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Interview with Emre Can: “The Defensive issues have mainly come down to players availability”

After playing for clubs in Italy and England over a 6-year period, Emre Can returned to the Bundesliga joining Borussia Dortmund from Juventus in a ‘loan to permanent deal’ last year.

But what has the return to the country of his birth brought for the Germany international and former Liverpool and Bayern defensive midfielder? 

Germany international and former Liverpool defensive midfielder Emre Can (EC) joined Ben McFadyean of Borussia Dortmund Fan Club London (BM) to answer 09 member questions on his first full season at Borussia Dortmund, the Marco Rose factor, his preferred position and overcoming the defensive challenges currently being faced by the club in 21/22:

BM: Emre firstly about ‘BVB’ in general, you have played for some top clubs like Bayern, Liverpool and Juventus each unique in their own way. What makes Borussia Dortmund and Dortmund special as a place to play football? Is there a standout moment for you from your time with the club?

EC: The thing with Dortmund is it’s somehow more than a club; there is a special connection between the people of Dortmund and the club which you can feel as a player, a rock-solid bond. I could feel it straight-away the first time I won a tackle (against Filip Kostic of Eintracht Frankfurt) in my first match for Dortmund. The home crowd exploded; they were loving it, and I knew there is something special here at the Signal Iduna Park.

BM: You have worked with some outstanding coaches like Jürgen Klopp, Maurizio Sarri, Jupp Heynckes, Massimiliano Allegri. How does Marco Rose compare? And how would you define the ‘Rose factor’?

EC: Absolutely, all the coaches I have worked with have influenced my career in their own way and Rose is no different. In terms of personality, Rose’s top qualities are that he takes time to listen to the players and discusses things with us. You get the impression that he hears you out and takes your concerns on board. Rose is a great listener. Klopp and Rose are similar in many ways, they are both people who put their families first in their lives but are also totally committed professionals when it comes to the game, I admire those qualities.

“Klopp and Rose are similar in many ways, they are both big family men and total football professionals” 

BM: For the first time since 2017/18, Borussia Dortmund failed to reach the second round of the UEFA Champions League this season and conceded 11 goals in the group stage. Your own defensive qualities are recognised but you are clearly a midfielder who, due to injuries in the squad, has been playing far too often out of position in the back four.

In contrast to Bayern’s seventy-six, eighty-seven goals were conceded by ‘BVB’ in the last two seasons, to win the Bundesliga crown back it seems apparent that the club needs a consistent backline which they don’t seem to have right now.

However, looking at the number of conceded goals, the crux of the defensive problem appears to be the instability in defensive midfield which is where your skills seem to be most suited. What are the issues in defence in your view and which position would you see yourself ideally playing with ‘BVB’?

EC: For me personally, yes, I am most comfortable in the midfield, ideally at central midfield, but I can also play in the backline. I prefer to play in a central role. In terms of the team, the defensive issue at least in part has been one of which players were available at the time and which system the coach wants to play as we have to adjust to each team, we play against to optimise the performance. 

“The Defensive issues to a large extent this season have been down to what players have been available”

BM: You played at Anfield between 2014-18 and got to know Jürgen Klopp, who like you, is from the South-West of Germany. ‘Kloppo’ was quoted in the press in Germany as saying about your signing – ‘Emre and ‘BVB’ are a match made in heaven.’ Do you agree and what defined your working relationship with the former Dortmund and current Liverpool coach?

EC: You could say a lot and a lot has been said about Jürgen, as I said before there are similarities between Rose and Klopp but Jürgen is also totally unique in his own way. What I like about ‘Kloppo’ is he has great human qualities and is also well-read and has broad interests off the pitch, you can talk to him about anything.

We have things in common, and I for one can confirm for sure that I had some great times in his coaching sessions. Klopp is one of a kind, but he is also the most demanding coach I have worked with so far. Klopp expects above all teamwork, he wants each player to do what is needed in the interests of the team’s performance. If you put your effort in, Jürgen is getting what he wants and you can tell, when he’s got a smile on his face you know things are going well.

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BM: BVB has players from 20 different countries, and some like Gio Reyna and Jude Bellingham are still learning German. Let’s face it German is not the easiest language, is it? To get an insight into how you communicate as a team at Dortmund. Which language do the players use and how is the communication in the side?

EC: German is not easy but it is our main language at Borussia, so all the players and coaches primarily use German. But if the coaches can see that any player is not getting the point, then English is also used, especially in training. I think the standard of German is good overall, but some are better than others. Of course, some have been here in Germany for less time. We use German and English in the team.

“German and English are used in the team, German is the first language though”

BM: What a lot of fans admire about you is your work rate and commitment. Seeing you play brings back memories of former players like Matthias Sammer and Martin Kree, who both won the Champions League with Borussia, or Günter Kutowski the pivotal defender of the 1989 DFB-Pokal winning side. Are they former ‘BVB’ players you take your inspiration from?

EC: The 1989 BVB team that’s just before my time so I can’t say much about that side. I knew Matthias before from my time at Bayern before coming to Dortmund and I remember him as a player and he is a player I admire. 

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BM: You have played for top clubs including Liverpool and Juventus and Bayern. But you have been criticised at times for not fully realising your full potential so far. Which areas of your game are you working on improving and what would you like to do to reach your peak performance?

EC: Regarding my own game, I have not reached my best performance yet. There is plenty more to come. I am working every day to bring more to my game. Improving my left-sided game, the mental focus, getting sharper with reflexes. I would also like to improve my aerial game. I have always been eager to improve my skills, and for now, that’s what I am working on. I am always learning and that’s how it should be.

BM: In an article on Germany’s Sport1 sports news page last year before you joined you were quoted as saying you were ‘more than in touch’ with Hansi Flick at Bayern Munich before you signed with ‘BVB’. How close were you to joining Bayern?

EC: Yes, I was in touch with Flick when he was the head coach at Bayern. I cannot say anything more than that.

“Borussia Dortmund is a club I relate especially to early childhood memories”

BM: Borussia Dortmund has a unique appeal to fans and attracts some of the most exciting players in the game. You are no exception, what made you want to come to Dortmund? Was there a childhood memory of the club or something that made you want to play for ‘Die Schwarzgelben’?

EC: I relate Borussia Dortmund especially to childhood memories. A highly successful and likeable football club. I remember growing up and we would always watch the highlights show that was on German TV ‘Bundesliga Pur.’ And I was always eager to see how ‘BVB’ had played. I have always had something like a soft spot for Borussia Dortmund, since early childhood.

BM: Watching the Amazon Prime series about Borussia Dortmund, you get the impression that there is a great atmosphere at the club. Jadon Sancho was not just a fan favourite, I read that he was also the DJ in the locker room. So, who has taken over selecting the music now and what kind of tracks do you get?

“Akanji is the new DJ in the locker room, we get a lot of Hip-hop mostly from the US” 

EC: That’s easy, yes there and Manuel Akanji is the new DJ. We get a lot of hip-hop, mostly from the US which I also enjoy.

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BM: Lastly, is there a player you have taken most of your inspiration from and what have you learned from him?

EC: I have learned so much from so many of the outstanding players I have played with. I don’t think it would be right to single a name out, I have always done and keep on learning every day, I am privileged to play with some great players at Dortmund.

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