When Nuri Sahin returned to Borussia Dortmund in January 2013, his tail was firmly between his legs. Eighteen months of misery had passed since he left the Westfalenstadion for Real Madrid expecting bigger and better things.
He had been the club’s hero. A local boy bred by the academy, his brilliant performances saw the Turkey international lead Jurgen Klopp’s side to an unlikely, but brilliant, Bundesliga title in 2010-11 and he was ready for superstardom.
By the time he made his way back to Germany, registering just a handful of appearances for Madrid and even fewer in a peculiar loan spell at Liverpool, many thought his top-level career was over. A stint in the land of his ancestors seemed to beckon.
Amid the emotion of Sahin’s return, there were serious question marks over his place in the team. Ilkay Gundogan had been signed as his replacement and had shone throughout the season, leading a Champions League challenge and forming a dynamic partnership with Sven Bender.
|FIVE REAL MADRID FLOPS|
| JONATHAN WOODGATE | 2004-2007 |
|Had possibly the worst debut the game has ever seen and made just nine Liga appearances.|
| ROYSTON DRENTHE | 2007-2012 |
|Fell badly out of favor after a promising start to his Madrid career. Now at Reading.|
| JAVIER SAVIOLA | 2007-2009 |
|Picked up on a free transfer from Barcelona and scored just four times in two years.|
| SERGIO CANALES | 2010-2012 |
|Arrived at Madrid as one of La Liga's great hopes, but was promptly farmed out to Valencia.|
| ANTONIO CASSANO | 2006-2008 |
|Brilliantly talented, but his spell at Madrid was plagued with disciplinary problems.|
And, sure enough, Sahin played a bit-part role last term. Sure, he started when Dortmund’s emphasis switched from chasing Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga to pursuing an unlikely Champions League win, but he was firmly a backup player. When the club reached the European Cup final, he rose from the bench a matter of seconds from full time.
But this season, things have been different. An injury sustained while playing a friendly for Germany against Paraguay has seen Gundogan sidelined since August, and though that has been a headache for Klopp, the Turk was presented with an opportunity to prove himself.
He has done just that. He had the luxury of slotting into a team which made a flying start to the season, buoyed by their 4-2 win over Bayern in the DFL-Supercup. He outperformed Ilkay in the season's opener and has gone from strength to strength since then.
Perhaps the crowning moment of his campaign was October’s Revierderby, when he chipped in with a goal as Dortmund avenged Schalke’s Bundesliga double over them last year. As BVB have stuttered thanks to injuries, Sahin has been a model of consistency.
This is a completely different Sahin to the one who flopped so spectacularly at Madrid and Liverpool.
At Madrid the Turk arrived injured and, despite the presence of Mesut Ozil and Hamit Altintop, German Turks from the same region as him, he never looked quite at home.
By the time he had returned to full fitness, Jose Mourinho’s side was cruising towards the Liga title and the coach chose not to tinker with a winning formula. At Anfield, confusion reigned as Brendan Rodgers tried to make him play as a No.10, a role to which Sahin is unaccustomed and ill-suited.
It was only logical, then, that he would return to the tutelage of Klopp, who had transformed him from a raw but undoubtable talent into a player who would win his team the Bundesliga. Sahin has admitted that he would have preferred a BVB comeback sooner.
“To play at Anfield was a wonderful experience. And maybe if I had not gone there I would not have been able to return to Borussia Dortmund. For that, I am happy. Thank God I have left Rodgers."
His goal count has not been as impressive - scoring just twice this season - as it was during his first stint, but his classy midfield play has been coupled with commitment, work rate and bravery. It’s as though he’s making up for lost time.
His story should serve as a lesson for those considering to leave Dortmund to further their careers. Though Mario Gotze has been brilliant for Bayern since departing Signal Iduna Park, Shinji Kagawa struggled at Manchester United in a manner oddly reminiscent of Sahin.
Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal at Madrid gives Sahin the chance to demonstrate to the Bernabeu faithful just what he is truly capable of. It also offers him the opportunity to show Gundogan that he may be better off resisting a move to the Spanish capital this summer.
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