the last three months or so and are well poised for a top 5 finish, if not top 4. And if there is a list of “5 best transfers of 2014-15”, Emre Can’s name will be there alongside Alexis Sanchez, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. Dubbed heir apparent to Steven Gerrard, the 21 year old has made an incredible impact at Merseyside in the past few weeks and has become a Kop favorite.
Who is Emre Can?
A native of Frankfurt, Can – pronounced as “Chan”- joined Bayern Munich’s youth academy in 2009, after spending three years in Eintracht Frankfurt’s youth ranks. In 2011, he progressed up the ranks and was called up to Bayern Munich II, the club’s reserve team which plays in the lower divisions. It was going to be difficult getting much time in the first team and so in August 2013, Can signed a four-year deal with Bayer Leverkusen. This contract included a buy-back clause for Bayern Munich and the move was very obviously done to ensure Can got first-team football which is so essential for young players, and then could ideally be re-signed by Bayern in the future. In fact, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge even pointed out Bayern’s past successes in doing the same with young players citing examples of Toni Kroos and Philippe Lahm.
The 2013-14 season at Leverkusen was a successful one for the young German. He established himself in the first team and in all competitions, made 39 appearances for the side and also managed to score four goals and grab four assists as well. His good form, and the word of former Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia (who was manager of the German club for most part of the 2013-14 season) got the Premier League side interested in his services. The Merseysiders had to move quickly to take advantage of a release clause in the player’s contract. Bayern Munich had apparently asked the player to stay with Leverkusen for another season until their buyback option could be triggered in 2015 but Brendan Rodgers, who watched him play on a few occasions alongside head scout Barry Hunter, had made sure Can was convinced by his Liverpool project and headed to England.
Can made just four starts before Christmas as his start at Liverpool was hindered by calf and ankle injuries. Despite that, whenever he did come on, he looked like an extremely good investment and his very early goal against Chelsea back in November got the Liverpool fans very excited. Still, injuries and Rodgers trying to figure out the ideal system meant Can was not a regular. However, ever since the Northern Irishman made a smart (perhaps smartest substitution and decision of this season) move of replacing Kolo Toure with Emre Can on Boxing Day against Burnley in the three-man backline, Can has been an omnipresent part of the team. He has started all ten Premier League matches and eighteen games in all competitions since.
At the international level, Can has represented Germany at Under-15, U16, U17, U18, U19 and U21 level. He captained the team in the U-17 World Cup in 2011. As he is yet to receive a senior international cap Germany, Can is still eligible to play for Turkey because of his ancestry. He has, however, gone on record to state that he wishes and hopes to represent Germany in his international football career. Going by his present form, it won’t be long before Low gives him a call.
The youngster was named in our 100 Best Young Players to watch in 2015 feature, coming in at #33 in our list of midfielders.
Style of play, Strengths and Weaknesses
His U-17 coach at the time, Steffen Freund – who played as a defensive midfielder and represented Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham Hotspur during his playing days and now is Tottenham’s assistant manager – spoke very highly of Emre Can and has nicknamed him ‘skipper’
“Emre is the most complete player I’ve ever seen in my career. And I have seen some. He has what it takes to make it to the top”
Emre Can is as versatile as a player can possibly be. Described as a ‘defensive midfielder’, the German can operate virtually anywhere on the pitch and Brendan Rodgers has even said that the 21 year old has played everywhere except as a striker and a goalkeeper in his football career. During the summer transfer window, the Liverpool boss stated time and again that he wanted to bring in “multi-functional” players so that he can use their versatility as an asset. Can’s emergence at the back illustrates exactly why Brendan Rodgers rates versatility so highly.
Despite being characterized as a defensive midfielder, Can is more box-to-box in nature and would probably be better clubbed in the deep lying playmaker category. The German would work best alongside a defensive minded midfielder as he likes to thrust forward a lot and his relatively weaker positioning sense could leave the defence unguarded.
His future definitely lies in the midfield and his assist for Raheem Sterling in the FA Cup replay against Bolton Wanderers in the dying embers of the game showed that as the young German was pushed forward in the midfield and very effortlessly looped the ball in for Sterling who calmly converted for the Reds.
He has a great build for a 21 year old and is strong and athletic. He has shown his incredible composure at the back in tense situations and his calmness has been a very important factor in Liverpool’s recent defensive form and Martin Skrtel and Simon Mignolet’s improved form as well. The Germany Under-21s international can win the ball back and his ball-playing abilities make him a brilliant option to have at the back. He can very efficiently, drive the attack forward by either thrusting forward himself or releasing the ball through a direct pass. He can use both his feet and can dribble with finesse. Even though he is not the fastest, when he does attack the opposition, he has often times embarrassed opponents with incredibly fast runs where he has also made use of his impressive physicality. His stature and physicality have made him adjust to the Premier League rather easily as well. His confidence with the ball, along with composure, are perhaps his biggest strengths. The fact that he has led the U-17 side in the World Cup also means that he possesses good leadership qualities. In fact, the 21 year old has been tipped by many as an outside choice for captain or vice-captain once Steven Gerrard leaves the club in the summer. After just one season with the club, that could be a huge achievement for the German.
Like mentioned before, his main weakness is perhaps his positioning sense, which to be fair, hasn’t been seen much in the past three months. Perhaps that is because he has been employed in the defence, but this was one of his individual weaknesses at Leverkusen where he was mostly playing in midfield. Can’s future lies in the heart of the pitch so the young German will definitely have to work on this aspect of his game. It is not a big drawback though as weak positioning sense for a 21 year old is not an unheard thing. Once Can moves up to midfield, he would want to work on his goal-scoring skills and better them as well. Shooting from distance, crossing, attempting runs in the final third are some of the things the player can improve in and make his game even more threatening.
Written by Aakriti Mehrotra