Though Ozan Kabak is not the biggest name in world football, the Schalke central-defender has been linked a host of Premier League clubs, including Man Utd, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Liverpool ahead of the latest edition of the January transfer window.
While some of the hyperbole surrounding the January transfer window (looking at you, Sky Sports News) seems misplaced given how quiet most of them have been since 2011, there could be some interesting deals ahead this month. Naturally, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is likely to play a part given its continued financial impact across the game but the freakish number of injuries suffered during the most congested season of all time and gaping holes that have appeared in many squads as a result should be taken into consideration.
Who is Man Utd target Ozan Kabak?
Only 20 years of age, Kabak has already undergone an impressive footballing journey. Cutting his teeth with Turkish giants Galatasaray, the Ankara-born centre-back won the Super Lig title in Istanbul during his first professional campaign after impressing as captain of his country at the 2017 U-17 European Championships.
Starting life as a striker, Kabak cited the influence which legendary Turkish defender and Galatasaray legend Bulent Korkmaz, noted for his warrior spirit and resolute defending, had on his game.
Moving to Stuttgart in 2018, he made just 17 appearances before Schalke, then a Champions League team, saw fit to bring him to Gelsenkirchen. In his deal with the German giants, he’s thought to have a release clause of €45m (roughly £41m), although that doesn’t come into play until the summer.
Such has been his impact in the Bundesliga, their official website even compared him to the great Sergio Ramos. High praise indeed.
How does he play?
The kind of no-nonsense approach you might expect from someone moulded in Korkmaz’s image is reflected in Kabak’s game. While Schalke have endured something of a nightmare couple of seasons, there are wider issues afoot at the club, so it’s important not to judge him too much on some of the results the club have suffered.
According to FBref, he’s averaged 1.56 tackles won per game (55% of those attempted) since the start of the 2019-20 season as well as 1.23 interceptions. In terms of clearances, Kabak has amassed an impressive 6.09 and the 20-year-old has succeeded with 36% of his defensive pressures.
On the ball, Kabak has generally managed 42.5 carries per 90 minutes at a progressive distance of 151.8 yards, suggesting an ability to bring the ball out of defence, a crucial component of elite footballing sides. In terms of his passing, the last two seasons have seen him amass 8.37 successful passes whilst under pressure a game at a distance of 319.4 yards.
At 6’1, he may not be the most physically imposing but it is st ill easy to see how Ozan Kabak is a target for Premier League sides such as Man Utd, Leicester and Crystal Palace.
Where would he fit in best?
Based on the above, Man Utd does seem like a squad which Ozan Kabak could impose himself upon and their unlikely title challenge could make the move appealing to him. None of United’s central defenders this season have won more tackles or managed as many interceptions on average as the Turkish international and Victor Lindelof has not proven as capable in progressing the ball.
Clearly, it’s unlikely he’d be handed the role of a ball-playing defender alongside £80m Harry Maguire but he’s managed more successful passes under pressure than either the England international or Lindelof, potentially helping limit the sort of mistakes we’ve seen United make against the likes of Leicester and Sheffield United.
Kabak’s ‘deceptively quick’ recovery pace could be a useful tool when pair alongside Maguire and would allow the Englishman to drift forward in the kind of manner we saw at the 2018 World Cup, without leaving such a gaping hole in the backline.
Suggesting any player would be better off joining United than their all-conquering bitter rivals Liverpool right now might sound odd but context is required.
Kabak would be a useful short term solution for Klopp’s side but Virgil van Dijk will inevitably be first-choice again upon his return from injury, potentially leaving Kabak needing to compete with Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and even Fabinho for the remaining defensive slot. Furthermore, the likes of Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips have taken to life in the Reds’ first-team well so would provide added competition.
At Old Trafford, Ozan Kabak appears to have much more of a chance of making a sustained impact which is why a move to Man Utd does make a lot of sense.