Emre Can: Do Liverpool Need to Keep Him at All Costs?

Rob Lancaster@RobLancs79Featured ColumnistOctober 19, 2017

Emre Can is a player of serious potential—but will he realise it in the red of Liverpool?
Emre Can is a player of serious potential—but will he realise it in the red of Liverpool?PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

When it comes to Emre Can's future, Liverpool are on the clock.

While the midfielder—a Germany international who has made nearly 150 Premier League appearances and, at 23, may not even have reached his peak yet—continues to turn out for his current employers, his contract situation rumbles on. The storm clouds are gathering.

Can's long-term outlook is bright, but no one's sure how much longer he will be at Anfield.

His current deal runs out at the end of June next year. So far, though, negotiations haven't reached a successful conclusion. No doubt talks have taken place, but it is worryingly quiet and time is of the essence.

According to Paul Joyce of The Times (h/t Neil Jones of the Liverpool Echo), the stumbling block between the two sides is Can's desire to insert a release clause in the new deal.

Liverpool are seemingly reticent to agree to such a demand. Perhaps they remember how they ended up getting the player in the first place, as they paid a set fee of £10 million to bring him over from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2014.

Can has experienced highs and lows since moving to Merseyside after just one year at the BayArena.

Former boss Brendan Rodgers experimented with Can as part of a three-man back line. It was a desperate move by an under-pressure manager; one that, after a solid start, quickly showed itself to be more flawed than Wile E. Coyote's plans to capture the Road Runner.

Jurgen Klopp rightly dispensed with Can as a centre-half and has shifted his compatriot back into Liverpool's engine room.

Switching between the No. 6 role and a position further forward in a midfield three, Can has overcome some indifferent periods of form to become an integral member of the first-team squad.

However, when it comes to Klopp's well-oiled machine, parts can be replaced. Even more importantly for those in possession of roles right now, upgrades can also be found in the transfer market. The manager is loyal to his foot soldiers but not to the point where he's blinded by their deficiencies.

So, the question is this: Should Liverpool adhere to Can's wishes, pay the man and make sure he stays, or should they cut their losses and be prepared to either sell in January or lose him for nothing next summer?

It is at times like these that a Twitter poll can reveal the general consensus of opinion. In this situation, though, the results only muddied the waters further:

               

The case For Keeping Can

Emre Can is a versatile member of Jurgen Klopp's squad at Anfield.
Emre Can is a versatile member of Jurgen Klopp's squad at Anfield.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

If you're a believer, Can is only just getting started.

The raw, talented player who turned up from the Bundesliga has grown into the midfielder we see on a weekly basis now—but that could still only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his potential.

Physically, he may be nearly at his peak. Technically and tactically, however, there's room for growth. At-times ponderous in possession, he needs to develop a better appreciation for what is going on around him.

Can has given us tantalising glimpses of what could become the norm at some stage down the line, though. Being deployed as a No. 6Klopp's label for Liverpool's holding-midfielder roleallows him to survey the scene in front of him, yet it also shackles his ability to influence proceedings in attack.

He demonstrated on occasions last season how he can, despite his flaws, affect the game in the final third. When the Reds were toiling at home against Burnley last March in a must-win fixture, it was his long-range rocket that picked up three crucial points in the battle to finish in the top four.

That was good, but his overhead kick at Watford two months later was even better. His technique when completing such a difficult skill was impressive, but without the clever run into the penalty box, he would never have had the opportunity to produce something so spectacular.

It's not just about the odd eye-catching goal, though. This season in the league, Can has completed 85.6 per cent of his passes, averaged 1.2 key passes a game and provided two assists, according to WhoScored.com.

His all-round contribution at both ends of the field shows the value he offers to the side. Can has the personality and profile to be much more than just a defensive screen stationed in front of the back four.

"I would definitely give him a new contract—it's a no-brainer," said Henry Jackson, who writes for This Is Anfield and Anfield Index, as well as being one of the hosts on The Podbusters podcast.

