On January 14, Nuri Sahin re-signed with Borussia Dortmund.
On March 16, Nuri Sahin returned to Borussia Dortmund.
With two goals and an assist in a man-of-the-match performance during the 5-1 hammering of Freiburg, the Turkey international dealt a considerable blow to the old adage that lightning never strikes twice in the same place.
Having been a part of the Dortmund family since the age of 12 after he was recruited from the academy at RSV Meinerzhagen, Sahin’s rise through the ranks culminated in 2011 with player-of-the-season honours as Die Schwarzgelben collected a first German league title in almost a decade.
When coach Juergen Klopp took the reins at Signal Iduna Park in 2008, one of his first acts was to establish the then-teenager as a first-team regular following a productive season on loan at Feyenoord. Sahin, effectively, was the on-pitch personification of Klopp’s Dortmund vision, and a key factor in their eventual glory.
His crucial performances as a more aesthetically-pleasing alternative to the more surly midfield anchor – combined with his 11 league goals and 16 league assists over two seasons – were always going to catch the eye of Europe’s big spenders.
Jose Mourinho, as it turns out, did not waste any time: almost as soon as the 2011 title party hangovers had faded, Sahin had agreed to join Real Madrid.
Of course, Los Galacticos’ big acquisitions tend to go one of two ways: either they’re massive hits, or they end up sending the player’s progress backwards. While injuries hindered Sahin’s Bernabeu experience, there was a lack of sufficient evidence that Mourinho, one of the most tactically-astute coaches in modern times, knew exactly what he wanted from Nuri the way Klopp did.
And then there was Liverpool.
“I have left Brendan Rodgers, thanks be to God,” was Sahin’s wistfully-blunt appraisal of six wasted months at Anfield, in what was supposed to be a loan move to restore his Dortmund swagger.
He elaborated: "Rodgers wanted me to play as a ‘number 10’, but I do not play behind the forwards.
"I spoke with him and asked him why I was playing there. It is not my real position. The boss could not answer me... still, I am not sorry about it.”
Ironically, had Sahin picked the reported Loan Door #2 and headed to Arsenal, he could have possibly provided the Gunners with the midfield authority they have so often lacked post-Patrick Vieira without compromising Arsene Wenger’s fluid approach, and been a Premier League hit after all.
Not that the Luedenscheid-born star cares much for dwelling on what-ifs in hindsight.
"Maybe if I had not gone there (Liverpool) I would not have been able to return to Borussia Dortmund," he said. "For that, I am happy.”
Sahin’s showed, clear as day, where his heart lies. Where it always has been. Two accomplished managers in the world’s top two divisions tried, and failed, to recreate that 2008-2011 magic. Unfortunately, they just didn’t ‘get’ Sahin, how he works, or what he brings to the table.
Klopp and Dortmund hardly fell apart at the seams when Sahin left, as they retained the Bundesliga crown with a record points tally of 81 and added the DFB-Pokal for a league-cup double. But their struggles adapting to European football last season and their current 20-point deficit behind Bayern Munich makes one wonder what could have been had the cultured midfield general stayed.
Footballers often seek new challenges, better salaries and more exposure, and nobody would deny the 24-year-old that opportunity. But going back to an old employer in search of past glory seldom works out well.
When his first start since returning became 90 minutes of hell in a humbling 4-1 defeat at home to Hamburg, the old Westfalenstation appeared to be certifiably lightning-free.
But after two months, six appearances off the bench and the Hamburg nightmare, the Nuri Sahin that Dortmund knew and loved was found alive and well, cutting Freiburg to ribbons and stealing the show from both Robert Lewandowski, who scored his 19 league goal this term, and Leonardo Bittencourt’s ridiculous chicken goal celebration.
There is, of course, a long way to go. With Sebastian Kehl, Ilkay Gundogan, Sven Bender and Moritz Leitner all providing formidable competition for two slots deep in Dortmund’s midfield, one salubrious performance does not guarantee the sequel will match up to the original for club or player.
Whether things work out or not over the next year and a bit of this initial loan spell, however, it’s safe to say that Sahin is once again a footballer unchained.
"I feel well physically and mentally, everything is perfect,” he said in the same interview. “After returning to Germany, I feel much better."
The international break means a Bundesliga back-burner until March 30, when Dortmund could officially concede the title to Bayern with seven games to spare if they drop points at Stuttgart and the Bavarians defeat Hamburg.
Regardless of results on matchday 27, this writer simply hopes that Europa League hopefuls Mainz are at least able to score one at home to struggling Werder Bremen, for another excuse to hear the PA blare their fantastic goal music.