There is no right way to leave a club. If nothing else, that’s the lesson that we can take from Liverpool in the last few months and even years. Zeroing in more specifically on Emre Can, it seems to me that there simply is no way that Emre can leave the club that won’t anger the majority of our fans.
Let me offer you some plausible ways that Emre could leave. Emre could well, as most people expect at this stage, go for a free in the summer. To many, this is a betrayal on his behalf. He’s let his contract run out so that we don’t even get a penny for him. Even though Emre is under absolutely zero obligation to the club to sign a new contract – which we’ll get too shortly – the fact that he didn’t sign one is worse than demanding to leave eighteen months ago so we could at least get money for him.
Alternatively, Emre could sign a new contract, and then in six months or a year, Bayern or Juve could buy him, for let’s say £50m. Now that would also be not good, because losing Emre would be a blow, but would that be a better way to leave the club? From a certain perspective, yes, but then look at Phil Coutinho leaving. Signing that new contract is a statement of intent that you want to stay at the club, and as many have pointed out, once you’ve signed that contract, you’ve made a commitment to the club, who are more than entitled to demand that you stick about.
The bottom line, I feel, with Emre, certainly at the moment, is that there is no way he could leave that would appease our fans. Emre, it’s worth noting, has specifically asked for a release clause in his contract, which would have enabled the club to make some money off of him, had they agreed. They did not agree.
What I find particularly irksome about this whole thing is that Emre hasn’t, in my opinion, done anything wrong. He hasn’t signed a contract because we haven’t made an offer that he (or his agent) find to be acceptable. Given that Emre is an extremely talented player, about to hit the peak of his career, he could well go to any of Europe’s top clubs and demand a top wage. And the fact that Liverpool have, as it sounds like they have, made pretty poor offers to him is not his fault.
I don’t want to linger too much on the specifics of Emre’s contract because we simply don’t know enough of what has been said, both by the player and the club. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Emre has demanded £200k a week, and I don’t think the club have made him a decent offer, but what that decent offer might constitute, only the club knows. But that’s not for now.
What I find more interesting is the reaction to Emre, and how ignorant it has been in some quarters. The main problem that a lot of people perceive is that Emre views himself as being better than some of our fans do, which for them is a clear issue. If a player comes out and says that he wants to play for a big club, it hurts their ego and their insecurities. Our fans fear that we aren’t a big club, so they automatically assume that Emre is slinging mud at the club, and by proxy them.
Again, I think this is a misinterpretation. Emre’s timing and choice of speech are perhaps unfortunate, but they are neither slander to the club, nor a come-and-get-me plea for Juve. What they are, are the words of a man who is, and this is something that I have found from Emre throughout this saga, keeping his options open.
What Emre wants, and these are his own words, is to be playing a major role at a club that is challenging for titles. Does he say that club is Liverpool? No. Does he say that that club isn’t Liverpool? Also no. His lack of commitment is a shame, but it’s hardly tantamount to treason. Emre is desperate for Klopp and the side to succeed, that much he demonstrates on the pitch, but his words off it also muster a challenge. He wants to play for the best, and Liverpool right now have the potential to be the best.
If Emre was gone, he has had ample opportunity to leave. The rumours are too strong to suggest that if he wanted to join Juve, he couldn’t have signed a pre-contract. There’s no way an offer wasn’t on the table. If Emre wanted to be at Juve next season, he’d already have that done. That’s not to say that he won’t play in Turin next season, I’m merely positing that Emre himself doesn’t know yet. He wants to see the state of play at the end of the season and see what the offers on the table are. You would imagine that one of those offers will be Liverpool’s.
And that offer has to be substantial. I personally believe that we haven’t lost Emre yet, and as a club, we need to be doing absolutely everything to keep him. If he wants money, we give him money. If he wants a starting place, he can have it. Assurances he’ll be a key cog and that we’ll compete for trophies? Brilliant. Champions League football? Done. Big name signings to state our intent? Do it.
All of these things are achievable. This is a club going in the right direction and I believe that Klopp and co can convince Emre that playing for us is the right thing to do. If he wants, as is reported, a release clause, then that makes things trickier but he’s going to leave if he gets a better offer anyway, so put in the release clause and convince him that those who trigger it aren’t better options.
Of course, things could well already be out of our hands. Bayern and Juventus are both bigger clubs than Liverpool, can compete in terms of wages and can offer Emre guaranteed trophies. Bayern, in particular, is the name that Emre would have grown up as the pinnacle of German football and Emre is, of course, German. But the club should do all that they can.
But bringing it back to where we started. If Emre leaves us for Bayern, then what does that say about him? Personally, I don’t think any less of him. The issue with Coutinho wasn’t that he wanted to leave, it was the way that he forced his way out. Emre, to his credit, has given 100% in every game he’s played, has played out his contract and never tried to force the issue. Even if he doesn’t sign a new contract, he simply does not owe that to anyone. Not to the club, not to the fans. Obviously, I want him to stay and sign but simply put we aren’t entitled to that, especially if the offers that the club have been making him aren’t sufficient.
