With all the money that has poured in to the game over the past decade, mega-rich Europe clubs have developed the propensity to spend lavishly, often on players they don’t particularly need – and Real Madrid are the prime example. Whilst they may be one of the richest clubs in the world, such a reckless transfer policy often leads to other clubs taking advantage of the situation further down the line, signing their once expensive ‘castoffs’ for a cut-price, leeching off Los Merengues’ opulent teat like a young calf: Spurs did it with Rafael Van Der Vaart; Inter with Wesley Sneijder; and Liverpool, it appeared, had done it with Nuri Sahin.
For The Reds, the Nuri Sahin transfer represented something more than just a quality signing; it showed that whilst they have faltered over recent years, Liverpool are still an appealing club to join, even for top calibre player. Sahin turned down a move to Arsenal, who could offer Premier League and Champions League football, but in the end he completed a move to Anfield instead. You can question the conditions of the loan deal, but if the player really wanted to move to North London instead of Merseyside he’d have ended up there. Thankfully a mixture of Xabi Alonso’s glowing recommendation and Brendan Rodgers’ relationship with José Mourinho was enough to convince the player to join.
Last season was the toughest of Sahin’s career to date. The reigning Bundesliga player of the year joined Real Madrid from Borussia Dortmund for €10m – a bargain considering the form he showed for Dortmund, all thanks to a clause in his contract and his refusal to sign a new deal at the Westfalenstadion. Things didn’t quite work out as planned, though, and a mixture of injury problems and fierce competition for places limited Sahin to just 10 appearances over the course of the campaign; his development had been halted and he found himself in footballing limbo. Not quite what the best midfielder in Germany had envisaged when he left for Spain.
Madrid, however, knew that they had a talented player on their hands, and that he needed a season of regular football to regain his form and fitness. A loan move was best for the club and player, and upon arrival at Anfield it appeared that his signing would give the Liverpool midfield – the most important area of the side for a team whose philosophy relies on domination of possession - an injection of genuine quality and help provide that extra dimension they would need to challenge for a Champions League spot.. Then maybe, just maybe, if all went well, The Reds may even have had a shot at signing him permanently next summer.
As with most things connected with Liverpool, however, things have not worked out as planned. As the January transfer window opened the only reports surrounding Sahin are suggesting that his loan deal will be cut short to save money on the wage bill, which is a bizarre turn of events given the efforts the club made to complete the deal in the summer. He’s on £90k per week, so The Reds will save around £2m if they can agree to cancel the deal, but it’s extremely disappointing that a player of Sahin’s calibre has failed to have the impact many people expected in a red shirt. How much blame to apportion to the club or player for his failings, however, is up for debate.
Why, after just 12 starts, are Liverpool willing to cut their (minimal) losses and call it quits with one of the most talented midfielders in Europe? His form was up-and-down, but when played in his natural position he showed glimpses of his ability, scoring and creating a couple of goals, which is the sort of production The Reds have sorely lacked from midfield. Having not played much football over the past year, and with the change of pace from La Liga to the Premier League it was always going to take time for him to adapt, but Rodgers would have surely known this? Granted, in a few of the games he was ineffective and was subbed off, but he was deployed as an advanced midfielder - a role that does not play to his strengths.
He looked extremely sluggish and defensively vulnerable at times, but then with Lucas Leiva sidelined by injuries the entire midfield often looked penetrable and failed to control games in the manner that Rodgers would’ve wanted, so to just castigate Sahin is harsh. But after breaking his nose 11 minutes in to Liverpool’s penultimate Europa League game against Udinese, the Turkish midfielder has not registered a single appearance - even over the hectic festive schedule, and wasn't even in the squad that faced non-league Mansfield in the FA Cup – so to say he’s fallen out of favour is putting it lightly. This was not what either party had in mind when the deal was completed.
If he's fit and on form, then Nuri Sahin is arguably the best midfielder at Liverpool; it is such potential that surely made the club fight so hard for his signature. The reports in Germany (as Sahin was linked with a return to Dortmund) suggest that Rodgers lied to Sahin about his potential role in the side, and that Steven Gerrard wanted to play a deeper role. It's hard to prove such claims are true or untrue, but it's unlikely he would've signed if he wasn't guaranteed regular first-team football and that he'd be an integral part of the side; if he wanted to sit on the bench and collect his wages he could've stayed in Madrid.
The Javier Mascherano at West Ham comparison is apt in some ways. Here is a supremely talented midfielder wasted on the bench, who will no doubt move somewhere else and show his obvious class, whilst the inferior players at the club continue to get game time. Brendan Rodgers has done many positive things as Liverpool manager, particularly his ability to improve underperforming players and help them rediscover their form. So that he has failed to do that with Sahin is a shame, as his creativity in midfield would allow Gerrard to link up with Suarez and Sturridge, and could help provide the spark that fires Liverpool back in to the Champions League. Hopefully Rodgers realises this before it's too late.