Shrugs but no tears if Emre Can leaves Liverpool…

First came the claim that Emre Can was so impressed with Liverpool’s efforts to practically reach the Champions League final (without him) that he has done a u-turn and decided to sign a new contract with the club.

By Monday the narrative had shifted and Emre Can was now on the verge of agreeing a five-year £100,000-a-week contract with Juventus. That’s the power of a goalless draw with Stoke.

Due to the simplistic nature of ‘journalism’ in 2018, the former was depicted as ‘good news’ and the latter as ‘bad news’ for Liverpool, but should Reds fans do anything other than shrug at either scenario? Can’s contract situation has given him a value – both in a news sense and in a literal sense to other clubs across Europe – far beyond anything he has yet produced in a Liverpool shirt. He is absolutely a good footballer but a top five of Liverpool’s most important players would not feature the German’s name; he is no more intrinsic to Liverpool’s continuing success than Georginio Wijnaldum and almost nobody ever talks about Georginio Wijnaldum.

Can was not missed in either leg of Liverpool’s glorious quarter-final win over Manchester City and was not missed in the 5-2 win over Roma, even when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was stretchered from the field. He may have been missed against Stoke – after all, all but one of his Premier League goals and assists this season have come against relegation fodder – but the statistics show that Liverpool have not lost a single game in any competition this season when Can has not started.

As Empire of the Kop put it last week: ‘It’s not like he’s Mo Salah or Roberto Firmino. He’s a talented, if inconsistent, midfielder, who has as many good games as average ones.’ Presumably the author had watched him play incredibly poorly against Swansea and West Brom and then produce a man-of-the-match performance against Huddersfield in January. Or perhaps the memory of his excellence against Newcastle and subsequent embarrassment against Manchester United last month was fresh in their minds. He is infuriatingly inconsistent.

Liverpool have all but a couple of toes in the Champions League and are on course for a top-four finish and yet we stared at a list of their central midfielders before deciding that James Milner – a 32-year-old who spent last season at left-back – had been the pick of the bunch. And Liverpool fans largely agree. If that reads like a damning indictment on a player supposedly being coveted by the biggest clubs across Europe, it is no accident.

At 24, Can could yet develop into a wonderful footballer – and there is certainly a suspicion that the slower pace of football outside the Premier League would suit him rather more – but he is nowhere close to that status right now. There have been tantalising glimpses over the last four years he has spent as midfielder, centre-half and right-back at Liverpool, but at no stage has he been the first, second or third name on the teamsheets of either Brendan Rodgers or Jurgen Klopp.

The worry of course is that Can will leave for free despite his current worth being circa £30m and his potential value being over £50m, but Liverpool fans should leave those worries to the accountants. Having somehow persuaded Barcelona that Philippe Coutinho should cost up to £142m, no tears should be shed at the occasional squad player who leaves for nothing. The glass-half-full version of this story is that Liverpool have paid £10m for a footballer who has played over 160 games for a Liverpool side transitioning into a team that can challenge the biggest European clubs. Is he vital to what comes next? Certainly not as much as the dynamic front three, the young emerging English players, the excellent left-back, Virgil van Dijk or the incoming Naby Keita.

After a weekend when Roberto Firmino signed a new contract and declared it an “easy decision”, Can’s dilly-dallying over his deal and potential exit should not be mourned. The fear of losing the next Kevin De Bruyne or Mo Salah now hangs ominously over every Premier League club, but that fear should be saved for the day before Can plays against the Reds in a European knock-out clash. Right now, Liverpool have little to lose except money they never really had.

Sarah Winterburn