In this article, we will not discuss the actual events of Emre Can’s exclusion from the UEFA Champions League Juventus player list. Rather, we will look more into his professional life. We will analyze his performance in comparison to other Juventus players who play in similar positions and, finally, we’ll look at some UEFA regulations. I will, then, provide my personal take on his exclusion.
Who is Emre Can?
Emre Can (the famous Can who currently plays for our beloved Juventus and not the less famous one who plays for Galatasaray) is a German football player with unique characteristics. He is 25 years old and joined last year on a free transfer after his contract expired with Liverpool. He plays in many positions, mainly in the middle (I’ll use the Italian terms because they best reflect the positions): right or left mezz’ala or regista. He can also be viewed as an old-fashioned defensive midfielder, but he brings much more than that. He is good with his feet and can score goals. On some occasions, he has played as a defender as well. Allegri used him in a back three and surprisingly, he was impressive.
Can was born in Frankfurt to Turkish parents in 1994. He first joined the local SV Blau-Gelb Frankfurt (a local club dedicated to train youngsters) at the age of 6. At 12 years old, he moved to a better known club called Eintracht Frankfurt (the first team finished 7th in the Bundesliga last season) . His role at Eintracht was more of an attacking midfielder where he was in charge of providing assists and scoring goals. Three years later, he joined Bayern Munich. There, he was tested as a defender first and then was switched back to the central midfielder role .
“That’s what I like in midfield – you always have to do something. You have to challenge, you have to control the game, you have to play long balls, you have to shoot, you have to attack and you have to defend.”
By 2012, Can had his first team debut at the age of 18; but he only played 7 games for Bayern. He, then, decided to move to Bayer Leverkusen to become a starter. A year later, Liverpool bought him for €12million (his release clause) with Brendan Rodgers describing him as “exciting young talent” .
Instead of playing in his natural role, Can was used as a defender in a back three. He was placed on the right where he excelled at going forward and providing decisive passes. Brendan Rodgers admitted though that this was a mistake and Can, as well, claimed publicly that he preferred playing as a midfielder.
Jürgen Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers and moved Emre back to where he felt more comfortable. He became an essential player to Liverpool at a very young age and when fit, he quite often was in the starting XI .
Can was very happy in his role and had only praise for Klopp and his style of play. He could finally show his true potential.
[Klopp] wants a lot from me, he wants me to push the team forward and to help them and that is what I want to try. Every manager has their own style and Jurgen Klopp has his own style and that is why a lot has changed [since Klopp arrived], but I am enjoying it.
Of course, I have to learn so many things and I have to work hard and then hopefully I will be better in a few years.”
Then, in 2018, surprisingly, Emre Can’s contract was expiring and guess who was there to notice that?
Yep, our very own Paratici who (along with Beppe Marotta) got us several players on Bosman transfers (Pirlo, Pogba, Ramsey, Rabiot, LLorente etc.), signed Emre Can to refresh our midfield that lost a lot of quality. The German midfielder signed a 4-year contract earning €5mln per year. Juventus had to pay €16mln as additional fees. According to Fabrizio Romano, Khedira played a pivotal role in convincing Can to join him at Juventus (we will see later why this is interesting) .
One of the main reasons why Emre Can left Liverpool is to win trophies. As expected, at Juventus, he won a Supercoppa and a Serie A title. Liverpool did, however, win the Champions League, a trophy that every Juventus fan and player dream of winning (let’s hope it’s this year). It is not a surprise that Can was disappointed at being excluded from the Champions League list. In the next section, we will discuss more about the reasons that could have led to this exclusion.
Alright, enough chitchat already. Let’s look at some interesting stats:
Domestically, Emre Can won the Bundesliga, DFB Pokal, Serie A and the German and Italian Super Cups. He did not win any domestic trophies with Liverpool (surprising right?). He did win a Champions League with Bayern but did not play a single game. He was on the bench for only one game against Valencia .
If we look at the numbers in the tables below, we see that Emre played the most during his time in Liverpool with over 2000 minutes per season. What is interesting during that period is that his participation and his inclusion in the starting XI peaked during his second and third seasons. In his last season, the number of minutes and the appearances reduced and were comparable to his first Liverpool season when he was still adapting to the Premier League. At Juventus though, he played less compared with any season as a Liverpool player. This could be attributed to the fact that he is still adjusting to the new league and, when fit, Khedira was always the preferred starter for Allegri. We will go in depth on that subject in a moment. Another interesting fact is that at Juventus, he only played 6 European games with only 2 as a starter. At Liverpool, his participation rate in that competition was much higher.
Let’s compare the game appearances of the Juventus central midfielders in the 2018/2019 season. Looking at the figures below, Can was clearly not the first-choice. The three with the most appearances are Blaise Matuidi, Miralem Pjanic and Rodrigo Bentancur with 31 domestic appearances each. Can was close, though, with 29 but only 20 of them as a starter. Khedira had the least played minutes and the least number of appearances. Similar conclusions can be drawn from the UEFA Champions League (UCL) appearances.
Impressively, Can scored more goals in Serie A than the other midfielders whereas only Pjanic scored in UCL. The two most aggressive players are Rodrigo Bentancur and Pjanic with 8 yellow cards and 1 red and 6 yellow cards and 1 red, respectively. Can only received 7 yellow cards . In his entire career, he only received two red cards, 1 in 2015 when Liverpool lost 4-1 to Arsenal and another in 2014 when Bayer Leverkusen lost 2-1 against PSG in the UCL.
