Ozan Kabak passnotes: Liverpool and Manchester United have been linked with Turkish defender who idolises Virgil van Dijk… so, why is 20-year-old centre back for bottom-of-the-table Schalke so in demand with £20m January asking price?
- Ozan Kabak is being heavily linked with a third transfer in as many years
- The Turkish international has established himself as safe and secure at the back
- He started his career at Galatasaray, before moving to Germany with Stuttgart
- Now at Schalke, the 20-year-old could move on again with his side struggling
- As well as Liverpool and Manchester United, RB Leipzig and Milan are interested
Highly-rated centre back Ozan Kabak has 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. However, that means the 20-year-old continues to be linked with a big-money move away to one of Europe’s big-hitters.
He has already played for three clubs in his short professional career but with Liverpool, Manchester United and RB Leipzig all interested, could a fourth be on the cards next month? Sportsmail takes a look at what Kabak will offer any potential new suitor.
Ozan Kabak (left) has been linked with a big-money move away from Schalke next year
The 20-year-old Turkish international has already played for three clubs during his career
Who is he?
A full international at the age of just 20, Ozan 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.
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.
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
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 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 winless at the bottom of the Bundesliga, a fourth transfer looks likely in 2021.
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 himself models his game on Virgil van Dijk and he could well replace the Holland captain should he make a £20m move to Merseyside in January.
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, but that has not stopped the rumour-mill about a big-money move away.
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,’ said former Schalke head coach David Wagner.
‘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,’ said Hitzlsperger. ‘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 may well get that move to a big club.
Kabak has already registered seven caps for the Turkish national team – with six of those coming this year as he helped his side qualify for next summer’s European Championships.
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 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 are the chances of a move?
Given the plight of his current side, pretty high.
Schalke are rock bottom of the Bundesliga having picked up just four points from 13 matches. In addition to that, they are winless and have conceded 36 goals already. If relegation is already on the cards, you expect the Turk may jump ship once again.
Despite the leaky defence, Kabak’s stock remains in tact. Liverpool have been most heavily linked, particularly given their long-term shortage of centre backs.
Both Van Dijk and Joe Gomez are out for a number of months, leaving just Joel Matip as Jurgen Klopp’s senior centre back.
Defensive midfielder Fabinho has deputised impressively, while youngsters Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips have also stood in at various points.
Liverpool could target a centre back in January following the injury to talisman Virgil van Dijk
Manchester United have been linked with a new centre back partner for Harry Maguire (left)
From United’s perspective, there has been constant speculation about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being on the look-out for a suitable partner for captain Harry Maguire, with the jury still largely out to the error-prone Victor Lindelof.
Elsewhere, Kabak could move to a third German club in RB Leipzig, teaming up or possibly replacing Dayot Upamecano, with Serie A leaders AC Milan another interested party.
Wherever he goes, Kabak looks set to move on again – and whoever signs him will get a player with impressive solidity, maturity and bags of potential down the line.
The Schalke defender is likely to jump ship should Schalke’s decline result in relegation
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