At 10 pm on February 1st, with just an hour of deadline day left, Liverpool announced the loan signing of Turkish centre-back Ozan Kabak, from Schalke.
This move for Liverpool was crucial, there are no two ways about it.
The wheels were put into motion following Thursday night’s (28th January) game against Tottenham, a game Fabinho would miss with a minor knock, and a game in which Joel Matip would suffer ankle ligament damage, which Liverpool would later confirm, just 20 minutes after the Kabak signing, will rule him out for the rest of the season.
Following the game, Michael Edwards, Liverpool’s sporting director – who is often highly praised for his exceptional deal-making when it comes to transfers – was tasked with bringing in desperately needed defensive cover.
Liverpool had been crying out for a centre-back all window, following injuries to Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez, along with Joel Matip having an injury-prone campaign. So once a deal to sign a centre-back was green-lighted, Edwards and the rest of the Liverpool hierarchy, Jurgen Klopp included, set to work.
There was a limited amount of options on the table. Shkodran Mustafi, who would later cancel his Arsenal contract to move to Schalke – allowing Kabak to move to Anfield, was discussed, due to his level of Premier League experience and the fact he would be available on a free. But ultimately he was passed over.
It was rumoured that Liverpool made an approach for Edmond Tapsoba from Bayern Leverkusen, but were put off by his £44 million price tag. Furthermore, a move for Marseille’s Duje Caleta-Car failed to materialise, due to the French sides unwillingness to sell so late into the January window.
Liverpool, however, successfully completed their move for Preston North End’s Ben Davies, completing a £1.6 Million pound deal for the 25-year old centre-half just two hours before announcing Kabak’s deal.
So, who is Ozan Kabak?
Ozan Kabak, aged 20, is a Turkish international, who, for the past 18 months, has played for Bundesliga side Schalke. He joined Schalke from fellow German side VfB Stuttgart, whom he had just helped get promoted back into the Bundesliga from the German second division.
Having originally started his career in Turkey, with Galatasaray, Kabak has been regarded as a strong centre-back, with a bright future ahead of him. As Liverpool looked into a deal for the defender, Klopp consulted his Friend, and ex-Schalke manager David Wagner, for whom Kabak had played under for a year. Luckily for Liverpool, Wagner was “Very very positive about him” (Jurgen Klopp for Liverpoolfc.com). Additionally, Klopp spoke to Christian Heidel, ex-Schalke sporting director, and his close friend from Mainz, Sven Mislintat, a renowned scout and Stuttgart’s current sporting director. Who both gave glowing reports.
In the Bundesliga this season, Schalke have struggled immensely, currently sitting at the bottom of the table with just one win to their name, looking like favourites for the drop. Despite this, and Schalke’s leaky defence, it would be unfair to drag Kabak’s name through the mud over such issues.
Kabal has previously been described as the ‘Turkish wall’, and for good reason. His personal stats stand-out in a struggling team, he has completed 603 accurate passes, amounting to an 88% success rate, which is a good sign for a manager, such as Klopp, who likes his defenders to be confident on the ball and in their passing. Furthermore, Kabak boasts 55 clearances, 13 interceptions and a tackle success rate of 53%, not bad for a defender fighting hard, and performing well given the circumstances, in the Bundesliga’s worst defence.
With these stats, as well as the glowing reviews Kabak received by many of those he had previously worked with, a golden opportunity has been presented to him.
Whilst on the surface, the deal could seem as though it is just a stop-gap for Liverpool, a 6-month loan just to cover the defensive absences of the aforementioned players. But, it is much more than that.
The loan deal includes an option to buy at the end of the season, Schalke originally wanted an obligation for Liverpool to buy, for a rumoured £30 million, but Michael Edwards was able to negotiate them down to just an option, another masterclass from the Liverpool man. The option doesn’t have to be activated until June, giving Liverpool time to work with and evaluate Kabak, before splashing out £18 million to sign the Turkish international permanently.
For Kabak, he is being given an opportunity to prove he belongs at a top club, one of Europe’s best in fact. He is being offered a way out of a Schalke team who look destined for relegation, failure to deliver at Liverpool, thus returning to Schalke, would reflect badly on his promising career. Kabak must take this chance.
This makes the loan deal somewhat of a trial run for Liverpool, a low-risk deal. Worst-case scenario, Kabak doesn’t work out for them, Ben Davies is a better signing and partners Fabinho at centre-back for the remainder of the campaign, with Kabak returning to Germany following the conclusion of the 2020/21 season. However, best-case scenario, Kabak proves what many have said about him, he shows his quality, and cements his place in defence for the rest of the season with Fabinho, before challenging for a spot alongside Virgil Van Dijk next year, when Liverpool make his deal permanent after a string of good performances.
All that is left now is to see if Kabak can be a success or not. He has all the tools, he will be in a successful team, surrounded by world-class team-mates and a world-class manager.
Could Kabak be the solution to Liverpool’s defence injuries, and charge them towards the Premier League title?