The Borussia Dortmund star is set to face his old club in the Champions League on Wednesday and looks to be getting back to his best after a couple of difficult years
By Enis Koylu
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 their 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 that 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 that 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 their Champions League challenge and forming a dynamic partnership with Sven Bender.
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. Sahin had the luxury of slotting into a team who made a flying start to the season, buoyed by their 4-2 win over Bayern in the DFL-Supercup. He outperformed Gundogan 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 man 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 that he had returned to full fitness, Jose Mourinho's side were cruising towards the Primera Division 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 was 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 admits 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," he remarked, adding bitterly: "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 is as though he is 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 quarter-final at Madrid gives Sahin the chance to demonstrate to the Santiago Bernabeu faithful his true ability. It also offers him the opportunity to show Gundogan that he may be better off resisting a move to the Spanish capital this summer.