Nuri Sahin was one of the biggest poster-children for Dortmund's modern youth movement. In 2005, he became the youngest scorer in Bundesliga history at 17 years, 2 months, and 21 days. His combination of tactical awareness, transitional passing, and deep-lying playmaking abilities were a tantalizing combination, and his eventual move to Real Madrid seemed like the one that would truly vault the young Turkish midfielder into the stratospheres of soccer talent.
In 2016, Sahin cuts a somewhat disappointing figure. After only managing 4 appearances for Real Madrid and another 7 on loan to Liverpool, Sahin returned to Dortmund, first on loan, then re-signing officially. And after months lost to injury after injury, Thomas Tuchel and Dortmund still aren't sure the exact quantity they have in Sahin.
While his talent has long been obvious, Sahin's play over the last six months hasn't exactly inspired a great deal of confidence. Despite both players' penchants for tidy passing and keeping possession of the ball, Sahin hasn't played particularly well alongside Julian Weigl, and the young German's rise has been enough to keep Sahin off the field in first-choice situations. If Tuchel felt the need to start an extra defensive midfielder, he proved just as likely to insert Matthias Ginter as Nuri Sahin.
It seems Sahin's problem is one of position.
By design, the need to add another holding midfielder usually rules Sahin out as a long-term answer. While Weigl is a wonderful possession midfielder, he's not always convincing challenging others on the ball and getting into physical battles. Nuri Sahin isn't the player to add that grit to the field; if anything, he's Weigl's backup. And now that Dortmund have added Sebastian Rode from Bayern Munich, Sahin's usefulness as a second holding midfielder continues to wane.
And his more offensive inclinations? If Sahin is to realistically fill the Ilkay Gundogan-sized hole in the Dortmund midfield, he'll need to change his game and become more comfortable sitting in between the lines as a transition player than his normal deep spot in the midfield. He'll also need to beat out Gonzalo Castro and young prospect Mikel Merino, who just helped Osasuna to top-flight promotion in Spain with some inspired midfield play down the stretch. Places further up the pitch seem to be clogged for Sahin as well.
Sahin's lackluster play may very well be because of his long injury layoff, but Dortmund fans certainly won't be encouraged by his lack of game time at the European Championships, where Sahin only managed 45 minutes of play in a lost cause against Spain. That Sahin could not crack Turkey's starting lineup in an effort that only resulted in crashing out of the group stage is another cause for concern.
So does Sahin call it quits and try to find playing time elsewhere? Again, a move might not be in his or Dortmund's best interests. After limited playing time in both the Bundesliga and the Euros, Sahin's value isn't what one would call "sky-high." In the prime of his career, Dortmund will surely have to sell him for less than his actual worth if Sahin decides he'd like to go. Sahin must also find himself a home. A couple of Turkish clubs might be able to pony up the money to buy a high-profile national-teamer, but the only blue chip club currently rumored to be in the mix for Sahin is Liverpool, a tenuous connection Sahin himself has already shot down. Maybe he takes a shot at the often volatile world of Italian football with Fiorentina? It's hard to say if any of the transfer rumors around Nuri have any merit, mostly because the club who holds Sahin's talent in its highest regard might still be Borussia Dortmund.
At 27, Sahin finds himself at a bit of a crossroads. For the first time since the early years of his first team career, Sahin is a depth player rather than a starter, something of a surplus to requirements as opposed to an essential cog in Tuchel's machine. This makes the following preseason more important than ever for Nuri Sahin. He is now one of the oldest midfielders Dortmund has on its roster, and he's in the prime of his career. He has the chance to gain a true offseason and recover fully from any residual effects of his long injury layoff and subsequent return. With transfer rumors swirling, Sahin has to answer the question himself: does he leave to find playing time? Or does he fight through the depth chart logjam at Dortmund? His work in preseason will go a long way to determine just how much longer we see the youngest Bundesliga goalscorer ever in black and yellow.