At this point last season, Borussia Dortmund were the best team in the Bundesliga. They bossed their way to the top of the table with the kind of youthful exuberance you’d see at Arsenal during their best years. They also boasted a prodigious combination of skill, talent and work ethic thanks to talented young players like Mats Hummels, Mario Götze and Sven Bender. But none of their success have been possible without the ingenuity of Nuri Sahin. His contribution last year earned him a much coveted move to European powerhouse Real Madrid but a year later the midfielder has found it difficult to adjust at his new club, struggling with ongoing injuries and stiff competition. Sherif Morris takes a look at Sahin’s precarious situation at the Spanish club.
To most Bundesliga fans, Sahin is a household name. The midfielder performed exceptionally well during his tenure at Dortmund where he epitomized Jürgen Klopp’s dynamic style of play. He was the central figure in their title winning season and helped the squad achieve upset wins again Bayern Munich with devastating efficiency. Sahin is an exceptional retainer and passer of the ball – often sending well aimed crosses to deftly open up play – similar to a current teammate of his who is often heralded as one the best of the generation – Xabi Alonso.
A move to Real Madrid seemed like the perfect step to take for a player with his talents. However, like many transfers to imperious football clubs, the glory and the money often comes with plenty of drawbacks as well. Every player ought to recognize this prior to signing a contract which could very well, as was the case for Christoph Metzelder, spell the beginning of the end of their careers. Sahin’s career at Madrid began on a sour note. Because of injuries, he did not feature for the team until November and has just one goal and one assist to his name in all appearances so far. He even failed to make the bench in the rare times he was fit. Suffice to say, Sahin has yet to show the world, or Madrid supporters, what he is really capable of.
It is imperative to recognize however that the sheer prospect of starting for Real Madrid might be overwhelmingly seductive and could easily cloud a player’s judgment and rationale. A friend of mine once suggested that Sahin’s failure to succeed at Madrid is reflective of the Bundesliga’s quality and level of competitiveness. I thought this was egregiously naive since Zinedine Zidane’s touted heir apparent is the born and bred German footballer, Mesut Özil.
That said, I now feel like I owe my friend an apology, or perhaps something a bit less. At Madrid, Sahin is competing with some of the finest players in the world. Alonso, Khedira, Diarra, Pepe and even Granero are all players who can perform and play in Sahin’s role. Any of these players would be regulars at most clubs and the squad depth at Madrid is such that any loss can easily be compensated for, be it due to injuries or loss of form. Just ask former World Player of the Year, Kaka, who was once considered the best player in the world by quite a margin yet he too has struggles to find a regular starting spot and is forced to compete for a position.
Like Kaka, Sahin spent a significant amount of his first season injured or struggling to rediscover past form. Mourinho meanwhile seems keen on retaining the same midfield line up that worked to such great effect last year. And when adjustments needed to be made, be it for personnel or tactical reasons, Pepe and Granero deputized quite capably, the latter currently enjoying a good run of form in the absence of Khedira and Diarra. These circumstances typify the competitive cloud at the club. Whereas Sahin was allowed time and space to develop and perfect his game in a much smaller environment at Dortmund, no such cushion exists at Madrid and the pressure is very much on Sahin from the minute he joined.
A player of Sahin’s calibre now faces an uncompromising yet inevitable scenario. He can go on loan to a lesser Spanish club in the hopes of revisiting his past form and regaining some much needed confidence. He was also linked with a loan move back to Dortmund in the winter transfer period but nothing materialized. Or, and this is the most likely option, he could remain at Madrid in an attempt to win over his critics and at least establish himself as a candidate for the starting eleven. Given the fact that he is still only 23 years old, there is still plenty of time for him to regain form and gel with the likes of Ronaldo, Higuain, Benzema, Di Maria and his close friend Özil. He may not displace Alonso anytime soon but can at least act as a viable substitute and slowly make an impression on the team the way Kaka sometimes does. This author is of the opinion that regardless of what path Sahin decides to take, and irrespective of his doubters, we have yet to witness the end of this brilliant player’s career.
Follow Sherif on twitter @secularscience
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