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Sahin likely to join Real Madrid

Nuri Sahin wasn't the only Borussia Dortmund professional with tears in his eyes after the final whistle last Saturday. The Jürgen Klopp-coached side beat 1.FC Nürnberg 2-0 to secure the club's seventh German championship two games before the end of the season. Unfortunately from the Dortmund supporters' perspective, it seems that Sahin's tears weren't just tears of joy but sorrow, too. "I don't want to talk about it," he told journalists when asked about his emotional outburst on the Signal Iduna Park pitch, "it's a private thing."

Private maybe. But Sahin, it is fair to say, didn't want to discuss the real reasons behind the sadness. Announcing his departure to Real Madrid would have put too much of a dampener on the party proceedings but chances are he'll come clean well before lifting the trophy after the home match against Eintracht Frankfurt on May 14. No club official has gone on the record yet but the fact that an agreement between the German champions and Madrid is imminent is a badly kept secret, like that of Schalke 04 keeper Manuel Neuer's protracted move to Bayern Munich. News of the deal was leaked to Marca on the eve of the second Champions League semifinal leg against Barcelona, no doubt in an effort to soften the blow of the (likely) exit. "Madrid will get an excellent left-footed player," Marca proclaimed on the cover.

The paper has good reason to be confident. Various conflicting reports about a release clause in Sahin's contract (expiry date: summer 2013) with the Black & Yellows have made the rounds since the winter break but the club is no longer denying that the clause exists. Offers of €12 million ($17.4M) or more will reportedly trigger it, small change for Jose Mourinho's side. Sahin's wages are also not an issue: the 22-year-old is expected to nearly triple his pay from €1.5 million ($2.1M) to €4 million ($5.8M) a season. Dortmund has put a brave face on it ("We will talk to Nuri if an offer comes in," said Sporting Director Michael Zorc) but it is really at the mercy of the player and Real, who seem to have agreed personal terms despite one or two initial misgivings by the Turkish international.

"We will make a decision together with the club at the end of the week," the midfielder stated on his Facebook page.

Sahin's teammate Lucas Barrios has already inadvertently confirmed the deal on Spanish radio on Wednesday. "I believe that Real Madrid have made a good purchase," said the Paraguayan forward. "The people in Madrid will like him because he is a great player. I see him playing next to Xabi Alonso."

Born in Lüdenscheid, a mere 28 miles from Dortmund, Sahin has been playing for Borussia since he was 12 years old. There are photos of him celebrating the club's last championship, in 2002, as a ball-boy in the ground. His outstanding technical talent and composure on the ball saw him promoted to the first team at 16 and he's still the youngest ever player to feature in Germany's top-flight. Predictably enough, Arsène Wenger soon came calling. The Arsenal manager described Sahin (pronounced "Sha-heen") as "one of the greatest talents in European football under 18." Despite being close to bankruptcy at the time, Dortmund turned down an offer of €3 million ($4.3M) in 2005.

Sahin really came into his own when he followed his mentor, former Dortmund coach Bert van Marwijk to Feyenoord Rotterdam in 2007/08 on loan. This season, however, he went to a whole new level as the heartbeat of Germany's best and most attractive team. Playing as one of two holding midfielders, he's been setting the tempo and pitched in with the odd sublime goal or two.

It's certainly easy to see why Mourinho, a keen follower of the Bundesliga, would be a fan: Sahin is an upgrade to the slightly more limited Sami Khedira and can also be expected to combine well with Germany international Mesut Özil, who is also of Turkish descent. The two share the same agent, Reza Fazeli, are good friends off the pitch and have long dreamed about turning out for the same team. And Özil, 22, is key in the deal for another reason, too. His rapid progress at the Bernabeu makes it easier for Sahin to take the plunge as well. Other agents might have advised him to stay and play in the Champions League with Dortmund first but after Özil's positive experience, Fazeli is convinced that his other client has got what it takes to join the big time right now. "It's my ambition to keep constantly improving in my career," said Sahin, unafraid of the challenge.

Playing for Real Madrid will also help his cause in the Turkish national team, where he's inexplicably failed to hold down a regular spot under Guus Hiddink. "They must have pretty good midfielders if Nuri is not in the first team," Borussia CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke shrugged last year.

Sahin will have a decent chance to be voted footballer of the year in Germany. Only his Japanese teammate Shinji Kagawa, who has missed the second half of the season with a broken foot, has performed as well consistently.

Dortmund will not find it easy to fill the void at the base of the midfield next season but the champions have taken precautions. On Thursday, the club announced the signing of German U-21 midfielder Ilkay Gündogan from FC Nürnberg. "We have basically agreed term on a four-year deal" said Zorc. The fee is believed to be in the region of €4 million. Gündogan, another Bundesliga player of Turkish ancestry, is a very similar player to Sahin but not quite as polished. It's prudent to assume that he's seen as the best possible replacement for Sahin; the deal amounts to an admission that Sahin will indeed leave.

While international media have been quick to interpret Sahin's defection to La Liga as a sign of the inevitable breakup, most local observers believe that the club will be able to keep all other key personnel. Tellingly, Dortmund will refrain from buying big names -- Klopp and Zorc have decided to improve the contracts of the most important players instead. Nevertheless, recent history has shown that Bundesliga champions other than Bayern Munich have found it hard to deal with the dual pressures of Europe and the league. Dortmund doesn't have to win the title again next season, but finishing in the top four and qualifying for the Champions League will be imperative to avoid the departure of half a dozen brilliant, mostly young players (defenders Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, midfielders Kagawa, Mario Götze, Sven Bender and Barrios) who won't be short of options, especially if they manage to strut their stuff against Europe's biggest names.

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