This is a crucial period in Emre Can’s Liverpool career. Captain Jordan Henderson is currently injured, giving Can a free run as the ‘6’ in midfield alongside Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum. While this season hasn't matched the expectations built up from some strong performances this season, the 23-year-old midfielder has a chance to help secure Champions a League football for 2016/17. There's the more pressing matter of agreeing an extension to a contract that will have just 12 months left this summer.
With no agreement in sight, rumours of a move to Juventus or returning to the Bundesliga have surfaced. A problem for Can is that he entered pre-season as Liverpool’s most important midfielder, but the addition of Wijnaldum, deploying Henderson in deeper position, and the stunning form of Lallana as Klopp’s midfield pressing conductor have made matters somewhat complicated. Liverpool’s best midfield in a 4-3-3 doesn't include Can, and although he's seen as a Klopp project, he appears to have taken a step back since returning from an ankle injury that troubled him at the start of the season. A mysterious calf issue has not helped either.
Assessing the weaknesses in Can’s game has been an easy task. The lack of composure, game intelligence, decision-making, and positioning have produced some frustrating performances indeed. These can develop but have been exposed at times this season. When Liverpool struggle to break down teams that sit back—a noted tactical shortcoming in Klopp’s gameplan with this squad—Can appears to struggle further. These are the sort of contests where a midfielder like Xabi Alonso shines, but Can is no Alonso. Neither are Lallana, Wijnaldum, or Henderson for that matter.
Where Can has excelled this season is in big contests where his physicality, energy, and drive are important in a midfield battle. He can also play a bit, and although he can lose possession sloppily at times, there have been many bursts through midfield and clever passes. Remember when Liverpool fans were fearing that a 22-year-old midfielder’s absence would prove terminal against Borussia Dortmund? What about a performance against Villarreal after returning from an ankle ligament injury to not only last the entire game but dominate the midfield when a European final was the prize for the victors? Is that the same Emre Can that isn’t worth keeping around a year later?
He might not merit what he or his representatives are seeking, but it's wise to keep any outfield player that’s part of the group of 12 or 13 Klopp has trusted this season. Upgrades may be needed in certain positions, but it's a good idea to make the starters of today the squad players of tomorrow. Liverpool’s squad cannot afford to be weakened by selling any first-team players that the manager trusts anyway, including the underwhelming Dejan Lovren and disappointing Loris Karius. A campaign without any European football has revealed how thin this squad is, but the idea is to shed one of those players.
What is most incredible among fans is their convenient forgetfulness of what they thought yesterday. Greater consideration of what was said in the past may halt the haste in condemning or hailing a player tomorrow. If it was two or three seasons ago, such gaps in collective memories would be far easier to understand. 12 months, however, is quite troublesome. To completely dismiss him as a player is as harsh as it is short-sighted. That's not to query those who think he has his strengths but could be upgraded in the summer given that he's asking for what appears to be too much money. It's the absolute certainty in the voices of those who think, in crude terms, that he's “fucking shite” as a midfield option for Klopp.
For a player as young and talented as Emre Can, it’s not inconceivable that he can rediscover the form shown in 2015/16 to fulfil the promise shown since arriving at the club. In Klopp’s first game as Liverpool manager, he repeatedly bellowed “Emre” from the touchline to get the attentions of a midfielder he has since shown great faith in. Of course, some may argue that it is Can’s wage demands—on the back of a mediocre season—that are unreasonable, but the best solution would be a compromise to keep a Klopp favourite around.
Box to box midfield star, defensive midfield supremo, solid squad depth, or unfulfilled promise? It will be intriguing to see what Emre Can’s Liverpool future holds.