Emre Can is the ultimate all-rounder. Currently established as a regular in Liverpool’s midfield under Jürgen Klopp, the 23-year-old has drawn interest from most of Europe’s top names thanks to his versatility and ability with the ball, both features of his Bundesliga education.
The Frankfurt-born player is every coach’s dream. Aside from his impeccable work ethic, fine technical skills and an enviable height of 6 ft, Can brings to the table an understanding of the game that few players at his level share: throughout his meteoric career, the 20-time Germany international has played in almost every outfield position.
While his sturdy physique offers him a defensive edge that most of his coaches have utilised for several stints at the back, Can has proven time and again that his well-timed runs and finishing from just outside the box are too large a threat to leave unused in defence.
The Bayern Way
Can was always destined for a career in professional football and in 2006, at the age of 12, he was chosen for Eintracht Frankfurt’s youth academy. Three years later, Bayern Munich came calling, signing the youngster to their own development scheme, where Can would spend the next couple of years preparing to make his full professional debut.
After spending a season in the Regionalliga with Bayern's reserves, Can made his full first-team debut for the Bavarian giants in the 2012 Supercup, playing 70 minutes in a 2-1 victory against Borussia Dortmund. He would feature again for Bayern twice in the DFB Cup and four times in the Bundesliga towards the end of the 2012/13 season.
In the summer of 2013, Can found himself at a crossroads. Although he was technically a 19-year-old treble winner after Jupp Heynckes had led the Bavarians to Bundesliga, DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League glory, the competition for a regular spot in midfield was intense, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luiz Gustavo and Javi Martinez all above him in the pecking order.
The Leverkusen runoff
Pep Guardiola took command of the Bavarian giants that summer and Can completed the full pre-season with the squad, but just days before the start of the Bundesliga Bayer Leverkusen offered him an opportunity to shine as a key figure both domestically and in Europe. He jumped at the chance.
Watch: From the archive: Emre Can discusses his feelings before facing Bayern Munich with Bayer Leverkusen in 2014
The 2013/14 season started off slowly for the midfielder. He was not a shoo-in for the starting XI and had to earn his big break, serving a long stint at left-back midway through the season only to return to his preferred role in central midfield towards the end. He managed three goals and three assists in the Bundesliga in his time at the BayArena, but more importantly, he had caught the eye with his immense potential.
Although Bayern had an option in his contract to bring him back, English giants Liverpool entered the fray and triggered his release clause in the summer of 2014.
After his arrival at Anfield, Can was used across the defence by coach Brendan Rodgers for most of the 2014/15 season. The Northern Irishman soon paid the price for a rocky start to the 2015/16 campaign, though, and Liverpool brought in a face familiar to Can from his Bundesliga days: Jürgen Klopp. Under the iconic coach, Can returned (once again) to his favoured position in the spine of the team.
Can's explosion as a name to remember among the very elite came in the 2016/17 season, when he finally enjoyed some positional stability. Save for a couple of minor injuries, Can’s season went just as he would have planned it: there were no experiments with his on-field position and no doubts as to his value in Klopp's system.
The personal highlight was no doubt a wonder goal against Watford in early May, his acrobatic bicycle kick from Lucas Leiva's lobbed assist named the official Premier League Goal of the Season.
“He is a good boy and a good player,” said an amazed Klopp after the match. “People wondered what was wrong with him, but we needed him in these moments. Sometimes he wasn't as good as he could have been, but now those problems are sorted. He is physically strong and he can build on these performances. And he can score goals like this!”
This season, Can has already proven his worth to Liverpool on more than one occasion, and was particularly instrumental in the Reds' win against Hoffenheim in August's Champions League qualifying play-off, scoring twice in the second leg.
An ace up Jogi’s sleeve
Although his heritage would have made him eligible to play at international level for Turkey, Can chose to represent his country of birth after turning out for Germany at every level from U15 upwards. In August 2015, he finally got the call from national coach Joachim Löw to represent Die Mannschaft, making his international debut at right-back in a 3-1 win against Poland.
His international career mirrored the start to his club career, Can being used as a jack-of-all-trades and switching between both full-back roles and central midfield during the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifiers.
After that tournament, during which he only featured in the semi-finals against hosts France, he returned to the international fold in 2017, turning out regularly during the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and Germany's successful Confederations Cup campaign. His ticket to Russia 2018 seems booked, rightfully so.