Upon news in the summer that Nuri Sahin would be moving to Liverpool on a season-long loan, I began to foam at the mouth. Although I hadn’t witnessed much of the Turkish international first hand, rare glimpses of his abilities had come my way during his time at Borussia Dortmund, and furthermore, his reputation of being an exceptional passer and a dead-ball specialist precedes him.
Similarly, with the Real Madrid man set to join Liverpool, a team that are all-in-all on the decline and lacking in true star quality, excluding Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, I was most likely not the only one who expected Sahin to excel upon becoming a big fish in a slightly smaller pond compared to the situation at the Bernabeu.
But six months down the line, and it appeared something had gone horribly wrong. Sahin was sent packing, most likely to relieve pressure on the bursting wage bill at Anfield and free up some funds for new signings Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho. In his time on Merseyside, the midfielder ended up making just 12 appearances for the Reds, seven of them coming in the Premier League, with his most successful outing being his brace against West Brom in the League Cup.
Of course, sometimes, transfers quite simply just don’t work out. It can be due to a whole host of factors; the style of play, a lack of time to adapt, the coaches, the manager, injuries, the other players or even a simple twist of fate getting in the way. I remember a particularly woeful performance against Everton in the first Merseyside derby of the season, in which Sahin was hauled off at half time with a rather dismal statistic of a 52% pass completion rate to his name. It was clear that something wasn’t right; the midfield maestro was yet to firmly settle at Anfield, and perhaps was not a player who could naturally acclimatise to the English game.
Yet my football sense was tingling. It seemed unusual that a former Bundesliga title winner, whom finished up with six goals and eight assists in his last season with Borussia Dortmund, would appear to be such a spent force whilst in a Liverpool jersey. Upon his departure from England, Sahin had his own explanation for his lack of form; “Brendan Rodgers wanted me to play as a 10 but I do not play behind the forwards. I spoke with him and asked him why I was playing there. It is not my real position. The boss could not answer me… still, I am not sorry about it. To play in the red jersey and be in Anfield is something marvellous. Maybe if I had not gone there I would not have been able to return to Borussia Dortmund. For that, I am happy. But I have left Brendan Rodgers, thanks be to God.”
I find the final sentence rather ridiculous, and more than anything it seemed that Sahin was passing the buck for his below par performances onto his adoptive manager. But it does raise an interesting point, especially considering upon the Turkish international’s return to Borussia Dortmund, to complete his season-long exile from the Bernabeu, he scored twice and provided an assist in his second starting appearance for his old club.
So, was his uninspiring tenure in England simply due to Brendan Rodgers being unable to get the best out of him, and will it be looked back upon as an opportunity missed in years to come?
I have little doubt it remained a factor. The capture of Sahin at the time appeared a transfer coup and whether it was the Liverpool gaffer’s decision or not wasn’t really an issue considering his pedigree. But considering the make-up of the Anfield squad, Rodgers found it difficult to find room for the Turk. It’s no secret that he favours youth prospects, and indeed, I am certainly not criticising his philosophy of giving younger players first-team experience as a means of turning around Liverpool’s fortunes in the long run. But in the process of giving Jordan Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey, and new signing Joe Allen, opportunities in the starting XI, the Northern Irishman essentially overlooked his second-most talented midfielder after Steven Gerrard. Perhaps this is why Rodgers suggested the attacking midfield role to Sahin, however the decision clearly didn’t sit well with the Dortmund loanee. Also, with dead balls being one of his biggest assets, one strength of his game was taken away by Steven Gerrard, who has a monopoly over set pieces at Liverpool.
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Similarly, I don’t wish to have a dig at Rodgers, as I think, all things considered, he has done a great job of getting the Anfield house in order, but in the grand scheme of things he is still relatively inexperienced and this is his first season managing top class players. Whilst he is clearly gifted in getting the best out of youngsters and bringing them through, encouraging, motivating and interacting with an already accomplished elite player, who on top of that is a new arrival on Merseyside, is an entirely different task. Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez may also fill much of that criteria, but unlike Sahin are firmly settled at the club, and their devotion, allegiance and determination has never needed to be questioned.
But I believe simply blaming Rodgers, or condemning him in the manner in which Sahin has done upon his departure is rather short-sighted. The 24 year old struggled with injury upon moving to Real Madrid, and as Jose Mourinho favoured to sticking with the players he knows best last season as a means of prioritising security over risk throughout the La Liga title race, Nuri Sahin failed to get going, making just 10 appearances in total for his parent club. Of course, it should not have diminished his natural quality, but it would be safe to say the midfielder had to shake off some ring-rust whilst at Liverpool, which is perhaps why he never played a full 90 minutes under Brendan Rodgers.
Furthermore, although managers clearly have an impact on the performance of every player, a lot of the responsibility for Sahin’s performances has to be down to him. His poor showing against Everton was unacceptable, and similarly, you’d expect more than eight chances created in seven league appearances and an average of just one shot per game from the talented midfielder.
I believe in the years to come, Sahin’s short tenure at Liverpool will be looked back upon as an opportunity missed. Although I see little point in playing the blame game, and the 24 year old’s negative comments lacked class, Brendan Rodgers certainly failed to take advantage of having such a high pedigree player at his disposal, during what was a difficult teething period for the Anfield club at the start of the season.
But that’s football; sometimes it just doesn’t work out. The Northern Irishman had a lot of priorities to balance out and consider, and perhaps in the long-run, choosing his young bucks, whom will no doubt be a part of the club’s future, over a temporary player, will prove to be the right decision.
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