Ozan Kabak idolises Virgil van Dijk and was starring for Galatasaray at just 17… but he was relegated at Stuttgart and bottom of the Bundesliga with Schalke. So, why has Jurgen Klopp turned to the Turk to solve his defensive crisis?
- Ozan Kabak has sealed a deadline day move to Liverpool from Schalke
- He started his career at Galatasaray, before moving to Germany with Stuttgart
- He has typically featured in struggling teams, so why are Liverpool interested?
- Sportsmail takes a closer look at the credentials of the Turkey international
Jurgen Klopp saw Joel Matip added to the injury list against Tottenham and with no fit senior centre backs remaining knew he had to act on deadline day.
That is where Schalke centre back Ozan Kabak comes in and he is now closing in on a loan – with an option to buy – to Anfield to ease a crisis that is threatening to undermine their title bid.
Kabak seems to have a special talent: catching the eye in big German teams struggling towards the foot of the Bundesliga table. First, it was Stuttgart and now it’s Schalke. Stuttgart got relegated on his watch and bottom-of-the-table Schalke are sure heading that way.
So, with that in mind, just why is Klopp turning to a player so used to losing to shore up his defence? Sportsmail takes a look at what Kabak will offer…
Ozan Kabak (left) is close to sealing a loan deal to join Liverpool until the end of the season
Jurgen Klopp left it late before adding multiple defenders to his squad to ease injury concerns
Who is he?
A full international at the age of just 20, Kabak is still in the infancy of his professional career but has already built up quite the reputation.
The Turk joined Galatasaray as an 11-year-old in 2011, and rose through the ranks at the Istanbul-based club.
After signing his first professional contract in July 2017 – at the age of 17 – he made his first-team debut in May 2018 but did not hang about for long in his homeland.
At the beginning of the 2018-19 season, a teenage Kabak stood out for Galatasaray and the rest of Europe took notice: in January 2019, he was snapped up by VfB Stuttgart for £9.9million.
Kabak came through the youth system at Galatasaray but only made a handful of appearances
He soon moved to Germany but was only at VfB Stuttgart for six months as they got relegated
But Kabak did not hang about long in south-west Germany, as his team got relegated at the end of the season to Bundesliga 2.
Despite that, Kabak still impressed, and set a record by scoring twice in a 5-1 win over Hannover 96 – his first goals in professional football and becoming the third-youngest Stuttgart player to ever score twice in a single Bundesliga match.
He was also named Bundesliga rookie of the season, beating players such as Reiss Nelson and Jadon Sancho to the prestigious award.
As such, he was never going to stay in the German second-division – and Schalke met his £13.6m release clause that summer.
But, just 18 months into a five-year deal and with Schalke possessing just one win at the bottom of the Bundesliga, a fourth transfer always appeared inevitable in 2021 – and so it proved.
What are his strengths?
Standing at 6’1′, Kabak’s most impressive feature has been his ability to match the physicality of most strikers in the Bundesliga despite his relative inexperience.
Until the summer of 2020, the domineering centre back won 66 per cent of his aerial duels in the Bundesliga, whilst he also possesses a surprising turn of pace when needed at the back.
Powerful and mature on and off the ball, the Turk models his game on Virgil van Dijk and is now preparing to call the Holland captain a team-mate.
The 20-year-old Turkish international has already played for three clubs during his career
Kabak has shown dominance in the air and is deceptively quick when required at the back
Last season, Kabak featured 26 times for Schalke in the Bundesliga, scoring three goals which saw him finish as Schalke’s fourth-highest goalscorer in a season where they struggled domestically.
He has been a starter this season in a Schalke side leaking goals for fun this time round, but his own reputation appears to have come away relatively unscathed as he gets a shot at a Premier League title with Liverpool.
It represents a quick mentality shift from losers to winners but if Kabak is as good as his list of suitors in recent months suggests then he should have no problems making the adjustment at Anfield.
What have people said about him?
Those who’ve worked with the 20-year-old have spoken glowingly about the defender’s impressive ability at such a young age.
‘Ozan is one of the best defensive talents in Europe,’ former Schalke head coach David Wagner said.
‘Everyone knows which teams made every effort to try and sign him. He’s certainly one of the most talented defenders of his age in Europe.’
Ex-Schalke coach David Wagner said Kubak was ‘one of the best defensive talents in Europe’
Meanwhile, former Aston Villa midfielder and Stuttgart sporting director Thomas Hitzlsperger was equally-complimentary when speaking about the Turk during his short spell at the club.
‘It’s incredible how worldy-wise he is for his age,’ Hitzlsperger said.
‘It’s astonishing. I see him every day and am amazed at how he mature he is.
‘He wants to know everything; he wants to learn German right away and understand everything. That’s the kind of attitude we need. He’s already a role model, despite his age.’
Stuttgart sporting director Thomas Hitzlsperger insisted the Turk was ‘already a role model’
Team-mate at Stuttgart, Gonzalo Castro, added: ‘He’s got a lot of potential. He’s still very young.
‘You could see in the game against Hannover that he’s got a lot of talent.
‘He’s very laid back, very calm and doesn’t let the club’s current situation [in a relegation fight] bother him. He’s definitely got the talent to play at a big club.’
Soon, Kabak will be the talk of Merseyside and his first impression will set the tone.
Kabak has already registered seven caps for the Turkey national team – with six of those coming in 2020 as he helped his side qualify for next summer’s rearranged European Championship.
He actually broke onto the European scene at the age of 17 when he captained his country at the 2017 European Under-17 championships.
The centre back guided his country to the semi-finals in Croatia, where they eventually lost to England.
Kabak is now a regular for the senior Turkey team and helped them qualify for Euro 2020
Nevertheless, Kabak was a regular youth-team international, making 24 appearances at Under-17 level and 11 at Under-18 level.
But it will be next summer at the Euros where Kabak will get the chance to impress potential suitors on the continental stage, should a January transfer not materialise.
What’s his temperament like?
In a word: questionable.
Earlier this season Kabak was given a five-game ban after spitting at Ludwig Augustinsson in the first half against Werder Bremen.
Kabak was sent off and saw an additional four games added to his ban, along with a €15,000 (£13,220) fine.
The youngster protested his innocence after the match and said the ‘TV angle’ was deceptive.
Kabak will have to prove his temperament holds after an embarrassing spitting episode
Having been banned for five matches, Kabak looked to clear up the incident on social media
Klopp best hope he has learned his lesson if he is going to play a key role in the run-in.
On Twitter, Kabak wrote: ‘I would like to sincerely apologise to Ludwig Augustinsson. It was not intentional, it was an accident.’
‘I did not aim at him, the TV angle gives a deceptive view of the incident,’ he added.
‘I never did that before and never will, as it’s unsporting. This was very unfortunate.’
Virgil van Dijk has been sidelined since sustaining a serious injury away against Everton