So does this mean that Emre is overshooting? Does this mean that he thinks he’s better than is? Does saying he wants to play for a big club make him arrogant, make him too big for his boots or does it mean he thinks he’s bigger than the club? An inconsistent, average player who has barely nailed down a starting spot for us?
No. Everything in the above paragraph is absolute nonsense. It’s bitterness at best and delusion at worst. Jurgen Klopp rates Emre Can extremely highly, which is why he’s consistently the first name on the team-sheet in central midfield. If the rumours are right, then Juventus want to make him their first choice CM too. “Have fun on Juve’s bench!” are the catcalls. Ignoring the fact that to secure Emre’s signature, Juve would have to give him assurances about his place and make him one of their highest earners. You know, the same things we would have to do.
And the biggest factor is, for me at least, not just about how Klopp, Bayern, Juventus and other big names rate Emre Can, it’s that Emre is good enough to live up to the hype. I appreciate I’m in a minority in this view, but Emre simply is as good as he thinks he is.
To suggest that Emre isn’t comfortably our best midfielder for me is absolutely mad. He’s been miles ahead of Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain in terms of consistency, contribution and hard work. None of our midfield can offer what Emre is offering on a consistent basis and it shows.
For some examples, let’s look at some of Liverpool’s big defensive implosions this season. They’ve either occurred when Emre hasn’t been on the field, when Emre has had a bad game, or when Emre has been bypassed. Against Sevilla, Emre came on with Sevilla threatening to run riot at 3-2. Liverpool drew that game, conceding a late set piece goal, but things could have been worse without Emre to steady the ship.
At the other end of the scale, when Liverpool beat Man City, Emre came off with the score at 4-1. His departure allowed De Bruyne to finally have space and time to dictate the tempo, Liverpool completely lost control and just about hung on to win 4-3.
One of the labels Can has gained this season is “inconsistent”. That, alongside the lazy, downright pathetic suggestion that he has a slow turning circle and slows down our play – Liverpool score more goals when Emre is on the field than when he isn’t – are the platitudes that he’s labelled with.
Dealing with the latter, more erroneous criticism first. Emre clearly doesn’t slow down our attacking play, given that Liverpool have scored 2.58 league goals per game when he’s started in the league this season, compared to 2.00 when he hasn’t. Moreover, he has the highest xGBuild and xGChain of the five midfielders (Gini, Hendo, Milner and Ox being the others).
His xGBuild (so the xG he is involved in that doesn’t result from his shot or key pass) is 0.53, the highest in the squad of anyone who has played at least 90 minutes. Comparatively, Milner is on 0.43, Henderson 0.40, with Ox and Gini both on 0.29.
And his xGChain, which is the total xG he’s involved in including key passes and shots, is 0.65, which is again the highest of our midfield, ahead of Ox on 0.61, Milner on 0.52, Hendo on 0.47 and Gini on 0.40. All of this indicates that Emre clearly contributes to our attacking fluidity and play, whilst also being our best defensive midfielder.
Defensive stats are harder to quantify as being useful, but Emre makes the most tackles, clearances, blocks and interceptions of our midfield, whilst being dribbled past significantly less than, and conceding fewer fouls than Henderson.
So these charges, along with the charge that he is “inconsistent” are frustrating, largely because Emre has only really played about two bad games all season: against Spurs when we lost 4-1 and in the 3-2 against West Brom. And in both of those games, whilst it was noticeable how bad Emre was, the impact it had on the team was more noticeable.
The point is that this is a midfield that defensively has tended to lean on Emre to do most of the shielding work, and given that Liverpool have looked more solid this season, and given that we tend to play very well this season, having Emre as a key cog in our midfield seems to be working. In fact, it’s been working for the best part of two seasons now.
And another salient point is that Emre is only 24, younger than any of the other key players in our team and younger than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is consistently talked about as a work in progress, and someone that Klopp needs to develop. The fact is that Emre has a higher ceiling than any of our midfield, and is about to reach the age where Klopp made the most of Mane, Coutinho and Salah.
The point is that letting Emre go and develop that final step into a consistently top midfielder somewhere else would be an absolute disaster. And as a fanbase, our natural reaction to this is to put Emre down, to sugarcoat the problem and to suggest that he’s nothing special, that we won’t miss him or that he’ll make nothing of his career without us.
But there is no sugarcoating this issue. There is no running and hiding from it. Just like Raheem Sterling, Emre Can is a player who is more than good enough to upgrade from Liverpool and then do his talking on the pitch. And as a club, it has to be our prerogative to not let that happen. Or at the very least, to ensure we get some decent compensation out of it.
Liverpool are letting their best central midfielder leave the club for free, and he could well go to a top European club and make us look very, very silly indeed.