Nuri Şahin: Dortmund’s New Star
January 6, 2011 2 Comments
Borussia Dortmund are back. After years in the Bundesliga wilderness since the heady days of the late 1990’s, Dortmund are back on top again. They have taken the Bundesliga by storm, sitting ten points clear at the winter break having played some of the most breathtaking football in Europe.It is a team full of technically excellent, intelligent young players who have produced some wonderful attacking play with excellent movement and high tempo passing. At the heart of it all is a young Turkish midfielder, Nuri Şahin. To many this will not be a new name, as he has long been touted as one of the most prodigiously talented youngsters in the world.
Şahin burst onto the scene in 2005, starring in a Turkey side who won the U-17 European Championship and reached the U-17 World Championship semi-final. That same year he went on to become the youngest player ever to appear and score in the Bundesliga and also became the youngest ever to play for Turkey. Ironically his debut was against the country where he was born and lived, Germany. However, unlike some in of Germany’s multi-cultured players such as Mesut Ozil, Şahin elected to play for Turkey. Coming on in the 86th minute he went on to score a last gasp winner, a goal that made him the youngest player to ever score for Turkey. All this led to none other than Arsène Wenger calling him “The biggest talent in world football under the age of 18”.
After such a sensational start he seemed to suffer burnout and his career somewhat stalled, with Şahin himself admitting “I was exhausted, mentally and physically”. Jurgen Klopp was appointed Dortmund coach in 2008 and realised Şahin’s potential and he finally established himself in the Dortmund side last season, starting 33 of the 34 league games, with 7 assists and 4 goals. This season he already has matched last years haul of 4 goals and provided 6 assists. These numbers, however, don’t really give an impression of what an extraordinary talent Şahin is.
The best term to describe his role in Dortmund’s 4-2-3-1 would be a deep-lying playmaker. He began his career as an attacking midfielder, but like Luka Modric and Paul Scholes before him Şahin has moved deeper in midfield to find space for his creative abilities. Bert van Marwijk describes Şahin as having ‘unbelievable technique’, and I would go further and say he probably has the most exquisite left foot in world football (aside from Messi’s of course). He can truly put the ball wherever he wants, whether its a free-kick from 20 yards, a shot from 30, a raking, defence splitting pass or a perfectly weighted through ball, Şahin finds his target with unerring consistency and precision. His is a dead ball specialist, with an astounding ability to whip in balls from corners or freekicks, and has scored some sumptuous free kicks this season (vs Bayern Munich and vs Werder Bremen).
While his technique is fantastic, it is his footballing intelligence that truly sets him apart. Şahin always seems to play the right pass and knows exactly when to play each one, when to go for the elaborate through ball and when to play it short (89 per cent of his passes reached a team-mate in the first two games of this season). He has marvellous awareness of where every player on his team is, as well as the vision and technique to play the killer ball. This intelligence and range of passing allows Şahin to dominate the midfield. He is the rudder of the Dortmund machine, dictating the tempo and rhythm of the game. With this command over midfield he displays an incredible maturity for a player still only 22. Şahin has drawn many comparison’s down the years especially with Cesc Fabregas. However, with his use of skill to find space in tight situations, incredible passing and ability to orchestrate Dortmund’s midfield I would liken him to Xavi (who surely deserves the 2010 Ballon D’Or).
Şahin’s brilliance on the ball is obvious for all to see, but his ability off it is often overlooked. His movement is excellent, often drifting wide or making perfectly timed late runs into the box. This movement gives him three advantages 1. Can drag opposition midfielders out of position 2. Makes himself more available for a pass and 3. Gets into goal scoring positions. Şahin’s reading of the game is also exceptional, often winning key interceptions in midfield. Şahin also possess the work ethic and tenacity required to succeed in central midfield. Alongside the excellent Sven Bender he makes a defensively solid midfield partnership contributing to Dortmund having the best defensive record in the league.
With a rare combination of terrific technique, footballing intelligence, defensive steel and maturity beyond his years Nuri Şahin has developed into one of the most exciting central midfielders in Europe. His all round ability led his coach Jurgen Klopp to describe him as “an awesome player, a strategist…I can’t think of anything he can’t do”. There was some doubt for a while, but as the man himself says he is ‘not just a talent any more’, he is the real deal and I have no doubt Nuri Şahin will continue to blossom into one of the best midfielders of his generation.
by Ryan Murphy