THE news came in overnight that Liverpool cannot agree a contract with Emre Can meaning he can go in the summer for nothing.
I am not Can’s biggest fan.
I am very annoyed indeed by the fact that Liverpool look likely to let him leave for nothing.
These two things are inexorably linked.
We ask our footballers to grow up, personally and professionally in public. We literally watch them become better at their jobs before our very eyes. This is something rare. Most of us develop the skillset needed to do our job behind closed doors. We have colleagues or superiors who cover our failings if they are good and kind. We are surrounded by safety nets.
We are often asked to do roles that don’t suit us or roles that we just don’t like and we learn that quietly. And however much our colleagues or superiors may feel those roles do suit us we get to say we don’t like them or want to do them and make changes accordingly.
Footballers have none of these luxuries.
They are repeatedly plunged, steeled in the cold water of 50,000 plus and a worldwide audience watching, often revelling in their learning curve. We all say we love seeing a young lad develop. We often forget that development is happening when we are emotionally invested in 22 men kicking a ball about, with the aim being Liverpool are widely acknowledged as being by far the greatest team the world has ever seen. Then that young man might all of a sudden be a bit of a prick who has just given it away cheaply or been caught in possession or knocked off. Fuck’s sake, Reds. Switch on.
That journey of being steeled is exactly that, a journey. Footballers never stop learning but their development does slow. We accept that part of the job football clubs have is in that development. There must be footballers for tomorrow even if we need to win games today.
We have lived this journey with Can. The very reason why I am not Can’s biggest fan is that I have had to watch this process with my own eyes and it hasn’t always been good. I have seen the mistakes made. I haven’t watched the finished product. I still don’t quite think I am watching the finished product. But he is clearly, demonstrably, a very good player. He is good enough to be in the Liverpool squad even if I struggle to find a place in the first 11 for him.
What I mean by that is that if Liverpool were in a Champions League final tomorrow and Can was in the first 11 because of injury or a tactical call by the manager, I wouldn’t think it was wild. I may not even remark upon it. He is a Liverpool player.
He doesn’t have to be my favourite for me to be comfortable with him being one of my 11 favourites. My favourite player is Daniel Sturridge until Liverpool kick off. Then my favourites are the 11 on the pitch. I love them all equally. I love them all x amount. (Unless one of them is Sturridge, then I love him x plus one.)
Next season, if Liverpool retain Phil Coutinho (unlikely) and/or when they add Naby Keita they may well find it harder to get a place for Can on the pitch. Still some part of me would like to see him at centre back against the poorest sides at home. But no matter. Because Can won’t be a Liverpool player and Liverpool will receive no money for that loss.
That this situation has occurred is frankly ridiculous. What was the point of the whole enterprise of growing and developing Can if he is to neither stay at Liverpool to become our finished article or to be sold on? While Can has added (and will continue to add) a load of value to Liverpool since his signing, a massive part of this process was to sign a very good young prospect and, come the end of that, reap some degree of the rewards.
Football clubs of course want to win trophies and that should be the overriding aim. But to do that you need to be relatively well run, especially when you cannot throw endless money at the process. Part of the logic around spending £12million on Can was obviously to help Liverpool win games but also to have Liverpool end up with either the asset on the pitch at his peak to do that but also to have someone to sell on if not.
The same summer we signed Can, Borussia Dortmund bought Gonzalo Castro for £8m and Sami Khedira when to Juventus on a free transfer. Both of these lads are now 30, the latter could well be replaced by Can. Both could well — though nothing is inevitable in football — have been of more use in general to Liverpool since 2014. Neither would be much of an asset for Liverpool in the market now but both were developed as footballers four years ago. While Khedira has probably earned more that can be offset by the fact we paid £12m for Can.
Carlos Bacca is now 31 and he moved the same summer as Can for £21m. While he plays a different position and was £9m more I think we can agree that four years ago we could have done with a mature centre forward. Meanwhile I am watching Can (among others) learn his trade. I’d rather watch really good players kick it in the goal.
The point is that I accept Liverpool’s policy and understand it. I really do. It may not be how I would go about things but I accept Liverpool need to have their own ideas.
But then don’t make a mess of it. I reckon Can is probably worth between £30-40m in a normal market situation. I reckon he is good enough to start a solid number of games for Liverpool, right now good enough to do that for a Liverpool that wants to be by far the greatest team the world has ever seen.
Had I spent the last four years thrilling at every Can touch I may counter intuitively be more sanguine about these developments but the truth of the matter is that not only is this is a cock up, it’s a cock up on Liverpool’s own terms and therefore I am most definitely annoyed.
Fuck’s sake, Reds. Switch on.
Emre Can’s contract was discussed in great detail on our West Ham preview show “The Team Talk”, which you can listen to if you SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player for just a fiver a month. A subscription also gives you access to our podcast archive – here are some of the highlights so far…