Germany's U21s might have disappointed at the U21 European Championships, but midfielder Emre Can was a rare positive. The centre of the park is where he belongs, whether he's playing for Germany's U21s or Liverpool.
"That is where I'm happiest, regardless of whether in an attacking or defensive role," said a 17-year-old Emre Can to German sports website Spox during the 2011 U17 World Cup. In his seven games for Bayern Munich, Can played in four positions. At Leverkusen, it was six and at Liverpool, he's predominantly played in the wrong one. Emre Can has known for the last three years that he is a central midfielder, but it has taken the rest of the world some time to believe him.
"I've known him since he was 16 and he was a leader then too," Hrubesch said of the midfielder. Hansi Flick, former Germany assistant coach and now sporting director to Germany's FA, believes Can is a player who energizes and dictates the tempo of a team. At the U21 European Championships, Germany were embarrased by Portugal in the semifinals. "How we played today was nothing short of impudent. Perhaps I thought before the game, I was great. I think I have to get my feet back on the ground. I've received a lot of praise in the last two weeks."
Aside from the disappointing finish, the lavish adjectives surrounding Can's performances were justified. Struggling in their first game, Can scored a brilliant equalizer to calm the nerves and secure a point. In the 3-0 demolition of Denmark, Can delivered a delightful pass for Kevin Volland's opener and won the free-kick for the captain's second. Germany flattered in phases against the hosts in the final group-game, but Can was once again a leading force. Fantastic stamina, a strong tackler, and deceptively quick, Can has got the skills to become one of the most complete central midfielders. Now he just needs the chance to do so.
Independent and a leader
Both Juventus board member Pavel Nedved and Bayern youngster Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg have hailed him as complete, capable of everything. At the U17 World Cup, Can was one of eight players in the Germany squad with Turkish roots. His decision to play for Germany though has never been in doubt. Leaving Frankfurt for Bayern Munich's academy at 15, Can quickly adapted to a life of independence and hasn't looked back. Can followed Bayern procedure and went out on loan in order to return better equipped. He never returned. At Leverkusen he played in the Champions League and impressed on a few occasions, but became their utility man. Once again, Can's skill set proving his Achilles' heel. Coaches have been inclined to move the youngster around - the passing, tackling and positional awareness of midfielders is not far from the requirements of a central defender - but in doing so, Can's ability to dictate, perhap his finest quality, has been lost.
At Liverpool, Can has been on the end of some heavy criticism. Regularly exposed in the heart of defense, Can was only able to show glimpses of his quality. His performances in the Czech Republic and a year of Premier League experience have U21 Head Coach Horst Hrubesch believing Can is best equipped to play the role Steven Gerrard did for so many years. Liverpool Head Coach Brendan Rodgers has some compelling evidence to dismiss should he choose to waste Can's talents elsewhere.
A full season at the heart of Liverpool's midfield and Can won't be far away from becoming a member of the Germany squad. First though, Liverpool must give Can the chance, because beneath this versatile footballer lies the leading midfielder the club need. All that, at just 21-years-old.