Borussia Dortmund: Emre Can and the long road to becoming a leader

Status: 11:34 a.m. | Reading time: 4 minutes

National player from BVB: Emre Can (29)

Source: dpa/Tom Weller

After the resignation of Marco Reus as captain, a new hierarchy is to be created at BVB. A professional who took a long time to convince in Dortmund has a good chance of leading the team onto the field next season.

The new appreciation that Emre Can is currently experiencing comes at a good time for both him and BVB. “He makes a very good impression,” said Edin Terzic of the defensive midfielder, whose contract expires at the end of next season. For the Borussia Dortmund coach, the 29-year-old is one of the winners in calendar year 2023.

“In the past few months, Emre has played an important role not only with us, but also in the national team. We will measure him by that. That’s exactly what we had in mind when we signed him,” Terzic explained on the sidelines of Dortmund’s friendly at Rot-Weiss Oberhausen (3-2).

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However, the trainer’s praise also implies that BVB had waited a long time for Emre Can to be in the same condition as in the second half of the season. In January 2020, Dortmund signed him from Juventus Turin for 25 million euros. It was one of those transfers that the club management, but not necessarily the coach, was convinced of – which has happened a few times at BVB in recent years. Managing Director Hans-Joachim Watzke and his personal adviser Matthias Sammer saw Can as the urgently needed aggressive leader – the then coach Lucien Favre was rather skeptical.

Can was even considered a candidate for sale

This may be one of the reasons why Can had to first find his role on the team. Sometimes he was used in defensive midfield, where he feels most comfortable, sometimes in central defence, sometimes even in a full-back position. For a long time he felt more like a stopgap than a leader.

Even after Favre’s departure in December 2020, things didn’t automatically get better – although with Terzic, who followed Favre as interim coach in the 2020/21 season, Can finally had a trainer who was convinced of him. The same was true for Marco Rose the following year.

Can moved from Juventus Turin to BVB in 2019

Source: dpa/Tom Weller

Nevertheless, Can was still missing something that he absolutely needed to hold the team together and to lead the team from the position in the central defensive midfield: consistency in his performances. This also meant that he lost his regular place again at the beginning of last season. At that time he was even considered a candidate for sale.

Special training and a change in diet as a success factor

Only in the second half of the season did the experienced professional, who had played for Liverpool FC four years before his time at Juventus, manage to break free on his own behalf. In the 19 Bundesliga games in 2023, he made it into the starting XI 17 times – and played through each time. He did a lot of running and became Dortmund’s strongest duel. He became a model professional – also because he worked extra shifts in training and changed his diet. He also improved his style of play. Can played more straightforwardly and consistently held his position in front of the defensive line in Terzic’s preferred 4-1-4-1 system. This gave the team stability.

At the same time, his status in the squad grew. “His voice in the dressing room became more and more important,” said Terzic: “Now it’s about staying on the right path.” In any case, Can is “a very important contact person” for him, according to the coach.

Can has become a leading player under Edin Terzic (right).

Credit: pa/Dennis Ewert/RHR PHOTO

It is quite possible that the club will soon take this into account. Because BVB needs a new captain. Marco Reus, who held this office for five years, resigned as captain – although he has extended his expiring contract by another year. But the 34-year-old attacking player, who was never particularly keen on leading the way, intends to focus on his own performances in the future. The rather introverted Reus had never bothered to step in front of the cameras and explain them, especially after defeats.

Reus remains on the team council

“Marco was very clear with this decision. I find him to be very committed and fit. For him, it wasn’t just about adding a year, he has big plans for the season. What was possible for BVB last season motivates him again,” said BVB sports director Sebastian Kehl to Sportbild. It is envisaged that Reus will remain on the team council.

“Süle did a lot more than everyone else,” praises Kehl

According to Sebastian Kehl, Niklas Süle is working harder than ever after criticism from national coach Hansi Flick. Süle will show a reaction to be nominated for the DFB team again soon, according to the Dortmund sports director.

It is still unclear who will lead the team onto the field in the future. Candidates are central defender Niklas Süle (27), goalkeeper Gregor Kobel (25) – and above all Emre Can.

So it could be a special year for Can. Because his increased status could soon lead to a contract extension. Initial talks between BVB and Can’s advisor Reza Fazeli have already taken place.


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