x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Difficult challenges lie ahead for Nuri Sahin at Liverpool

The on-loan midfielder faces a fight to get back into the Anfield side's first team despite his impressive pedigree.

Liverpool's midfielder Nuri Sahin (R) vies for the ball with Young Boys' defender Elsad Zverotic during the Europa League group A football match between Young Boys and Liverpool on September 20, 2012 in Bern. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI
Liverpool's midfielder Nuri Sahin (R) vies for the ball with Young Boys' defender Elsad Zverotic during the Europa League group A football match between Young Boys and Liverpool on September 20, 2012 in Bern. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI

The Ruhr valley is Germany's industrial heartland and its biggest club has become a football factory, either producing or polishing the finest talents in the Bundesliga.

Borussia Dortmund topped a Uefa Champions League group comprised entirely of champions with players such as Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski burnishing already impressive reputations. A profitable club is progressing after selling Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United in the summer.

But rewind a couple of years and Nuri Sahin was the brightest star in the Dortmund firmament. He was voted the Bundesliga's best player in the 2010/11 season, when Jurgen Klopp's team won the first of back-to-back titles. Now the Liverpool loanee has been rather overshadowed by his former colleagues.

Having lost his place in Brendan Rodgers's Premier League XI, tonight's Europa League game against Udinese assumes great importance.

However, he was Dortmund's original prodigy. In August 2005, the 16-year-old midfielder became the youngest player to appear in Germany's top division; three months later, at 17, he was its youngest scorer. He debuted for Turkey the same year; having turned down the chance to play for Germany, he faced them on his Turkey bow and scored three minutes after his introduction.

It was a swift rise. "At 15 I still had to work on my body, then I made a great leap and was able to experience a lot, very young," Sahin said.

The son of Turkish parents in the German town of Ludenscheid, he was spotted by Dortmund when 12 and progressed rapidly. In 2007, he was named the Player of the Tournament in the European Under 17 Championship and then picked up the bronze ball, as its third best, in its global counterpart.

And then, surprisingly, he was allowed to leave Dortmund, albeit on loan. Sahin spent the 2007/08 season with Feyenoord and won the Dutch Cup.

Dortmund floundered in his absence, finishing 13th. They appointed a new manager, Klopp, and he made Sahin central to his side.

When Dortmund won the Bundesliga, the goal-scoring, creative midfielder was plucked from their midst. Plenty were interested, but Real Madrid secured his signature for €10 million (Dh47.9m).

"When [Jose] Mourinho said to me he wanted to see me in his team, that was enough," Sahin told Bild.

Others, he suggested, had offered him more money but the young Turk was unafraid of pitting himself against Real's midfielders.

"I could have made it easy for myself and stayed in Borussia," he said. "But I didn't want to make a decision that would be comfortable."

Madrid, however, proved uncomfortable. After signing a six-year contract, a knee injury delayed his debut. When fit, he rarely featured. He only made four appearances, totalling 126 minutes, as Real regained the Primera Liga title.

"I want to play football so I spoke to Real Madrid and told them I wanted to go out on loan," Sahin said.

Mourinho recommended the Premier League - "he told me English football is the best to enjoy as a footballer" - and it boiled down to a choice between Arsenal and Liverpool. There was an eloquent advocate of life in Liverpool within the Madrid dressing room. "Xabi Alonso is still in love with Liverpool," Sahin said. "He was saying: 'Go there, you will love it.'"

It helped, too, that Rodgers's ethos suits him. "I'm not the kind of player who can play in a long-ball side," he said.

There are two roles he can fill in a Rodgers team. "I have played my whole career deeper and that's my position," said Sahin. "But I have also played as a No 10 here. If I could choose a position it would be holding midfielder."

Nevertheless, it was while showing his attacking instincts that the high point of his Liverpool career came, Sahin scoring twice in September's Capital One Cup win at West Bromwich Albion. Other matches have provided more of a culture shock.

"I have never played in games such as the ones against Stoke and Everton before," he conceded.

His first Merseyside derby in October ended at half time when Sahin was taken off, the pace of the game seemingly too much for him.

He has had only two subsequent league starts and now a man fluent in five tongues (Turkish, German, Dutch, Spanish and English) has to learn the language of the Premier League, with its aggression and abrasiveness, if he is to win a place in Rodgers's side.

And then the next challenge for the much-travelled, multilingual midfielder is to make his mark back in Madrid.

 

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