Ilkay Gundogan's career story and how he became a legendary figure in City's hunt for silverware
After breaking onto the scene at the tender age of eighteen at Nuremberg, making twenty-two Bundesliga appearances for the club, Ilkay Gundogan immediately caught the eye of Jurgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund, who signed the midfielder in the summer of 2011 for an estimated £4.95m. Ilkay won the Bundesliga and Deutscher-Pokal in his first year at the club before joining Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, aged twenty-six, for an estimated £20m. Since signing for the club he has been at the heart of one of the greatest sides in Premier League history and is targeting a Champions League triumph to top off this sensational season.
Ilkay's trophy cabinet is quite remarkable and he could yet add two more pieces of silverware to his resume before the season is over. After losing to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final there will be no quadruple this season, albeit he did complete one quadruple last week as City won a fourth Carabao Cup in succession with a 1-0 win over Spurs. The blues are also now two wins away from a third league title in four seasons and after beating Paris St Germain in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first-leg are also on course to reach the final for the first time in their history. It's worth saying too if City beat Palace this weekend ahead of United's game vs Liverpool if Klopp's Reds win that, City can be crowned Champions on Sunday.
He's been at the centre of City's renaissance this season and has had a stellar career for both club and country, but it hasn't always been this simple for German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan throughout his career. After struggling with major injury issues at Dortmund and then tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his first few months at City, it's a true testament to his character that he's playing at the elite level he is at the moment.
After making a dream move from Nuremberg to Dortmund in the summer of 2011, the German became an everpresent for Jurgen Klopp. After signing with his new club Ilkay was rewarded with his first-ever international call-up aged only twenty and eleven months. Ilkay started on the bench for Germany as they faced Brazil in an August friendly, but made his debut in the October international break in 2011, a six-minute cameo against Belgium.
The midfielder went on to make twenty-eight appearances for Dortmund in the thirty-four match campaign, scoring three and assisting three as the German club secured a historic domestic double of DFB-Pokal and Bundesliga. A season later the German had almost identical returns to the season before - assisting three, scoring three with twenty-eight Bundesliga appearances.
The stand-out moment for his 12/13 season was his goal in the Champions League final to level the match against Bayern Munich at Wembley Stadium, a game Dortmund, unfortunately, went on to lose. Despite making two appearances the season prior, the German appeared in all but one of the Champions League games in the 12/13 season and was an integral part of that team.
Ilkay Gundogan won the German Cup and Bundesliga in his first season at the club
That Champions League campaign meant that the spotlight was firmly on Dortmund and their key assets, as the club saw Mario Gotze leave to Bayern and Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. Ilkay didn't leave that summer, but interest from United was brewing. After that incredible season, the German was still only a 23-year-old. In the first Bundesliga match in the 2013/14 season, a 4-0 win over Augsburg away, Ilkay Gundogan's career suffered its first major setback - due to a major back injury that went on to keep him out for fourteen months, meaning that he missed the 2014 World Cup. The German has since said he's fortunate his career didn't end when he went to see a surgeon who wanted to place a screw in his back that would've seen an abrupt end to his career.
Ilkay's spinal compression injury left him out of action for fourteen months, nearly ending his football dream in the process
"I saw a surgeon and he wanted to put a big screw in my back which would not allow me to play football at that level."
Fortunately for the German, he saw the right surgeon and after a painful and lengthy absence on the sidelines, the midfielder was back in action in the 2014/15 season. His return to form came with fierce interest from CIty's rivals, United, who the German had caught the eye of during the 2012/13 season whilst the Reds scouted Shinji Kagawa, who they signed in the 2013 summer transfer window.
Ilkay made a long-awaited return from injury the following season, 2014/15, in a 2-1 loss to Koln in which he played the full ninety. Ilkay went on to have a healthy and injury-free season as he made twenty-three appearances, scoring three goals and assisting four more. The Bundesliga side won the German Super Cup in his absence against Pep Guardiola's Bayern although the elusive Bundesliga was retained by Bayern for a third successive year after Dortmund had won it in 2011/12 season. Ilkay also saw a welcome return to the German national team in the 2014/15 season as he was called up for the March fixtures, almost two years since his last call-up.
Ilkay returned from his spinal compression injury in a 2-1 loss to FC. Koln on the 18th October 2014. It was a landmark occasion in the German's career.
A season later, and Gundogan's last in Germany, was an unsuccessful one as the club went through a turbulent few months as Jurgen Klopp left for Liverpool, who then knocked Dortmund out of the Europa League at the quarter-final stage. Ilkay made twenty-five appearances, scoring once and assisting three, which raised the attention of newly-appointed Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola. With the Catalan in a new role and with City in dire need of a midfield rebuild, the new boss was determined to make the German midfielder his first signing at the club, despite the German being injured at the time of his signature.
