Emre Can is currently enjoying a successful spell with Liverpool. In an interview with DW, the winner of the German Football Ambassador public prize talks Jürgen Klopp, his desire to learn and his aims for Euro 2016.
DW: Emre Can, you’ve been playing in England for two years and you’ve now received the German Football Ambassador public prize. How does it feel to be recognized by fans from Germany and all over the world?
Emre Can: It’s a great honor to receive the award. I always make sure I work hard every day and give everything in the game, in training and off the pitch too. So I can only say thank you.
Previous winners of the award include Sami Khedira, André Schürrle und Mesut Özil. How does it feel to be in such company?
It is a great honor, and it makes me proud to be awarded this prize. Great footballers with big names have won the award already and for me to win now is a beautiful moment.
The German Football Ambassador is awarded to a professional player or coach from Germany who aims to use football to make the world a better place. What initiative or project is close to your heart?
I’m not that experienced yet but when you see all the people around the world that watch football matches, that’s really something beautiful. There are no culture clashes, racism or religion, just football – that’s great. I enjoy supporting projects involving disadvantaged young people and people with disabilities.
You’ve been in England for two years now. What’s so different in Liverpool compared to Germany?
They just have a different mentality here; it’s something I experience every day. For example when you get in a taxi, the driver knows you are going to the football club. The whole city simply lives for the club and it’s a great honor to play for them, not everyone is so lucky. It’s just great fun.
What are the differences between the Premier League and the Bundesliga?
This is a much harder league and referees are more inclined to let things go. The football is also much faster here.
The footballing rivalry between Germany and England is legendary. What do people say when they find out you come from Germany?
German players have a very, very important status in England. Here they often talk about the (strong) German mentality and I think I have taken that on board.
Looking from the outside, it seems the whole of England has fallen in love with Jürgen Klopp. Is that your perception? What do people say about him?
Yes, I also have the impression that everyone has fallen in love with him. He’s just a super coach who knows a lot about football. But off the pitch he’s a very down to earth person who, as everyone knows, is very emotional. He’s also just very honest and the fans love him here.
How was your first encounter with Klopp? What did he say to you and was it inspiring?
It was the same as to every other but he did say one thing that was interesting. The first time we met he said ‘Many people think you’re a leader but you still have some we to go. But we’ll manage Emre.’ That is also how I see it.
Is it easy to accept criticism from him?
Definitely! He is a very honest type. What he said to me at the first meeting was the truth. I know, that the coach is there to help me develop further and our relationship is very, very good. Even with Brendan Rodgers I gained experience in another position, which was very helpful.
At only 15 years old you went from Eintracht Frankfurt to Bayern Munich to become professional. What have you learnt through your football life so far that you would like to tell young players?
You always have to believe in yourself! I think that is the most important thing. And you always have to work hard, regardless of whether it is a training session or a game. Back then it was like this: I moved at 14 or 15 years old to the boarding school of Bayern Munich. That really helped me, not only on the pitch, but also off the pitch. I had to quickly learn to work for myself and had to grow up very quickly. You get back what you give in life.
At 17 years old you were the captain of the Germany U17 national team and you played for the Bayern Munich first team when you were 18 years old. You always want to set the right tone on the pitch. Where does it come from?
I’m just that type of person. But I believe that I am a different person off the pitch than I am on it. On the pitch I am a bit louder and off the pitch I am quieter. I’m not the quietest, but also not the craziest. I’m just like that.
Who was your idol as a child?
Zinedine Zidane. He was just so fun to watch. When you saw him playing football, you got a smile on your face. If you saw how he stroked the ball. He was a great footballer.
In interviews you have always said that you could still learn more. What exactly is “more”? Do you only want to be better as a footballer? Did you ever have time to think about what you still want to do outside of football?
I can speak three different languages – Turkish, English and German – but I would still like to learn another language. I think always think it’s important to not just be lazy and sit around at home when you’re off the pitch.
Next month when the season is over you will have a little time to sit around at home. But we have a European Championship ahead of us. What role do you want to play?
I want to be at the European Championships. And I also want to play there. It is not my goal to go to the Euros and say ‘Okay, I’m sitting on the bench.’ My goal is to be on the pitch, but I always respect the decision of the coach.
But first you are in the Europa League final with Liverpool against Sevilla. How much are you looking forward to the final?
The feeling is great. When you see how far we have come from playing in the Europa League at the start of the season: in Russia and many other countries. Our main goal has always been to reach Basel in the final and we have achieved that. If you look at what we have experienced in Europe this season, for example, the matches against Dortmund, then I think we really deserve to be in the final. We took a lot of power from those matches and have given everything. Now we want to win there.
Emre Can, born in January 1994 in Frankfurt am Main, spent his youth career with Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern Munich. In 2012 he signed his first professional contract with Bayern Munich.
At 17, he was awarded the Fritz Walter Medal as the best German player in his age group and made his competitive debut for Bayern, in the German Super Cup against Borussia Dortmund. In order to get more playing time, Can signed for Bayer Leverkusen in 2013. However after just one season there, he moved again. Can accepted the offer of Liverpool and has been playing in the Premier League since then.
Can played for all of the German international youth teams from U15 upwards, despite his Turkish roots. He made his full international debut in September 2015 in a European Championship qualifier against Poland. Can has now made five appearances for the national team.