Player in Focus: Euro 2020- Ozan Kabak, How Turkey's Young Prospect is establishing himself at the top of the Pyramid.
Ozan Muhammed Kabak is just twenty-one years of age and has already made an appearance for four different clubs in Europe. Unlike many other youngsters, Kabak has been on the climb in his premature career. A bright start for a promising defender.
The Turkish international plied his trade at Galatasaray and played his first Champions League match in October 2018 against Schalke 04 at just the ripe age of eighteen. After two seasons and eighteen matches, the young centre-back made his way to Germany. Kabak’s one year stint at VfB Stuttgart earned him further recognition.
TIME IN GERMANY
In March 2019, Kabak scored a brace in a 5-1 win over Hannover making him the youngest Turkish Centre back to ever score twice in a single Bundesliga match. He also became the third-youngest Stuttgart player to do so. Coincidently it was also his first goal as a professional player.
Schalke 04 bought the promising defender the very next season after activating his release clause. A reported fee of €15 million. He was a regular in his first season at the club, appearing in 26 matches and scoring three goals. His performances for the club saw him attract many suitors across Europe, with many of the big clubs keeping an eye on the player.
❓ Do you want Liverpool to sign Ozan Kabak on a permanent deal this summer?
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) April 28, 2021
Kabak would only spend half a season more at Schalke. Injury-hit Liverpool needed reinforcements and Kabak was their ideal choice. The Reds loaned the player from Germany for a reported fee of one million euros with a buy-on clause which is estimated at around eighteen million euros. Many claims that the Anfield team has once again pulled off a gamble on acquiring the young Turk.
Kabak was the Turkish Captain for the Turkey U17s at the 2017 UEFA European Under-17 Championship. The defender has an excellent appetite for leading things from the back and is calm on the ball. He is particularly exceptional at reading and analysing the game, thus helping him ward off any threat before it even spurts.
He is 6’1 inch tall and is not the biggest centre-back out there. However, he is no slouch when it comes to aerial duels. On the contrary, one of his biggest strengths is to win the ball in the year. Able to leap higher than his opponents and to time his jumps to perfection, Kabak is rarely beaten in the air. Even opponents taller and bigger than him can be outclassed by this young talent.
Combine that with speed and agility and we get a player that is comfortable in all aspects of the defensive department. Kabak thrives in a high-line defence as he is able to rely on his pace to make recovery tackles. His reading of the game enables him to make well-timed interceptions and prevent dangerous situations. Keen on pressuring and hungry for a tackle, attackers need to be at their best or the Turk will surely pinch the ball.
VVD THE IDOL
Like many of the defenders in Liverpool, Kabak is also a ball-playing centre-back and has been a necessary addition amidst injury crisis for the club. Kabak was deputised in the Anfield backline as deputy for the sidelined Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and even Joel Matip. In his brief nine appearances for the English side, Kabak showed maturity and hinted at the possibility of making a permanent transfer.
In his time at Schalke 04 and Stuttgart, the young centre mentioned his liking for his current teammate Van Dijk. “My personal aim is to become a top defender in maybe two or three years, like Virgil van Dijk. He’s my idol, I really like him.As a footballer? I like his style and how he plays, so I can say he’s my football idol.” – Kabak
Like his idol, Kabak is dominant in 1v1 situations and is hard to beat. He had a tackle/dribbled past percentage of 56.3%, ranked ninth in the entirety of the Bundesliga last season. In the 2018/19 season, VVD registered a 92.9% success rate in the tackle/dribbled past percentage.
Although he hasn’t been able to play with his idol he has considerably improved just by the very presence of the great defender.
“He [Van Dijk] gave me small tips about our football mentality,” Kabak adds. “I think defenders understand each other better and he came with some small tips about how we play or what I need to do. It helps [my] game. I analyse every striker before the game with video analysis. I ask the guys who work in here [for] their videos and I work on it.
Kabak is shaping to be a promising defender and might well cement a permanent transfer in the Premier League club. It is rare for young defenders to be of interest for many big clubs and the Turkish international can be proud of his achievements so far.
Turkey enters the Euro this summer and Kabak is expected to be a starting name in the lineup. He has already made 10 appearances for the national side and is likely to be a constant call-up.
In a group that features Wales, Italy and Switzerland, Turkey will rely on their defensive stability to ward off the many attacking threats in the group. He has already been dubbed the ‘Turkish Wall’. Will the young Kabak live up to his promise this summer?