23 years old, and with the world at his feet – Emre Can could become one of the best players in the world. Yet, as the German moves deeper into the final year of his current contract, his stardom may not be realised with Liverpool. Instead, the club that has brought him to the brink of the elite could lose the midfielder for absolutely nothing.
The Reds are not the only club to have suffered this fate, and they themselves have been the party on the other end of the deal, benefiting from a transfer coup. Yet there are few players of Can’s age and level who are ever available to sign on a free transfer, so how have Liverpool allowed the situation to become so desperate?
In hindsight the Reds should have tied Can down to a long-term deal a couple of years ago, before his status and position grew. Now he has become one of the best young midfielders in Europe and is completely in control of his own destiny.
Consequently, the likes of Juventus and Bayern Munich have been heavily linked, and now rumours have surfaced involving Manchester City, which would be a particularly painful pill for Liverpool fans to swallow.
In fairness to Liverpool, they did not know two years ago how Can would develop, but after investing £10m in the German international, when the club brought him to Merseyside from Bayer Leverkusen, they should have protected their investment with greater clarity and wisdom.
Sadly, Liverpool seem to lack that transfer nous needed to succeed at the top, especially when compared with Tottenham, another side trying to compete with the likes of Chelsea and the Manchester clubs on a tighter budget.
Arsenal are also especially poor in this regard, and have a number of stars with less than a year on their contracts, including Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
Can and his entourage reportedly want a release clause in any new Liverpool contract, presumably to ensure an easy release to another club where he feels he has a greater chance of winning trophies. Yet the Reds, after the Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho sagas, understandably do not want to encourage a policy of release clauses – especially when they feel the club is progressing and will soon be challenging for trophies.
Having sold so many key players in recent years to rival clubs at home and abroad, Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s owners, have no intention of weakening Jurgen Klopp’s side any further, as Coutinho discovered this summer.
Yet by taking this action, they are effectively writing off £30-40 million, the likely value of a release clause in any new contract for Can. Even in today’s ridiculously inflated market, that is a lot of money that Klopp could use to re-invest. If Can is set on leaving anyway, why not sign him up with a clause and then sell? It is what the Reds effectively did with Suarez.
However, the principle is now clear. For Liverpool, the financial loss is worth the emphasis on fighting player power and countering any thoughts suggesting that they are now a selling club. Otherwise, what’s stopping Mohamed Salah, Coutinho and co. from demanding their own clauses?
Can’s dream move may be Bayern Munich, the dominant footballing power in Germany, or perhaps he has been promised a midfield role at Juventus for the next decade. Regardless of what he has on offer, Can has to be sure that the grass is greener for him at any new club, as life could not be much better for him at Anfield.
He has a manager in Klopp who values him highly and plays him regularly. Moreover, the Liverpool fans love him, and a midfield of Can and Naby Keita, Liverpool’s incoming club-record signing, could easily rival anything in all of world football, should both fulfil their potential.
Central to all this is how central Can could be to Liverpool’s future success, but if he feels differently then he cannot stay at the club.
The Reds need players who are committed and feel they can achieve all their ambitions at Anfield, as Liverpool want to be regarded as a truly elite club, both on and off the pitch, once again.
Everything could change in the next few months, but at the moment it feels Liverpool and Can are heading inexorably towards an unfortunate and unnecessary departure, with both parties at fault.
Yet no player is bigger than the club. Plus, Liverpool could go into the pre-contract market themselves and sign players who are in the same situation as Can.
There is an unprecedented number of talented players who Liverpool could sign on a free this summer, including in Can’s position of central midfield. Schalke’s Leon Goretzka, a compatriot and rival of Can’s at international level, would be one example.
Liverpool must ensure that they continue to grow under Klopp, regardless of what Can decides to do with his future. Certainly, he faces a bigger decision than the club.
Whilst losing Can would be a bitter blow for the Reds, the club have survived much worse and will likely prosper under Klopp in the long-term.
For Can, his career will be in much greater danger if he risks his bright future at Anfield for the wrong move now.
There is little point being at a illustrious club when you are not playing. Yet there is one midfield ready and waiting for Can – only it is where he already resides.