Salih Özcan – How Cologne’s eternal talent suddenly ignites

Özcan had shown an impressive energy performance in defensive midfield and captured many balls. “The plan was to take away the fun of the game for the Gladbachers. We managed to do that,” said the 23-year-old.

Fritz Walter Medal and U21 European Champion

The fact that Özcan was in the starting line-up despite the return of the longer injured Ellyes Skhiri was an indication of his new status. So far he has been considered a supplementary player at FC, who can be brought into many positions, but who is not necessarily first choice.

In the summer he was even supposed to leave the club, because only a few believed in his breakthrough as a regular player. Özcan was considered a great talent and received the Fritz Walter Medal as Germany’s best U19 player in 2017. He played 60 junior internationals and was a fixture in the U21s. The coronation was the U21 European Championship title in 2021, in the final against Portugal (1-0) Özcan was in the starting line-up.

Difficult start even under Baumgart

Özcan did without the Olympics in Tokyo in order to better prepare for the Bundesliga season. The new coach Baumgart had intervened at the club and wanted to keep Özcan. “He made me feel like I had to stay”, said Özcan later. His new contract runs until 2023.

But the start of the current season was also bumpy. Top performers Skhiri and access Dejan Ljubicic had the edge in defensive midfield, Özcan mostly stewed on the bench. It was only when Skhiri and Ljubicic were injured that Özcan was allowed to play in his favorite position in central midfield for the first time on matchday eight. But the FC went under weakened 0: 5 in Hoffenheim.

First goal in the 74th Bundesliga game

Özcan stayed in the starting line-up anyway and gained security alongside the recovered Ljubicic. In the 1-1 draw against Mainz on matchday 12, he showed his best performance to date in the FC jersey and equalized with his head – it was his first goal in the 74th Bundesliga game.

Apparently it was an initial spark, because a week later Özcan went one better against Mönchengladbach. In addition to Skhiri and Ljubicic, Özcan brought in his athleticism ideally, compensating his speed deficits with aggressiveness, clever positional play and anticipation.

Four derbies, four wins

This is how Özcan also built on his amazing derby record: He played four times against Mönchengladbach, each time FC won. In between, Cologne also suffered five derby defeats – each without Özcan. His first Derby appearance was the 2-1 win on November 19, 2016. Back then, as an 18-year-old, shortly before the end, he tapped a free kick to Marcel Risse, whose furious violent shot was later voted Goal of the Year 2016.

Özcan has been wearing the FC jersey since he was nine years old, apart from a year on loan in Holstein Kiel in 2019/20. At the moment there is a lot to suggest that there will be a few more years to come.

Stand: 30.11.2021, 12:14

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Salih Özcan – How Cologne’s eternal talent suddenly ignites