Liverpool have been flirting with Emre Can for awhile now, and yesterday it went from flirtation to a full on deal in progress in a matter of hours. Can is one of the brightest young defensive midfielder prospects in Europe, and fans are deservedly excited at the prospect of adding him to the roster.
Can currently plies his trade with Bayer Lervkusen, but in effect he's actually a Bayern Munich prospect; the German champions sold him to Leverkusen last season, but included a buy back clause that they could have triggered as soon as next summer, once he's gotten a couple years of quality playing time with a good club. Of course, now Liverpool are ruining that plan, as the buy back clause goes away as soon as he signs a contract at Melwood.
It's nice to do the swooping for once.
He was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but Can is Turkish by blood. He chose to represent Germany as a youth international, though, and has grown quite accomplished in their system, with over 40 youth caps and five goals to his name. He has yet to crack the senior international squad, but that can hardly be a surprised given the incredible quality Germany has in midfield.
DOB: 1/12/94 (20) | Height: 6'0" (1.84 meters)
2014 Season: 39 appearances (32 starts)
4 goals, 4 assists
Strengths: Can is quite athletic, and uses it effectively. He changes directions fluidly and without much loss of speed unless he has to make a bigger cut, which is something that not a lot of footballers are as capable of. Can isn't blessed with an overabundance of speed, but thanks to good acceleration and his ability to change directions so fluidly, that generally isn't much of an impediment for him in his role as a defensive midfielder.
What's interesting is that when carrying the ball up the pitch, Can doesn't always use that fluidity to his advantage. Instead, he frequently chooses to bull-rush whoever is standing in his way. It's strangely effective, as most defenders are trained to expect a shifty move or to have the ball knocked by them. They do not expect a solidly built six-foot midfielder to come charging at them like a bull with a grudge.
Can keeps his short passing game simple and generally un-flashy (which is good for a defensive midfielder!), but he does have a quality longball over the top that he's more than willing to uncork. It sometimes lacks precision, but even if he doesn't drop it in exactly the right place, it generally finds space to run on to. That's a nice valuable piece when running on the counter attack as Liverpool tend to do at times.
As far as his defensive skills go, Can is strong in the challenge without being reckless, something not common at his age. He's also quite capable in the air for a midfielder, helping to allow him to mark more physical strikers deeper down the pitch than most of his contemporaries. It also helps make him more valuable defending set pieces, something sure to make Liverpool fans happy.
Weaknesses: Can occasionally struggles with positioning issues, something unsurprising for a player so young. He has shown steady improvement in that area, though, so there's little reason to expect that it's a trend that will continue in the long term. In the meantime, the aforementioned acceleration and change of direction ability helps him make up for his shortcomings.
Something that previously hadn't been noticed much, but came to the fore this season with the extra time he spent at left back, is that Can is a terrible crosser of the ball. It's curious, because he's good at long and diagonal passes, but when it comes to passes defined as a cross... well, he's much better off sticking to his other passing tools.
One other thing I've noticed at times: Can can get a little hot-headed. A foul he feels was unjustly called on him, or a big moment where he feels that he screwed up, and he loses it a little bit. He gets visibly agitated, starts pushing too hard, committing needless fouls, putting himself and his team at risk. It seems like a youthful issue that he should grow out of, but it's definitely something that bears watching.
Other Thoughts: Many espouse positional versatility as a strong reason to sign Can, boasting that he can play at both left and center back. While it's true that he can play those positions, his competence at those other spots is certainly up for debate.
As a left back, he's not especially useful offensively, thanks to his inability to cross effectively, and defensively he stays too narrow and doesn't have a good feel of how to position himself or react to changes. At center back, his defensive mid experience keeps his positioning and reads in solid shape, but while he's good in the air for a midfielder, he'd only be adequate there as a central defender, especially in the EPL.
That's all OK, though. Liverpool need him as a midfielder first, second, and third. In that capacity, I have no long-term concerns. Just keep in mind that in reality, he may not be as versatile as advertised, except perhaps for emergency situations.
Summation: I could not be any more thrilled at the prospect of signing Emre Can. He's not just a good midfield prospect, he is a special midfield prospect. One that you don't get too many cracks at signing. Liverpool going after him so aggressively is a wonderful sign of what the club sees as their path and is a loud signal for the rest of Europe as to their intentions to become one of the very best clubs around once more.
This isn't just a good signing for now, it's a good signing for next year, the year after that, and hopefully somewhere around the next decade all told. That doesn't just make the potential of this signing good, or even great: that makes the potential of this signing spectacular.
In the meantime, enjoy a video recapping his performance against Hertha Berlin in April, one of Can's better showings of the season.