Nuri Şahin's loan is finally officially announced, contingent upon a medical later today.
I can't help but ask, "Why?"
It's not as if Liverpool lack for central midfielders. Sure, Adam and Spearing did not look good on Thursday, and one or both may find their way out of Anfield. Shelvey also showed signs of youth and immaturity, signs we've seen before despite his obvious potential. But that still leaves Gerrard, Lucas, Allen, and Henderson.
It's a one-year loan with no option to buy at the end of the season. No matter how well he plays for Liverpool, how well he adapts, or how important he becomes, he goes back to Real Madrid in June. At best, it seems a short-term solution, a roll of the dice that Şahin will help Liverpool be better this year, be better immediately.
Rumor has it Liverpool were willing to pay more of Şahin's wages, 70% of his weekly €150,000, which would be around £84,000/week. That'd make him the highest-paid Rodgers acquisition, and one of the top earners at the club, behind Gerrard, Carragher, Cole, Suarez, and maybe Johnson, Carroll, Skrtel, and Reina. That's also fairly large chunk of the wage budget when Liverpool supposedly have to sell before making any more transfer purchases.
So let's assume that weekly wage is correct. Let's also assume the season-long loan means Liverpool will have him on loan until the end of May, 40 weeks from now. That's £3.36m Liverpool will pay for Şahin's one season, in addition to any potential loan fee; Arsenal fans wrote of a possible £2m fee, which would bump the total spent to £5.36m. You're telling me that £5.36m couldn't be better spent to improve Liverpool as a whole? To improve Liverpool for more than just one season?
Well, maybe not. The simple answer to "why" is probably just "it's Nuri Şahin." If you have a chance to add a player of that quality, even if only for a season, even if in a position where Liverpool are relatively set, you take that chance.
The midfield is the key to Rodgers' side, to Rodgers' style. We saw that demonstrated yesterday, painfully, as the Shelvey-Adam-Spearing trio fumbled and erred and was pretty much positionally inept until Joe Allen replaced Spearing. Nuri Şahin's statistics, discounting the last season with Real Madrid, show a player who could add something to almost any midfield in the world.
Last season's do little good; he only made eight appearances for Real Madrid: four starts in the Champions League, two starts and two substitute appearances in La Liga. An injury early in preseason prevented him from appearing until November. By then, Alonso, Khedira, Diarra, and Granero were ahead of him in the midfield order. Worryingly, he only lasted 45 minutes in both of his La Liga starts, hauled off at halftime against Gijon and Granada as Madrid struggled, only to see his team make the comeback once he was pulled off. He played well in the Champions League, but those matches were all romps over the likes of Dinamo Zagreb, Ajax, and APOEL. It's not surprising that Madrid want to loan him out, but that they'd only consider a loan demonstrates they haven't given up on Şahin quite yet.
Şahin's statistics from his last season at Borussia Dortmund certainly help explain why Liverpool are so willing to do this deal.
Six goals, eight assists in 30 starts. Only five players started more league matches: Schmelzer, Weidenfeller, Großkreutz, Hummels, and Subotic. Only four players scored more goals: Barrios, Großkreutz, Lewandoski, and Kagawa. Only Götze made more assists, with 11. Only Sven Bender made more tackles-per-match, with 4.8 to Şahin's 3.7. Only Bender and Hummels made more interceptions, 3.3 and 2.9 to Şahin's 2.3. He averaged 59.3 passes per match, 10 more than the next closest Dortmund player. He averaged 3.5 chances created per match; Götze was second with 2.5. He averaged the most accurate crosses-per-game, the fourth most shots per game, and drew the most fouls per game. Şahin completed the 4th-most accurate through balls per match in the Bundesliga in 2010-11, behind Diego, Podolski, and Holtby, with 0.3 per match (8 out of 22 for the season). Comparatively, Joe Allen completed 0.1 last season: eight attempted, three successful. Lucas completed 0.2 in 2010-11: 14 attempted, five successful. Only Charlie Adam completed more – 0.4 per match, 16 attempted, 11 successful – while only Suarez attempted more: 24 attempted, 10 successful.
Both kicker Magazine and the German Players' Union named Şahin the Bundesliga player of the season in 2010-11, as did the Guardian's Rafael Honigstein, who also raved about the player for Sports Illustrated prior to his move to Madrid. His statistics from 2009-10 were similarly impressive, with four goals and seven assists, but again top or near the top in tackles, interceptions, key passes, total passes, and appearances.
Şahin is still only 23, turning 24 next month, hardly older than Henderson or Allen, but with seven years of first-team football on his résumé. He is still the youngest player to appear and to score in the Bundesliga, feats achieved in the 2005-06 season, and the youngest player to start and score for Turkey, against Germany on his international debut in October 2005. He has already lifted league championships in Germany and Spain, as well as the Dutch Cup during his year-long loan at Feyenoord in 2006-07.
Şahin makes an already deep central midfield even deeper, able to play either one of the two holding positions, whether in place of Allen or Lucas; that's where he played almost every match for Borussia Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp, with Kagawa, Götze, or, going further back, Zidan or Hajnal in the attacking role. Given his versatile qualities, I wouldn't be surprised to see him as the most advanced midfielder under Rodgers. In his earliest seasons, he sometimes played on the left of midfield in a 4-1-3-2 before Klopp arrived, while Real Madrid threatened to use him at left back this season before deciding to loan him out, but those seem much less likely options under Rodgers.
Some have speculated that adding Şahin could see Gerrard pushed into the attacking three: a midfield of Lucas-Allen-Şahin and a front three of Borini-Suarez-Gerrard, more a 4-3-3 than the 4-2-3-1 we've seen in the four competitive fixtures so far. I fear it's one of those things that sounds great on paper and works great in FiFA 13 but we'll never see in practice. This is not 2005, not even 2008. I don't know if Gerrard has the stamina to play in a role that will require constant running and constant tracking back, and a role that takes him out of the middle of pitch. He may have been Liverpool's player of the season in 2005-06 when mostly playing on the right, but if memory serves, he wasn't incredibly happy about the role either. Of course, I didn't expect Gerrard to return to an attacking midfielder role after two seasons where he almost always played in a deeper position, so maybe I shouldn't be trusted to forecast these things.
Even though it's a one-year loan, at least one Liverpool player will probably leave, whether it's Adam or Spearing sold or Shelvey loaned or all of the above. I'd prefer the former, you'd prefer the former, but that all depends on whether Liverpool can find a buyer. That Şahin is left-footed also suggests he's more of a straight replacement for Adam. Shelvey is a different player, able to play as one of the deeper midfielders, an attacking midfielder, or even on the right of a front three if need be, as he did for Blackpool on loan last season. Regardless, there seems too many bodies in midfield and too few in other areas of the squad.
Admittedly, Liverpool will need a fairly large squad if they progress in the Europa League; despite the almost total lack of domestic cup matches in 2009-10 and 2010-11, Liverpool played 56 and 54 games those seasons, compared to 51 last season despite making the finals of both the FA and Carling Cups. Last season's 51 matches were the fewest in a campaign since 1999-2000, the last time Liverpool weren't in European competition; the side routinely averaged just under 60 per season during Benitez's time at the club. And right now, Liverpool simply does not have the squad to cope with that many fixtures.
Şahin assuredly won't start every match, or even close to it. The reason Real Madrid were so willing to loan him out is that he needs playing time, but he also needs to be eased into playing regularly after last season's injury problems and lack of first team action.
For all the caveats, the opportunity to add such a talented player to the squad, even if only for one year, seems simply too good to pass up.