What is a “world class” player? A player who would step into a world starting XI fantasy team? Someone like Robin van Persie? Would he get into the world starting XI over Aguero, Zlatan, Messi, or Ronaldo? And what about calling a player “technically gifted” like we constantly see applied to Nuri Sahin? What does “technically gifted” even mean? That he’s not Lee Cattermole? I’ve even seen he term “stylish” applied to Sahin, as if he’s some fancy Dan who will come on the pitch wearing the latest pink boots but not offering much in other areas.
I suspect that “stylish” and “technically gifted” both of which are used to describe Sahin in various places are actually back-handed compliments. That what some writers mean is that Sahin doesn’t like to do the dirty work – make a tackle, play defense – and the truth is that Sahin has more “steel” and less “technical” ability than many give credit.
I often find that people use “technical” to describe players who are good with the ball at their feet: dribblers. But in the Bundesliga, which prizes dribblers like Ribery and Robben (who average 4 successful dribbles per game), Sahin was consistently one of the top rated players despite averaging less than a dribble per game over his two break out seasons (2009-2011).
Where Sahin is actually “technically gifted” is in picking out long passes to his teammates. Again, his numbers here are very consistent over the 2009-2011 seasons, averaging 5.5 long balls per game in 2010-2011 and 5.8 in 2009-2010. And these long passes often set up teammates for goal scoring chances, which is partially why his Key Passes numbers were third in the Bundesliga in 2009-2010 and topped the league in 2010-2011. Long balls only partially account for his effectiveness because he also took most of Dortmund’s set pieces which comprised 66% of his Key Passes in 2010-2011 (via @orbinho).
He also placed 7th out of all players in each of his two break out seasons in tackles per game in the Bundesliga with an average of 3.5 tackles per game. Contrary to what you might have read, Sahin is actually a very effective tackler who is just as good at breaking up plays without fouling his man with a slide tackle as with just standing his man up.
What is true about Sahin is that under Klopp at Dortmund he was given a freer role in midfield than some expect from a “defensive midfielder”. But at Real Madrid, under The Special One, he was told to play deeper and you can watch almost any match for Madrid where he got playing time and see that his instructions are to sit deep and protect the back four. There are two great videos which illustrates this and which I’m sure someone will now say “you can’t use YouTube as evidence, Tim!” without noting that I have provided plenty of other evidence. Here’s the Real Madrid video and here’s the Dortmund video.
You can see why Sahin doesn’t really fit in at Real Madrid. He’s not going to start over Xabi Alonso who is a great deep lying playmaker and defensive midfielder. Xabi hit 15 accurate long balls in RM first game of the season. Sahin is also not going to take set pieces at Real Madrid. Ever. And while he’s a good tackler, he’s not quite as aggressive as Lass Diarra, who Mourinho preferred as Alonso’s partner against Valencia in their first match.
That said, Kloppo’s system at Dortmund is similar to Arsene Wenger’s at Arsenal and Sahin played in the defensive midfield role there which would be akin to playing as a “box-to-box” midfielder under almost any other manager. Under Klopp, Sahin had his best two seasons as a player where he was required to tackle, break up plays, and also allowed to get forward and play long balls to teammates at will. His passing percentage suffered as a result (sub 77%).
All of which is simply to say that Sahin is not just a “stylish” player or a pure “technician.” He’s got a wand of a left foot and can conjure up a long ball that will keep people gasping, sure. He’s a dead ball specialist who can whip in a cross, yes. But he plays deeper than many think and tackles as hard as any defensive midfielder — well, maybe not Cattermole hard, but then, Cattermole is terrible at everything but tackling.
However, the loan deal seems to have stalled and some are indicating that it’s over Real Madrid (Mourinho) refusing to give Arsenal a buy-out option all the sudden. As Arseblog pointed out this morning, that seems unlikely at this point in the negotiations. More likely is that Sahin is pulling an Adebayor and Arsenal are wondering if it’s worth it considering the players returning from fitness.
From what I’ve read (yeah, I know, Daily Fail but it’s reported elsewhere) Sahin is making the equivalent of £120,000 a week at Real Madrid and that salary would make him by far the most expensive player at Arsenal. That coupled with the good news that Jack Wilshere is on the fast track to recovery could be the end of Arsenal’s interest or could be the reason why Arsenal don’t want to pay a massive salary for the kid.