Liverpool's Can Plan

Liverpool's Can Plan

With attention turning back towards the pitch and Liverpool’s nine game unbeaten run going into the match against Manchester City there was a perceptible lack of negativity in the LFC universe this week … Like clockwork, the media and social-media panic mongers filled that void with Emre Can’s contract status.

The Reds’ midfield strongman is surprisingly still on his original £55K per week deal which expires at the end of the 2017/18 season. Rival clubs would be able to sign him on a pre-contract as early as January, just as Liverpool did with Joel Matip.

Back in March, Can said the following:

“I read in newspapers it was about money but it isn’t about money. We’ve had a few good meetings and everything is fine. You never know what will happen in football but I am happy here. I hope to play for many years at Liverpool.”

In June there were reports of a bumper contract in the £100k range, but those stories faded without any deal coming to fruition.

AI Tees

Then in August the Italian papers started leaking stories about a deal between Juventus and Emre Can to join the club on a free-transfer in the summer of 2018 if Liverpool wouldn’t sell him.

The latest is that manager Jurgen Klopp is still trying to work out an arrangement with the player, but that a buy-out clause is the sticking point. It is understandable that the club is attempting to lock its top prospects down for long-term deals without escape clauses as they did with Phil Coutinho. From the player’s perspective it is also understandable that someone like Can with an uncertain starting position, having just witnessed Coutinho’s transfer saga play out would want to have the ability to move on.

The Keita Conflict

Naby Keita’s addition is no longer an ‘if,’ it is now a ‘when.’ He will occupy one spot in the midfield three. A healthy version of club captain Jordan Henderson will be a regular in the 6, and Can isn’t a 10 despite his creative talents. Names like Lallana, Milner, Chamberlain, Grujic and Ejaria are also available for this season and the next options for Can’s preferred position. So while a scenario could be imagined where Liverpool become a more physical, counter attacking team with Keita in the 10, Can in the 8 and Henderson in the 6, that is far from a certainty and the young German is well within his rights to hedge his bets.

Surely from a pure monetary perspective Liverpool are offering at least as much as Juve would be. That isn’t the issue. As Can has said it is about his place in the team. Juve conveniently have an aging Sami Khedira who Emre could seamlessly step in for next season.

Of course the predictable response from LFC’s supporters is to blame the club for being unwilling to offer Can “all of the money.” As discussed above, the number 8 position is the deepest in the squad and while Can offers some unique skills in terms of his physicality he is not irreplaceable. From a money-ball perspective we have had a four year starter for £8M and £55k per week. If he departs for greener pastures on a free, the club still have gotten great value out of the player in isolation.

The Boston Perspective

In the owners’ eyes, letting Can go for a small fee if a replacement can be found in January or even for free in July is likely viewed as very smart business. Emre is a unique physical specimen, but that could make him uniquely susceptible to an early decline as he cranks out mile after mile in Klopp’s system. He carries a lot of weight around the pitch for a pressing midfielder and extending him to age 28 or 29 on big wages would be a gamble. In Boston, franchises like the New England Patriots, Boston Celtics and the Red Sox are often praised for letting players go just before their decline. Through that prism the owners could be reluctant to try and make the player’s mind up via their bank account. If reports are to be believed LFC are offering money that is sure to be competitive with anything Juve would offer. If the player still wants to leave at that level, then they may be willing to simply thank him for his service and wish him well.

What would Liverpool be losing? Can is one of the more productive all-around midfielders in the Premier League, but even his lofty numbers are almost entirely surpassed by Keita. The only area where Can outperforms Keita is in the air. Keita also is far quicker defensively where Can is sometimes targeted by the opposition. Keita’s interceptions per 90 numbers are 3.1 to Can’s 1.1, which will offer a different type of shield to Emre’s brute force. On the other end, Can is an attacking threat, but too often his runs lead him down a blind alley with no productive options once he’s broken through. Keita scores once every 3 games, while it takes Can 5 and he racks up assists at three times the rate of the German. Best case for Can is that he rotates between the 8 and 6 spots, playing deep against teams that aren’t a threat to run off of him and allowing Naby Keita to play further forward when we want to play a more physical game.

Not A Selling Club

A successful campaign from Liverpool will make Emre Can adjust his calculation as it will with any potential transfers we could be looking at to replace him. Why move to Juventus if he can expect to win things and play in the Champions League at Liverpool? The key is that the club keep moving forward as a whole so that the potential loss of any single player can be easily covered up with new additions. The Reds haven’t sold a significant player since Raheem Sterling and not many clubs in world football can stay that. Only the Manchester Clubs and PSG have been able to hold onto all of their key players in that period. Juve, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Dortmund; they have all shed key components in that time-frame.

So while it is never easy to see a popular player leave Liverpool, supporters should understand that he is only considering a move because of the stellar additions we’ve been celebrating, not because he can get paid more elsewhere. The success of the club on the pitch in the coming months will go further to determine where he signs than the numbers on Emre Can’s offer sheet. Liverpool are in a strong position regardless of his decision and that is something that should be celebrated.