A member of Galatasaray’s youth academy, Ozan Kabak headed to Germany at the age of 18.
His performances during the opening months of the 2018/19 Super Lig prompted Stuttgart to spend €11m to land him, beating Manchester United to his signature in the process.
After just six months in Germany, Kabak won Bundesliga Rookie of the Season, but this didn’t prevent Stuttgart from relegation. Finishing 16th, they faced Union Berlin in the promotion/relegation play-off and the two away goals the 2. Bundesliga club scored in the first leg was enough to see Stuttgart relegated.
His 15 Bundesliga appearances was enough to convince Schalke to splash the cash. Kabak joined David Wagner’s Royal Blues for €15m, signing a five-year contract, fighting off competition from several other clubs to land his signature.
Ozan Kabak in 2019/20
Kabak's preparations for the 2019/20 season didn’t get off to the best of starts. Injured after his second training session, he missed the two opening Bundesliga games of the season and played just 16 minutes of football across the opening nine weekends. The then-19-year-old played in a friendly during the international break that he used to regain his fitness, and impressed head coach Wagner, saying: “Ozan has a presence and a fantastic sense of calm on the ball.
“In one or two situations, you could tell that he’d been out of action for three months, but that’s completely normal because it’s all about generating rhythm and feeling.”
Awarded his first start against Augsburg in November, Kabak played 11 consecutive Bundesliga games, becoming a consistent performer for Schalke, averaging a 6.7 FC Rating in those fixtures. A standout performer across his 1775 Bundesliga minutes for Schalke, Kabak impressed even when Schalke didn’t.
The Royal Blues won just one of their 17 games in the second half of the season and picked up just two points from an available 27 after the Bundesliga resumed following the coronavirus pandemic.
Role at Schalke
Featuring in 26 Bundesliga games for Schalke in the Bundesliga by the age of 20 shows the faith Wagner has in his central defender. Injuries across the defence haven’t helped, but Kabak is a shining light in what has been a disappointing season for the Royal Blues.
Wagner has experimented with several formations this season but predominantly a 4-4-2 diamond or a 3-4-3, and Kabak is equally adept at playing centrally in a back four or on the right side of a back three. Kabak has also contributed with three goals and one assist.
Averaging 1.8 interceptions P90 puts him in the higher echelon of defenders, and the 20-year-old is also solid in the air (3.8 aerials won P90), while winning 68% of his duels is the third-highest for any central defender in the Bundesliga this season. His five clearances P90 is also in the top 10, while his 5.7 recoveries P90 is perfectly acceptable, too. These are solid numbers for one so young.
Kabak's fit with Liverpool
With Dejan Lovren joining Zenit St. Petersburg and Joel Matip being linked with a move away from Liverpool, it’s no secret that the Premier League champions are scouring Europe for a central defender.
Although it’s unlikely that the youngster would slot straight into Jurgen Klopp’s team, he would provide Joe Gomez and Matip with competition and provide rotation options in what is likely to be an intense schedule in 2020/21.
It’s difficult to compare Premier League and Bundesliga football, but there are some similarities in the way teams press. Kabak (1.4) already trumps Virgil van Dijk (0.3), Gomez (0.7), and Matip (1.2) in tackles won P90 but this is difficult to read given that Liverpool tend to see more of the ball than Schalke do.
But in a possession-based system, his passes P90 (52.4) is significantly lower than Van Dijk (84.8), Gomez (88.3), or Matip (69.8), with an already lower passing completion (81%). This could be put down to the system and the quality of the team, but nevertheless, this may be of concern to Klopp.
But working under the German, and training alongside Van Dijk would only improve the solid core attributes of his game and Kabak has the attributes to feature at a more established club.
He said recently: “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. I like his style and how he plays, so I can say he’s my football idol."
He’s certainly one of the most talented defenders of his age in Europe.David Wagner on Kabak
Schalke have openly admitted that they’re feeling the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. No fans inside stadiums has obviously seen matchday revenue disappear and the Bundesliga club must sell before they recruit new signings.
Kabak has admirers from across Europe and the Bundesliga club have done well to fight off competition for the youngster in the past, but with a significant market value, the Royal Blues could look at selling one of their prized assets.
Kabak’s €45 million exit clause doesn’t come into effect until the summer of 2021, but the Bundesliga club would be willing to listen to offers of around €35m. For that fee, Liverpool would be getting an exceptional talent who can already provide competition with Gomez, but also a player that would improve significantly under the tutelage of Klopp.