REUTERS - With his acrobatic swivel and overhead shot, Emre Can not only scored one the Premier League’s goals of the season to secure Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Watford on Monday but may have settled the long-standing argument about his best position.
Ever since signing for the Merseyside club in a 10 million pounds ($12.91 million) deal from Bayer Leverkusen in 2014, Liverpool have used the ever amenable Can like a handy spare part to fill whatever slot became free.
Previous manager Brendan Rodgers played him as a makeshift right back and centre back in a three-man defence, with varying success, while Juergen Klopp has shifted him about in midfield as injuries to Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana kept Can moving around the team as well as the pitch.
Can’s failure to secure a definite role partly explains the speculation of a possible move away from Anfield at the end of the season when his contract enters its final year.
Several months of negotiation have yet to lead to a new deal with British media reporting he wants 100,000 pounds a week.
Can’s future is as much about position as money.
The 23-year-old favours a holding midfield role normally occupied by Henderson, but the German international has faced criticism this season from Liverpool fans unimpressed by his attempts to deputise when the England midfielder was injured.
Despite his strapping 6ft 1in (184cm) physique, Can has been accused of squandering possession too easily and often choosing the wrong passing option.
But on Monday Can got it spectacularly right, responding to a more forward role with a piece of individual brilliance that might just secure Liverpool Champions League qualification.
What made his 45th-minute strike even more impressive was his run into the box to encourage Lucas to flight the cross.
When the ball arrived, Can, who said he thought about heading it, readjusted his body before throwing his left foot high in the air to allow him to meet the ball with his right.
Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes did not move as it fizzed past him into the net. Lallana, standing just behind Can, described it as a “worldie” while television programmes and the newspapers debated whether to call it the goal of the season, or decade.
On scoring, Can rushed to the touchline to celebrate with compatriot Klopp, who revealed the midfielder has played this season despite not always been fully fit after suffering a persistent calf injury, caused in part by the amount of sprinting he does in a more advanced role.
”He is a good boy. He deserves this,“ said Klopp. ”I know how this world works. He had the problem with his calf but it wasn’t possible for us to leave him out.
“We had a lot of talks about this, and people were thinking ‘What’s wrong with him?'. ”But we needed him in those moments and he said ‘Okay, I’ll try as good as I can’ and sometimes it wasn’t as good as he could have been.
“But these problems are now sorted and he can build on performances. He is a physical, strong boy and important for us.”
Can has managed just eight goals during 126 Liverpool appearances, but five of those have come this season.
Former Liverpool striker and radio pundit Stan Collymore immediately posted on twitter his belief that Can has found a position to call his own. “Play Emre further forward, let the shackles off and a new player is born?” he said.
Liverpool could certainly do with one as injuries continue to disrupt their season, with Brazilian Coutinho the latest to need time on the treatment table after a dead leg on Monday.
($1 = 0.7745 pounds)
Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Ken Ferris