"There is still a rawness to Can's game that can be frustrating when he suffers an off day, but his potential is enormous.

"He has all the attributes to mature into one of the most dominant central midfielders in Europe in two or three years, with his power, energy, skill and leadership improving all the time.

"It is so easy to forget that he is still only 23. If Liverpool don't give him a new deal, a European powerhouse will sign him up and the Reds will regret it down the line."

The vultures are circling, too.

Juventus chief executive Beppe Marotta confirmed the Italian giants tried to get Can in the summer. "We made an offer for him in the summer, but the Reds didn't sell him, so I don't think they'll change their mind in the middle of the season," he told Premium Sport (h/t Alex Richards of the Mirror).

They will not be the only ones eyeing up a player with so much obvious potential, particularly as he can be signed for freethanks to the Bosman ruleonce he has under six months left on his current contract.

                 

The Case For Moving On

Keep calm and carry on: Naby Keita will be a Liverpool player from August 1, 2018.
Keep calm and carry on: Naby Keita will be a Liverpool player from August 1, 2018.OZAN KOSE/Getty Images

In keeping hold of Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool showed they are willing to play hardball. Despite the best efforts of the Catalan media to stir the pot, Barcelona's big-money offers and the Brazilian's public transfer request, the club stood their ground and kept hold of their biggest asset.

With Can, however, there is an issue over a new contract that neither side appears willing to budge on. Liverpool cannot fend off interested parties once 2018 starts, as the player then holds control of his destiny.

If there is no further development in the next few months, the German's representatives can start negotiating elsewhere. Can himself is focused only on his performances on the pitch—but that didn't stop him talking about Juventus' failed bid.

"It's always an honour to receive an offer from such a renowned club, but currently I am only focused on the season with Liverpool. My agent takes care of the rest," he told Carlo Wild of Kicker (h/t Glenn Price of ESPN.co.uk).

"The Premier League is just a really cool league, the most interesting in the world, but you must always respect other big clubs and leagues."

If you're a glass-half-empty sort, that reads like the words of a man who is considering going elsewhere. While happy enough for now, he has an open mind to the possibility of a new challenge in a different league.

The Reds, of course, are also planning for their long-term future. Naby Keita's arrival next summer will give Klopp one more midfielder to fit in—and you don't pay a club-record fee, according to Ben Burrows of The Independent, for someone to come in and fill out the bench.

"Keita can excel in every area; he can tackle and screen, yet he can also find the passes to unpick a defence and conjure an accomplished finish himself," Andy Brassell wrote in a special feature on the midfielder for Bleacher Report.

Sounds like Can, right? Keita is only 22 as well, so the hope is he, too, is still at the start of his development rather than already reaching his peak.

While Keita's second season with RB Leipzig isn't running quite so smoothly as his first, Liverpool have paid a premium to sign someone they believe can help lift them from top-four contenders to title challengers.

That doesn't mean there's no room for Can. Only Klopp and his coaching staff will know how they plan to utilise the pair—as well as Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum—moving forward.

Can could be gone by the time Keita officially arrives on August 1, 2018. What the Twitter poll made clear is how few would allow the former to run down his contract and walk away for nothing.

If Liverpool cannot come to terms on a new deal in the coming weeks, it would make sense from a business point of view to at least get something back for a depreciating asset.

Yet football is an industry that doesn't work on logic. While the club may want to keep Can beyond the 2017/18 campaign, they cannot afford to lose a key member of the current squad halfway through a season without having a replacement.

Should Liverpool look to keep Can? Absolutely.

Should they do so at all costs? Absolutely not.

Throwing money at the problem only creates further headaches down the line. The Reds will have a ceiling on what they're willing to pay per week, but adding a release clause may be a risk they are unwilling to take.

Can has to decide where his future lies. Whether that's staying put or moving on somewhere else, he's going to get paid.

                   

Rob Lancaster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

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