Emre Can’s Remarkable Journey: From Bayern Munich to Borussia Dortmund

When Borussia Dortmund face Real Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday night, Mats Hummels and Marco Reus will hope to exorcise the demons of the club’s 2013 visit to Wembley. The duo are the only two remaining members of Dortmund’s last Champions League final appearance when they suffered last-gasp, final heartbreak at the hands of Bayern Munich as Arjen Robben scored an 89th-minute winner. But they are not the only two players who will take to the pitch this weekend with vivid memories of that particular final. That’s because Emre Can will look back on that night with fond memories as he finished his only campaign as a first-team player for Bayern Munich with a Champions League winners’ medal draped around his neck after his side’s 2-1 win over Dortmund at Wembley. And this weekend will be the third Champions League final of Can’s fascinating career, with Liverpool’s 2018 defeat to Real Madrid his second. He will head to Wembley, looking to etch his name into Dortmund folklore and become just the second captain in the club’s history, after Michael Zorc in 1997, to lift the European Cup. “It’s very different, I would say, because when I was with Bayern in the final I didn’t play, I was a young guy,” Can told CBS Sports after the semi-final victory over Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month. “I was in the squad but I didn’t play. With Liverpool I was a long time injured, I didn’t play the quarter-final or semi-final. “Now I am playing all the games and when you play it’s different and it feels different. I am [the] captain of this team and I am very proud. If I talk too much I get emotional.” It has been quite the ride for Can since leaving Bayern Munich as a Champions League winner in August 2013 to join Bayer Leverkusen as he looked to earn regular minutes in the Bundesliga as a prodigy. His stay in the North Rhine-Westphalia, though, was short and sweet as a breakout season with Leverkusen, in which he played in 29 out of the 34 Bundesliga games, earned him a move to Liverpool. He arrived on Merseyside in a deal worth £10m and as part of Liverpool’s squad overhaul in the post-Luis Suarez era as manager Brendan Rodgers signed 10 new players, including Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren, as the club prepared for its first Champions League campaign in five years. The German’s first season was spent mainly operating as a make-shift defender as Rodgers experimented with new ways to reignite his side that had fallen by the wayside after challenging for the Premier League in the previous season. But it was not until Jurgen Klopp was appointed as manager in October 2015 that Can, who scored the first goal of the German’s reign in a Europa League tie against Rubin Kazan, began to flourish. His Reds’ career, though, was punctuated with disappointment as Can, who made 167 appearances for the club in total, suffered defeats in the 2016 League Cup and Europa League finals, as well as the 2018 Champions League final to Real Madrid in his last appearance for the club as he rejected a contract extension at Anfield in favour of joining Juventus. “I had a lot of offers from very good teams,” Can said. “I decided to come to Juventus because I think the project here is very big. They have very big aims. I want to be part of the project here. “I am really happy to be here. I know how Juventus play, I watched a lot of the games last season. One of my biggest idols was Zidane who played here too. “My first manager when I started to play football was a huge Juventus fan. When I was six or seven he told me that one day I’d play for Juventus. Now I am here and it’s a cool story. “The club had good contact with my agent for many years. I just know how huge the club is and the mentality of the club – they want to win titles. That’s my mentality too. I came here to win titles. “I think the first target has to be to win Serie A and then comes the Champions League. That has to be our aim. I am here to help the team.” His stay in Turin was short-lived and lasted just 37 Serie A appearances before was loaned out to Borussia Dortmund in January 2020 shortly after he was left out of the club’s Champions League squad by manager Maurizio Sarri. Can later revealed that he had battled thyroid cancer during his time in Turin. “I am so grateful to Juventus doctors, Can told Dazn in January 2023. “They called me two months after my medicals with the club. I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t even know what a thyroid was and I would never imagine I had cancer. The move to Turin was worthy, only just for this.” Now, though, after a decade of trying to settle at some of Europe’s biggest clubs, Can has found a home in Borussia Dortmund and is 158 appearances not out. It’s why this weekend’s Champions League final against the esteemed, 14-time winners Real Madrid will feel like a full-circle moment for the midfielder. “We are ready, this is football. Every day is different, now we are in the final. We are excited to have reached it,” he says of Saturday night. “We can’t wait to play it.”