Michael Reschke, then Stuttgart's sporting director, says he saw "something very special" the first time he saw Ozan Kabak play. He was 18 years old and already commanded the defense of Galatasaray with the poise of the centrals who are never distracted by a doubt. Kabak was determined and collected. Maybe too much. He had grown up in Turkey, a country that is suspicious of the scouting guild when it comes to recruiting young people to the highest standards. To verify that he was not facing another of those reckless Turks who experienced football as a fairy tale adventure, Reschke met with him and found that he was a very intelligent young man. His grades in high school were brilliant. His father, director of a prison near Ankara, had educated him in humility and rigor. “He wanted to learn,” says Reschke, who took him first to Stuttgart and then to Schalke 04. “He was doing his best to take responsibility.”
Three years later, Reschke's vision has materialized on Liverpool's lifeline. The injuries of Van Dijk, Joe Gómez and Joel Matip in the center of the defense pushed the club to look for alternatives in the winter market. They obtained from Schalke the loan of Kabak until June in exchange for one million euros. The adaptation was traumatic. He made his debut on February 13 in Leicester and a communication error with goalkeeper Alisson precipitated the defeat: 3-1. But since then Liverpool has stabilized. He has gone from conceding an average of 1.3 goals per game to conceding only one. Last Saturday Arsenal shot just twice on goal and without much clarity before falling 0-3. Kabak, Ozy for the teammates, almost did not have to steal balls – he is the center-back who recovers the most – but he became the first passer from the rear and the most frequent destination for the exits of Alisson or the support of Thiago and Fabinho.
From time to time he breaks the pressure with a few low passes that invite astonishment. Either you have a gift for measuring space or you are reckless. He says he knows how to handle the ball well because when he entered the Galatasaray academy he did so as a scorer. Little by little his coaches delayed him. First to the middle, then to the defense, almost always as captain in all the lower categories of Turkey. His idol, he confessed, was Sergio Ramos.
Kabak seems fast, strong, agile. He seems to dominate the situation and decide with sobriety. But in the absence of confirmation, all are appearances. Its development is still pending a cultural unknown. A decisive enigma in a game in which technique and physique have less weight than the environment where you learn to live. Those who know him realize that he is crossing uncharted territory. Until Kabak, a Turkish player had never made his Champions League debut with an English team. Against Leipzig in the round of 16, the Liverpool center-back took a historic step at just 20 years old,
Klopp taking the risk. Henderson's injury left him no choice. The precedents were not particularly encouraging. Stuttgart dropped to Second with Kabak in the summer of 2019 before transferring him to Schalke for 15 million euros and profiting from an operation that had cost him 11 million. In the first 19 games of this season, Kabak's Schalke conceded 49 goals and were condemned to relegation after the worst start in their history. Apparently out of his mind, during a clash with Werder Bremen the player spat at Augustinsson. The German federation suspended him four games. In the midst of the crisis, Schalke transferred him to Liverpool, perhaps because, strangled by debt, the Ruhr club is now only thinking about finishing stocks. If Liverpool decides to execute the purchase option, it will pay 20 million euros. "In a stable team he can do a lot of things well," said Klopp, when asked about the Turk's stormy passage through Germany. "He can help us and we can help him."
Liverpool won 0-3 at the Emirates when Klopp replaced him in the 84th minute on Saturday. As he left the field, the center-back was met with a grateful hug from his boss : now comes the most difficult part.
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