What Now, Nuri?

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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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

14 Comments

  1. Ideally Real Madrid will sell either Lass or Granero (though I’m not holding my breath) and Sahin will move up to be a regular replacement for Xabi Alonso, to give Madrid’s most crucial midfielder the rest he needs.

    Probably too late this season for him to be making any sort of meaningful comeback, but with any luck, next season will be his time. Shame about the injury woes he’s had, but doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a place in the team. Not time to pack his bags just yet.

  2. Sahin should take a look at BVB and what they are shaping up to be:
    1.) Domestically dominant
    2.) Learning to cope with UCL
    3.) Getting more depth
    4.) Matching results with ambitions

    Decision: he should be loaned back to Dortmund. Because Real Madrid will need him soon when Alonso gets old. Dortmund needs him for a deep push in the UCL next season.

    Look at this depth if Sahin were in BVB:
    CM – Sahin, Leitner, Gundogan
    CDM – Kehl, Bender
    AM – Goetze, Reus, Kagawa, Bittencourt, Amini
    LM/RM – Perisic, Kuba

    An ideal rotation:
    Bender-Sahin
    Goetze-Reus-Kagawa
    Lewandowski

    second unit:
    Kehl-Leitner
    Perisic-Bittencourt-Grosskreutz
    Barrios

    NOT LIKE AT REAL MADRID:
    pecking order for CM/CDM/AM spots
    Alonso, Ozil, Khedira, Kaka, Lass, Granero, Sahin, Altintop

  3. Of course not, the players have grown and matured together and from winning last season, they have learned a lot together. Klopp and his squad have managed to turn things around despite their slow start to the season, if you recall.

  4. He was still their best player though. Klopp and the rest of the team just adapted really well, credit to them for that.

  5. Yea he may have wanted to wait at least another season before moving but can’t blame him considering where Madrid are now. If he has another year like this one next season then he should cut his losses and move on because two years wasted at his age could be unforgiving.

  6. I like Sahin’s ambition and Mourinho is a fair manager when it comes to player selection, its up to Nuri to get past his competition and make the squad. If he can’t he’s just not ready for that step up just yet.

  7. Not to quibble too much but Dortmund are at the top of the Bundesliga again. This time without Sahin and despite far worse injury problems than last year so the whole introduction falls flat.

  8. The point is that many potential world class players see madrid as the place to be. While Ronaldo and Kaka (before he suffered 2 seasons of continuous injury) might find it easy to assert themselves, some players like Sahin, who have yet to even feature at the highest level, will find it tough to get any playing time at all.

  9. Good article,Sahin was seduced by the bright lights of Madrid “who wouldn’t be?”But in my opinion this move came too soon in his career when maybe two more years under Klopp at Dortmund would have stood him in better shape.To many top players have made the same mistake and have had to take two steps back to take one step further,I’m not for one moment saying that Sahin isn’t good enough because he is,he is a quality quality player and is missed in the Bundesliga,I hope he returns to Dortmund because with the addition of Reus and Sahin Dortmund will be a european power and Sahin can realise all his ambitions at the Westfalenstadion.

  10. He isn’t competing with Khedira. Ideally, they can play together. At least, Mourinho brought Nuri to act as a backup for Alonso.

  11. i think he needs to admit leaving the bundesliga was a mistake, he underestimated dortmunds intentions of becoming a powerhouse again..and both leitner and gundogan could learn from him..ozil to schalke and khedira to bayern f@#?% the spanish league, these players have more competition with their own teammates than the rest of the league.

  12. I think the La Liga is the wrong place from deep playmakers like Sahin. Even a player like Xabi Alonso isn’t able to replicate his Liverpool quality at Madrid. A move to the Serie A, Premier League or Bundesliga is necessary for Sahin to revive his career. It is really sad to see him fade away at Real Madrid.

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