As the clock ticked past the 78-minute mark, Juergen Klopp, seemingly contented with the performance of his team, made a change that could have undone all of his side’s good work. Off came Emre Can, to be replaced by James Milner.
It looked a random and normal change to the casual fan. However, not to the observing attentive one. Even Liverpool fans would have seen the change and slumped on their seats at the necessity.
It was not a coincidence, that at the point when the Reds looked commanding and dominant, upon his ejection, it fell to pieces. Simply put, Emre Can was the screen, the protector that Liverpool had cried out for in front of the defense since the start of the season.
It was a performance- the 4 -3 win over Manchester City – that bordered on perfect. And it was timely. On a day when RB Leipzig affirmatively asserted that Naby Keita wasn’t leaving till the end of the season, there was a clarion call from within the squad to step up to their responsibilities post-Coutinho era.
Since arriving for £10m in 2014, Emre Can has fulfilled so many roles for Liverpool that many were losing track of his exact position. The German arrived as a roving midfielder from Leverkusen, wearing their no. 10 shirt. It was a role many had expected him to thrive in. He was the ultimate box to box midfielder. He could pick a pass, score sensational goals and had good tackling skills.
It’s quite surprising that his case is one which is slipping under the radar despite his talent. Juergen Klopp might have sanctioned Coutinho’s sale on the assurance that the team looked well equipped for the rest of the season, but he has also told the club to do everything to ensure they keep his countryman.
It is the way Can is underrated that makes him a very dangerous player, an X-factor. Against City, his job was to act as the primary shield to Liverpool’s defense. He was the one who snuffed out passes and broke the lines. His marking of Kevin de Bruyne as apt as his movement on the ball. His dynamism is exquisite for the top level and he looks every bit as classy as he demonstrates.
It is this masterful performance that has provoked the question again of why Liverpool have allowed his contract run into the last six months of his contract. This is a player whom is believed to not want to leave the club. His demands and that of his agent has been to have a release clause which can be triggered. It is this that has caused a kerfuffle and has held up contract negotiations.
The club knows the capacity of the player, his potential and his growing significance. It is why they have tabled several contract offers before him since January 2017. It is a position of strength for Can and his agent, who know how good the player can be. He is one who would be among the leading figures in his position in a few years.
Emre Can is approaching the peak of his powers and Liverpool see this. It is why they want him to keep him. When he came in 2014, it was with a long term plan to replace Steven Gerrard. It is why a release clause is a poisoned chalice for the club but it is also why they must do everything to make him sign that extension as soon as possible.
Emre Can’s release clause can only increase, and for a player who wants to stay, it is imperative that the club and the player reach a considerable position. At least it’s not the last extension the club would give him.