Missed Games due to Injuries
Let’s look at statistics specifically related to injuries. This will help us understand why some players such as Khedira missed several games last season. Sami was injured for 193 cumulative days whereas Can was also injured for a relatively long period (58 days). Miralem and Blaise were absent the least (6) number of days. The number of games missed is the most relevant because players can get injured during the summer which would have a lesser impact. Again, Khedira missed 29 games which is quite a lot in a season. Emre missed 11 which could explain why he played less than Bentancur. This brings up two interesting questions:
Well, before trying to answer these questions, I know some of you will say “hey, but these assessments were made based on only last season and it doesn’t mean that this is the case the year before.” Don’t worry I got you covered. The next table shows the numbers of games missed for all Juventus central midfielders since 2011/2012, including the new signings Ramsey and Rabiot (just to be fair). If we look at the number of missed games per year, Khedira (as expected) has the highest number (15.88) followed by Aaron Ramsey (10.38) and then Emre Can (7.25). Matuidi has almost no injuries in the last 8 years (impressive right?). The numbers for Bentancur (1.80) and Pjanic (2.13) are quite low as well. This means that the three players classified as injury prone in that position are Khedira, Ramsey and Can.
Now that we know that Can could be classified as an injury prone player (not as much as Khedira and Ramsey), , we can look at other factors to try and understand what other factors could have pushed Can’s exclusion. In this section, we will only compare all central midfielders that currently play for Juventus.
Let’s start by looking at the defensive performance of each player. Emre Can has the highest number of tacklesand clearances per game. Defensively, he shares many characteristics with Blaise Matuidi. Both are aggressive and can provide support in defense. The weakest midfielders in this area are Sami Khedira and Miralem Pjanic.
Offensively, as expected, the strongest players are Pjanic and Ramsey. In terms of goals, they both scored the most but also, we must take into account that both are older than Can, Rabiot and Bentancur. In terms of shots and key passes per game, Pjanic and Ramsey share again the highest numbers. Can distinguished himself with the highest number of dribbles per game. He also has a low number of bad controls per game. Can is less impressive offensively compared with Pjanic, Ramsey and Khedira. He does perform better than Matuidi, Bentancur and even Rabiot though.
We already looked at key passes but now let’s focus on the total number of passes. Khedira and Bentancur pass the least out of the lot, whereas Pjanic and Rabiot provide the highest number of passes per game. The most important stat here is the percentage of successful passes and at that, Can’s performance is below the others. Matuidi and Rabiot score the highest. In terms of crosses and long balls, Pjanic is way ahead of everyone. Also, Can’s performance with long balls is quite good. The best passer is, without doubt, Miralem Pjanic. In this category, Emre does not excel with short passes; however, he tends to do better with long ones.
Overall, Can is a complete midfielder who is capable in defense and attack. He is the best in aerial duels, he rarely gets a red card; but, he still has a high number of yellow cards for his young age as he is known to have a bit of a temper. The fact that his passes are not accurate could have been one of the reasons why he was not picked. Instead Khedira, Matuidi and Bentancur are included in the list. But why Rugani was picked? Could it be because of a minimum quota of Italian players?
UCL Player List
Let us try to understand better the UCL regulations and see if Rugani was picked ahead of Can because of a minimum quota of Italian players as some claim. UEFA implemented a set of rules for player selection in the UCL. The maximum number of registered players is 25. Out of these 25, 8 must be “locally-trained players”. What does that mean though? Locally-trained players are defined in these two categories:
Let’s have a closer look at the official UCL list submitted by Juventus last week. There are only 22 players and not 25 as proposed by UEFA. The reason why, as can be seen in the table below, is because Juventus only has one club-trained player (Pinsoglio) following the Kean transfer. That means that 3 players could not be registered.
The next question is: how many players grew in an Italian club? According to this table, 6 players are eligible. But as mentioned before, only 4 could be selected.
We can conclude from what was shown above that Rugani could have been left out from the UCL list and Can could have taken his spot. So why wasn’t that the case? Rugani, until the last transfer week, was close to signing with Roma.
My Final Take
Let’s recap on what was discussed in this article. Here are the pros and cons of Emre Can according to the presented statistics:
In my opinion, Rugani was set to be excluded from the UCL list. However, Chiellini’s serious injury, that would see him unavailable until possibly March or even later, precipitated the inclusion of Rugani. Other than Bonucci, Rugani is the only central defender that has experience with Juventus. If Bonucci gets injured, we cannot completely afford to rely on only de Ligt and Demiral quite yet.
Sarri’s favorite midfielders are Pjanic, Khedira and Matuidi. I would even include Rabiot. We do not know how much he values Ramsey yet, but I am certain that he would like Ramsey’s characteristics for the style of play he will implement at Juventus.
Now, the showdown is between Can and Bentancur. Both are young but defensively, Can is stronger. Bentancur is a better ball passer and, in my opinion, that is what led to his selection.
I will leave you with this quote from Sarri’s interview that he gave after the 2-1 defeat against Atletico Madrid on August 10th:
What is your take on this? Who is to blame for this situation? Was it the right decision? Tell us what you think.
 Jack Lusby (March 9 2016). “Analysing the Importance of Emre Can to Liverpool”. Bleacher Report.
 Fabrizio Romano (January 6th, 2018). “Exclusive: here’s how much Juventus have offered Emre Can”. Calciomercato.com