Farewell Nuri Sahin - Is the Borussia fairy tale over?
The curse of success came earlier than expected. Real Madrid ripped the brain out of the team of championship winning young-guns by signing Nuri Sahin. Though it is no surprise that the Borussia performances throughout this fantastic season caught the attention of the big players in international football, it was widely expected in and around Dortmund that the core of this team would stay together at least to play the next Champions League season. But with Nuri Sahin not only the pacemaker of our midfield leaves Dortmund but also a local boy and homegrown talent cherished as a “Dortmunder Jung” by the BVB supporters. How did the fans react to that? Is the move at this moment a wise decision by the young Turk? How will Borussia fill the gap Sahin leaves behind? We try to answer some of those questions.
A bad surprise
There seemed to be a special spirit in this squad that could overcome the laws of professional football. Mats Hummels turned down a well-doted offer from his home club, the German record champions Bayern Munich to extend his contract at Borussia. Marcel Schmelzer's agent seemed to be puzzled by his client ordering him to ignore the interest of any other club and solely focus on a renewed contract with BVB. Borussia fan boy and midfield marathon man Kevin Großkreutz even announced that the team had promised each other to stay together. The time to wake up from this fairy tale came even before the season of a lifetime is finished.
The call of Real Madrid was too tempting for Nuri Sahin to resist. He saw the occasion to pursue the “world career” he dreamed about as a child at the Spanish giants. And even as a die-hard Borussia supporter one could realize that Real Madrid is one of the biggest clubs in the world of football and its reputation can't be matched even by the mighty Ballspielverein. So even though it hurts like hell to see this hugely gifted player leave, one can understand his motivation for the move. It is believable when Sahin states that money was not the biggest factor in his decision against Borussia. Nuri said that “whatever happens throughout my career, at the end of it I will have earned enough money to live a comfortable life.” And that would surely be just as true had he stayed in Dortmund as Borussia was willing to pay millions just to erase the buy-out clause from his contract and was offering him the highest wage of the squad. But besides the myth of the name Real Madrid it was the perspective to play with the biggest names in world football on the highest level club football has to offer that Sahin could not resist.
The disappointed supporters
It is not the move itself that many BVB fans hold against Sahin but the statements he made in recent years and especially throughout this season. Sahin, a player that emerged from our youth teams to start his Bundesliga career at 16 and went on to become the spiritus rector of the squad that played the best season remembered in Dortmund, has always emphasized his strong bond with the club. He stated that his biggest dream was to play the Champions League with Borussia some day and now he leaves just when we have reached it for the first time in his professional career.
Rumours about Sahin leaving started in fall last year when it became obvious that Sahin was the best player in Bundesliga this season. First there were reports about interest from Bayern Munich, which most fans took for the usual Buyern tactic to create disturbance at a competitor by signalling interest in their best player. But since then the press reports about a buy-out clause in Sahin’s contract would not stop. Sahin denied that such a clause would exist but always in a way that left a small back door open. He would never say something like “there is no such clause in my contract” but would rather state “your informations are incorrect” when asked about this.
When Real’s interest was reported some weeks ago, it became more and more obvious that it was only Sahin’s decision if he would leave and the club did not have any means to stop him. And then Sahin made the statement that made some BVB fans call him a traitor or soldier of fortune. When asked about a Madrid move, he answered “the fans know my character” which was turned into “the fans know how I will decide” by most of the German media. From that statement on it was widely believed, that Sahin had decided to stay at Borussia. At yesterday’s press conference Sahin made it clear once more, that he was quoted incorrectly, but still many call him a liar.
Everybody around BVB should be sad to see such a great player go, but one should not take his disappointment too far and condemn a player that has served the club well and was seen by many as the real skip and leader of this great championship winning team. But these reactions were to be expected, because when deep feelings are concerned, love is more likely to turn into hate than into indifference. Let’s hope that Sahin gets the farewell he deserves for his many great performances and even more important that the disappointment about his move does not cast a shadow over the celebration of what many see as the best season this club has ever played.
A different perspective
It should not be forgotten that there is another side to the story as well. Supporters demand that players are totally faithful to the club just like a proper fan, that has real love for only one club throughout his life. But it is easily overseen that clubs are also not that faithful towards their players and try to get rid of them in ugly ways if they don’t meet the expectations. And Nuri Sahin’s story at Borussia would not be complete if it was not mentioned that the club tried to send him away twice.
Sahin’s career skyrocketed at first, when he became the youngest player in Bundesliga history and the history of the Turkish international squad and also the youngest to score in Bundesliga and in a Turkish international match at only 16. He was sponsored by then BVB coach Bert van Marwijk and became a regular starter at BVB. Arsène Wenger rated him as Europe’s biggest talent at the time. But when Thomas Doll took over at Borussia all that was soon forgotten. Doll relied on older, more experienced players and had no use for Sahin so much against his own will Sahin was lent out to Feyenoord Rotterdam, where his old mentor van Marwijk continued to polish the rough diamond. When Sahin returned a year later, new BVB coach Klopp agreed to sell him because he thought Sahin was too slow for the high pace football he prefers. But this time Sahin refused to leave and obviously that was the best decision both for him and the club. Even Jürgen Klopp would admit that later when he realized Sahin’s enormous qualities.
