Emre Can will thrive at Juventus. After four underwhelming years at Liverpool, the 24-year-old will play in Serie A next season and Italy is a better stage for him than the Premier League ever was.
The midfielder arrived on Merseyside at a time of great optimism at Anfield. Liverpool, under Brendan Rodgers, had run Manchester City close in the title race the previous spring. The upbeat mood was soured a little by the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona after the World Cup in Brazil but the club’s recruitment department, led by Michael Edwards — now the sporting director — were confident that they could use the £65 million fee for the Uruguayan to build a stronger squad.
By the end of the summer 2014 transfer window Liverpool had spent £107m on seven players. Can was a relative bargain, costing £9.75m from Bayer Leverkusen and his arrival created a serious buzz around Anfield.
Liverpool were attracted by the German’s versatility. The club were eager to bring in players who could operate in a variety of positions and Can could comfortably be deployed anywhere across the midfield and slot into any back-four role if necessary.
He certainly looked the part. His powerful physique was an asset in a league where strength is a virtue, but he has a delicate touch, too, and an admirable passing range.
The frantic nature of English football exposed some flaws in his game, however. Can lacks the pace and mobility needed to dominate matches in the Premier League and, shortly after his arrival, a senior figure at the club referred to the newcomer as “a stroller.” Once in possession, that can be a virtue; when the opposition have the ball it is a less admirable quality.
Can was never a perfect fit for Jurgen Klopp’s high-tempo pressing game. Although he made 167 appearances for Liverpool, he rarely bossed matches. But he will get more time and space in Italy, where his ball-playing skills will be more evident.
The deal makes sense for Juventus. They have acquired the player, who is still young enough to improve, on a free transfer. Liverpool would have been happy to retain him, but were not prepared to pay the wages he and his people demanded. For the club it may have made better business sense to have signed him up to a new contract so he would have commanded a fee, but it is unlikely that Can would have been anywhere near Klopp’s first-choice XI next season.
The Liverpool manager is in the midst of changing the dynamic of the team in the centre of the park. Naby Keita will finally arrive from Red Bull Leipzig and the signing of Fabinho from Monaco indicates that the emphasis is on mobility and aggression.
Klopp is keen to bring in at least one more midfielder and although injury concerns have put the attempt to sign Nabil Fekir from Lyon on hold, Liverpool will continue to be active in the transfer market over the next two months.
Under Klopp, the recruitment policy has become uch more targeted towards players who suit the manager’s style. The ability to operate in a number of positions is still regarded as a positive attribute at Anfield but there is a much keener sense of what each newcomer’s main role needs to be.
Liverpool’s midfield three in the Champions League final against Real Madrid last month were James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum. All three players have their upsides but as a unit they lack the quality to compete at the highest levels, as was shown in the 3-1 defeat by Real in Kiev.
Klopp wants more thrust and vigour in the central areas and Can, if he had remained on Merseyside, would not have provided the sort of tempo the manager is looking for as he attempts to build a side capable of competing with Pep Guardiola’s City.
There will be plenty on the Kop who mourn Can’s departure, but Anfield was never the perfect environment for him. Letting him go is the right decision. Can has the chance to flourish and grow in Turin in a way that he was unable to do on Merseyside.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.