Were Bayern and Leverkusen Wrong to Give Up on Emre Can?

Overall, the current season has not been the easiest for German players earning their wages in the
English Premier League – André Schürrle and Lukas Podolski found themselves new clubs during
the transfer window, Mesut Özil (injured or not) continues to be written off with reliable frequency
at Arsenal and if things aren’t going well at the Emirates Per Mertesacker is always there to absorb a good
chunk of the blame (slow, ducks headers, past it – you know the drill). To be perfectly honest I’m
not exactly sure how Marko Marin’s Eurotrip is going so let’s just say that, at first glance, his stats
don’t bode well for his future at Chelsea.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Liverpool midfielder and recent Premier League “Player
of the Month“ nominee Emre Can who is currently enjoying the best and most consistent spell of
his young career. Ever since Boxing Day, when he was brought on at half-time and helped
Liverpool record a scruffy win at newly promoted Burnley, he has been a regular starter for Brendan
Rodger’s side – making vital interceptions and clearances, driving the ball forward and providing a
goal threat. At the moment, Liverpool are benefiting from Can’s qualities all over the pitch, be it in
defence or in his preferred midfield position, which begs the question why both Bayern München
and Bayer 04 Leverkusen were unwilling to fully commit to the Under 21 Germany international.

Bayern covered their backs to some extent when they allowed Can to join Bundesliga rivals
Leverkusen in the summer of 2013. Having had to compete in central midfield with the likes of
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luiz Gustavo and Javi Martinez meant that Can only made four Bundesliga
appearances in the 2012/2013 season. Bayern’s plan was to let Can gain crucial Bundesliga
experience the way Philipp Lahm (Suttgart), David Alaba (Hoffenheim) and Toni Kroos
(Leverkusen) did before re-joining the record champions and becoming an integral part of their first
team set-up. However, unlike the aforementioned trio, who all went out on loan, Can was sold to
Leverkusen with Bayern securing a buyback option that would trigger in 2015.

At the time of the transfer Bayern München CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge referred to the departing
Frankfurt-born Can as “one of the biggest talents in German football“. After a season of promising
displays for Bayer Leverkusen in a wide range of positions, Liverpool decided to activate Can’s
€12m release clause last summer. The 21 year-old has since confirmed that Bayern tried to talk him into staying at Leverkusen for another 12 months before being brought back to Munich,but he opted to
join Liverpool instead.

While Can is finally reaping the benefits of hard work and patience, it is fair to say that, if only for
the sake of argument, both Bayern and Leverkusen may live to regret not holding on to the all-around
midfielder – someone capable of providing pace and energy paired with skill and a great
passing range to a less dynamic midfield duos (…); someone to play alongside Christoph Kramer
and Lars Bender in what would read like a pretty solid midfield on paper.

Needless to say, Can’s excellent form doesn’t make him Steven Gerrard’s natural heir, nor does it
suggest that he could have enjoyed success at Bayern under Pep Guardiola, but neither is it the
the result of mere coincidence. In fact, Can’s talent and leadership qualities were evident the
moment he first made his mark on German football, captaining an exciting national side to a third
place finish at the Under 17 World Cup in Mexico in 2011. Although it hasn’t always been easy for
Can in recent years, he finally appears to have made the breakthrough that many have been waiting
for ever since he burst onto the scene that summer.

With all the hype surrounding his recent performances for Liverpool it is worth remembering that
Can only turned 21 in January, albeit this may seem hard to believe given his strong physical
presence and composure on the ball. While fitness and expectations will have to be managed
carefully, his age suggests that there is still a lot more to come – both for club and, of course, country. After all, Can has represented Germany at every level from Under 15s to Under 21s and his
versatility makes him a strong future candidate for a new-look Germany side as Jogi Löw seems
keen to experiment on the bumpy road to the 2016 European Championships in France.

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Leon Weber

Born in Germany but having spent five years studying in Glasgow, Leon never quite warmed to the SPL. He likes writing on German football though. @leonweber87

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