Liverpool’s ability to get their business done early must be commended given the recent stasis that has characterised the last two windows for the club. Where Rickie Lambert may have puzzled, the signing of Emre Can excites. At 20-years-old and coming to Meseyside for £10m, Can could yet prove to be one of the better signings of the summer.
As another young, talented central midfielder moves elsewhere, Manchester United fans must wonder when their club will sign the kind of player that they’ve desperately needed for several seasons. Assuming United were aware of the player’s release clause as Liverpool were, it’s important to ask whether the club have made a mistake by not moving for Can.
The two weakest areas of the Manchester United team are in central midfield and left-back. Emre Can is a central midfielder who can also play at left-back. The player’s proficiency in the two positions in which United are weakest would suggest Can could have been at the very least a useful acquisition for the club.
But whether the player would be the right buy for the club in either position is debatable. Can was asked to moonlight at left-back for Leverkusen last season and ended up playing more there than in his preferred centre-midfield position. But Can also tended to perform better at left-back, where his inexperience was less exposed, and where his direct style complements.
However, Can’s future is seen to be in central midfield. This means the player would only really provide a short-term solution to Manchester United’s problems in this position. They could conceivably convert him into a left-back, but the club already seem set on bringing in Luke Shaw.
The fact that a lot the talk about Can is in the future tense also tells you he would be unlikely to solve Manchester United’s central midfield issues in the short-term. However, the player has the attributes to become the man who could.
Can can perform so well at left-back despite being trained as a central midfielder because he is such an all-round footballer. The German under-21 international is a technically gifted player, being comfortable with the ball at either feet. His ability in the air is a defensive advantage for any team, as is his reading of the game.
Perhaps Can’s biggest selling point is his confidence. The new Liverpool man does not hide on the ball and isn’t afraid to take opponents on. Can rarely plays the kind of short, horizontal passing that has become increasingly common part of midfield play, preferring to pass the ball further in order to stretch the play.
With these attributes, it’s easy to imagine Rodgers enjoying working with the player, and improving Can as he has done with Liverpool’s other youngsters. However, such luxuries of time are not open to Manchester United.
Van Gaal will be expected to immediately improve Manchester United and the easiest way to do that would be to bring in an experienced midfielder operator. Can is still raw in many ways – such as his tendency to dive into tackles and to attempt to dribble past opponents near his own penalty area – and he’s unlikely to offer the significant improvement that is required in the short-term. Essentially, the club’s problems in central midfield have gone on long enough, and the time has past for buying a young player and nurturing them in the position.
Manchester United need proven quality and Can still represents a gamble for all his potential. Liverpool have got a player whose capable of being central to their play for a decade or more but United can’t afford to wait on a midfielder who has played more at left-back.