This background should best be kept in mind before one misjudges Sahin’s character.
From team leader back to talent
But still one has to wonder if this is a smart move at this time. Real Madrid is known to buy lots of talented players if they are available at a comparably low price. Most of these players not rated as international superstars leave the club again after one or two years in which they have hardly ever played. And Nuri Sahin looks very much like one of those shot-in-the-dark-transfers seen from a Real Madrid perspective. The price tag of €10m+X (X being later payments depending on Sahin’s future success) was negligible, the player is an upcoming star in an upcoming league but has not reached superstar status yet. If he succeeds at Madrid, great, if not, he can still be sold at a profit considering his 6-year contract.
Real Madrid have Xabi Alonso playing on Sahin’s preferred position and also players like German international Sami Khedira or French international Lassana Diarra crowd their defensive midfield. So it will be a tough task to conquer a spot in the starting line-up and Sahin is not likely to start the race from pole position. Khedira is also a good example for Real’s transfer politics. He went there for €14m after playing a great world cup in 2010 and much to everybody’s surprise he became a regular starter. But still there are reports about Real wanting to sell him in summer.
Sahin stated that he goes to Madrid with a lot of confidence and that he is convinced to assert himself. Maybe he had the story of his friend Mesut Özil in mind, who went to Madrid and became a crowd favourite there. But Özil’s flashy offensive game might fit the desires of the regular Real Madrid fan much more than Sahin’s ability to organise the game from back midfield.
At Dortmund Sahin was the unchallenged leader of our midfield and, as said before, the brain and pacemaker of Borussia’s game. He was the go-to-guy that everybody tried to pass the ball to and at his young age he was one of the team leaders and alongside Mats Hummels something like the secret skip of the team.
He has led this team to the championship and could have easily become one of the club legends hailed from generation to generation had he stayed for a few more years. He was a cornerstone of the sexiest project the Bundesliga has seen in years. All of this and his alleged dream to play Champions League with Borussia he gave up for the opportunity to make it in one of the biggest clubs in international football. Since I bear no grudges against Sahin, as sad as I am to see him go, I wish him the best of luck to make it, but I still have my doubts. Hopefully his dream of a world career won’t turn into a nightmare at Madrid.
Coping with the loss
How will Borussia deal with the gap the size of a bomb crater which Sahin leaves behind in our midfield? It became very obvious that the current squad contains no real replacement for Sahin in the recent matches he missed injured. Toni da Silva is a technically gifted player but he does not have Sahin’s playmaker qualities and with all the young-guns around him the old man looks like he is moving in slow motion. Skip Sebastian Kehl is more often injured than fit and his qualities lie more in his defensive skills. For sure he can’t play 50 metre passes with Sahin’s accuracy. And high flyer Sven “the offender” Bender might drive opposite players to tears by constantly stealing the ball from them and was perfect to clean up behind and alongside Sahin but he is clearly not able to set the pace of our game and initiate most of the attacks. Mario Götze has incredible qualities but his position is further up front on the wing or in central offensive midfield.
But even before the Sahin move was finalised Borussia had already bought somebody close to a Sahin clone: Ilkay Gündogan, also with Turkish roots but with the intention to play for “ze Mannschaft” one day, is even two years younger than Sahin and he played an impressive season at Nuremberg. He was the playmaker of the team that unexpectedly sniffed around the Europa League qualifications for most of the season and it is surely no coincidence that the international ambitions of the “Glubb” received a huge blow when he suffered a contusion of his midfoot. Still he managed to score 5 goals and deliver 3 assists throughout his second Bundesliga season. Of course Gündogan is not as established in the league as Sahin but he is rated among the biggest talents so he should fit quite well into the BVB squad of super young guns. It would be too much though to expect Gündogan to fill Sahin’s footsteps at once. Jürgen Klopp has already announced that his tactical approach might change a little, now that he has to sport a team without Sahin. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with for next season.
Ivan Perisic might be another interesting addition to the BVB squad. Even before the Sahin transfer was announced, the interest of BVB in the 22-year old Croatian international was repeatedly reported. Perisic plays a more offensive midfield role at Belgian club Brügge and is with 16 goals and 8 assists among the top scorers of the league. Rated at about €5m Perisic should have fitted into the original transfer budget but the Sahin millions should help to finalize that transfer.
But now that Sahin leaves even more players could be bought for next season. And it should also not be forgotten that homegrown talent Julian Koch (20) who is able to play in defensive midfield as well as on the right wing will come back from Duisburg (he will be out injured until 2012 though) and with Moritz Leitner (18) another big offensive midfield talent will join Borussia next season. So the next young guns already paw the ground on the starting line and there is no reason to be worried for the future of BVB even though one of the cornerstones of our beloved team has been quarried out.
Players come and go but the mighty Ballspielverein Borussia of Dortmund is marching on an on since 1909 and will always remain.