Wealthy, famous and playing for one of Europe’s biggest clubs at the age of 21, Liverpool’s Emre Can is living the dream as far as most young men would be concerned. Well, almost.
The midfielder is not complaining about his lot, far from it. But he does admit having a social life that might be considered a little bit dull by most of his age group.
‘It’s difficult to go out when there is a match every third day,’ he says. ‘There isn’t that much time, it’s either preparation or recovery, and I would rather spend my time with friends at home.
‘I haven’t been to a club or a bar this season. The last time I went to a bar was probably in July, on my holiday to Bodrum. It’s a very nice place, attracts a lot of tourists.’
The last week has been a case in point. A match at Chelsea last weekend followed by a 5,000-mile round trip to Kazan in the Europa League on Thursday and at home to Crystal Palace on Sunday, with Liverpool eyeing a fourth win on the trot under new manager Jurgen Klopp.
It will be Can’s 53rd game in 2015 for club and country (Germany and their Under-21s), and he is likely to end up playing 65 matches in the calendar year.
Instead of hitting the night spots, Can is more likely to be found at his Formby home with his best mate watching an action film — ‘Van Damme, Fast And The Furious, that kind of thing’ — or listening to R&B or Turkish music.
His maturity and physical appearance — 6ft, broad-shouldered and fully bearded — means people naturally expect him to cope while there is a discussion about burnout with other young players. Apart from the lack of socialising, which Can is not concerned about, the number of games also affects training.
Can’s new manager and fellow German Klopp came with a ferocious reputation for ‘gegenpressing’, trying to win the ball back from the opposition as far up the pitch as possible.
In reality, Can says they have not been able to work on that much so far. ‘It is a case of us not having had much time to train because there have been so many games. It has been similar training to the previous trainer [Brendan Rodgers].’
When Klopp was appointed, Liverpool players asked their resident German what he was like. As it happens, Can played three times against Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund, once for Bayern Munich and twice for Bayer Leverkusen, and never lost.
‘The first time I played against him turned out to be my last game for Bayern. I came on for Mario Gomez and we drew 1-1. I couldn’t imagine I would work with him one day in England, though I am really pleased to have such a brilliant coach.
‘Yes, I didn’t lose him in Germany but the games were very tiring! Dortmund always put a lot of pressure on the opposition and made life very difficult. Maybe we just had a good day.
‘I didn’t know him personally but obviously I saw him at work. As you can see, he is very emotional on the sidelines, it is why he is successful.’
Can was one of the players highlighted as a replacement for Steven Gerrard when he left the club in the summer.
Ironically, Can was played as a defender by Rodgers when Crystal Palace won 3-1 in May on Gerrard’s final Anfield appearance but he is back in his favoured midfield slot now. ‘I don’t think anyone can replace Steven Gerrard, be it Messi or whoever,’ he says. ‘Of course I would like to follow in his path but he really was the best player for Liverpool, not just on the pitch but off the pitch as well.
Gerrard will be at Anfield on Sunday as he begins his close-season break from LA Galaxy. He will train with Liverpool to keep his fitness up but the club have dismissed any idea of him returning to the playing staff.
Can is treated as one of the club’s senior professionals, even though he does not turn 22 until January. ‘I look older!’ he says with a self-deprecating smile. ‘As a kid, my parents told me I always seemed to play football with older people. As a boy, I always trained in the age group above and even kicking about on the street, I’d play with the bigger ones.’
Like Mesut Ozil, Can is a German international of Turkish descent but was born in Frankfurt and chose to represent the country he grew up in. He has the technical ability one would expect from his heritage.
As a youngster at Bayern, he was mentored by Bastian Schweinsteiger, now across the East Lancs at Manchester United.
‘Bastian was a great strategist and a very nice team-mate. He was the first to give the younger players advice and make them comfortable,’ says Can, who moved to Leverkusen to get regular first-team football before joining Liverpool in a £10million deal in 2014.
Capped at every age level by Germany, he helped them reach the semi-finals of the Under-21 European Championship last summer before an embarrassing 5-0 defeat against Portugal and won his first senior caps in the key Euro 2016 qualifiers against Poland and Scotland, which Germany won.
If he continues his current form, he will certainly be in Joachim Low’s Euro 2016 squad next summer. Over here, too, it will be interesting to see if nationality plays a part in Liverpool’s revival with Klopp.
‘I have nothing against a load of Germans coming here, I am happy about that,’ he says. ‘Jurgen Klopp does have a winning mentality, he is hungry for titles. And the way we work is that if we believe it, we have the ability to win a match.
‘The win at Chelsea was extremely important because we hadn’t won an away game for a long time.
‘We want to play in the Champions League. With hard work, hopefully we will get back into the top four. We have a good chance.’