After recovering from his injury, Ilkay soon after became the heart of Guardiola's midfield alongside David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. After a bright start to life, playing in the 'number six', the German agonisingly tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a home match against Watford in mid-December - ruling him out of action until August the following year. It was the latest setback that the German had dealt with and his City career looked on a knife-edge before it had even completely taken off. In his absence, City limped to a third-place Premier League finish and Guardiola ended his first season as a manager trophyless.
Ilkay Gundogan tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) in a tussle with Nordin Amrabat
Ilkay made his return the following August in a friendly against Girona in Spain as City went for a couple of days of warm-weather training after an opening day win in the Premier League against Brighton. The German started his first competitive game in nearly a year at home to Southampton in November 2017, playing eighty minutes before being substituted. It was another milestone event that the German had to celebrate, but he had plenty more to celebrate as the season aged. The German really exploded into life at City during the unfortunate times whilst David Silva was out of the team with his son born prematurely. In Silva's first game missing, Ilkay slammed in a header against Tottenham to initiate a 4-1 thrashing in which he also made a pre-assist for the third goal.
In the months to come, Gundogan's City career came to life. The German scored a brace in a 4-0 demolition away at Basel in the Champions League whilst also scoring at home to Manchester United and away at Tottenham later in the season. The German played forty-nine times that season but despite playing well over 2,000 minutes, it felt like the best was still yet to come. Ilkay ended 2017/18 with the Premier League title and a Carabao Cup.
Despite showcasing his quality to City fans in 2017/18 and proving how capable he was playing a role in the midfield, there was a major concern when certain news broke following CIty's 2-0 opening day win over Arsenal at the Emirates. A story broke that Kevin De Bruyne had gone down hurt in training, potentially damaging ligaments in his knee, meaning the Belgian could face up to three months sidelined. With the club later clarifying the rumours and Guardiola confirming a three-month time frame in his press conference before facing Huddersfield Town, there were question marks as to how City would cope.
In the absence of the Belgian, Ilkay was one of three midfielders who frequently rotated as City juggled the fixture list. After signing Riyad Mahrez in the summer, Bernardo Silva and David Silva became ever-presents in midfield but Ilkay contributed to see out a win over United in which he scored the decisive goal and started other matches, contributing whenever he played, as David Silva was often rested.
As the season progressed into the later months and the defining ones of the campaign, Fernandinho struggled through injury and only made four appearances in the last eleven matches of the Premier League campaign. After being a stalwart and the essence of the midfield, the Brazilian looked to be a huge miss that would, in turn, hand the initiative to Liverpool to complete their own double. Ilkay Gundogan, who had mostly played further up the pitch, took over that role and made it his own, filling in for Fernandinho and helping see the season through for City to win the title. Ilkay's defensive abilities were crucial in four 1-0 wins over the course of the last eleven games but it was his party-piece free-kick on the final day that cemented, and celebrated, the German's impeccable season - a season made sweeter due to the story behind his career.
In any of his seasons in his career, never has Ilkay Gundogan been as prolific as he has been this season. Two PFA player of the month awards, coupled with two PL player of the month awards this season, have been the merit of his impressive displays since the turn of the year and since Pep Guardiola changed to a 3-1-3-3 system. Since the turn of the year, the midfielder has ten Premier League goals, and it's some slight tweaks in his game have led to an astronomically improved offensive output.
Gundogan's passes: 20/21
As seen on the graph, Gundogan's touches and passes have increased and decreased substantially in certain areas, leading to this more offensive player we've seen this season. First, a huge increase in his touches in the final third. Where previously he'd barely marauded to with his position often being to dictate in the midfield, now he has a significant % more of touches in the opposing third and this has led to him popping up in more attacking positions and the positions like we saw against Southampton, where he found himself available for a simple tap-in. With Guardiola often having his players around the box, using Gundogan to wander into the box and score goals like he has been doing consistently has proved to be a key aspect of this new-look City side.
Gundogan's defensive actions, before and after the formation switch.
Before CIty tweaked formation, the majority of Ilkay's defensive duties were in City's third and more significantly, the middle third. Since the formation switch though, the German's defensive actions have been increased substantially in the final third and decreased over 10% in the other thirds of the pitch. Not having to be as defensive in his first two-thirds, Ilkay now has the license to attack more frequently, knowing that Bernardo Silva and Rodri provide defensive cover. Tweaking his defensive actions has led to great success, with his late runs into the box paying dividends in Ilkay's increase in output this season. His sixteen goals, most recently his crucial header in the win at Goodison Park, and three assists this season speak for themselves.
Ilkay Gundogan's quality has been there since his Nuremberg days and after being nurtured by two of the best managers of this generation, he's become one of the most versatile midfielders in the Premier League and despite not being given his due credit by other fans, his role has always been valued by City fans and especially this season. It's his performances that have driven us up the table, his goals that broke the Anfield curse, and his goals that ended our horrific run against Jose's Tottenham. Two trophies are still in play, which means the German could still be on course to win the elusive Champions League and he completely deserves it. His story, everything he's been through, and the way he's come back have been incredible. This one's to you, Ilkay.