In order to understand how complicated Ilkay Gündogan’s career can sometimes be, it can be useful to listen to the discussions after the match against England. Fans, reporters, and the infamous player’s circles whispered to each other two contradictory theses, and both sounded plausible. Hansi Flick should never have replaced Ilkay Gundogan, some whispered and said that in that exact 83rd minute the German team lost the safety of the ball that could have prevented the goal in the final stage. Others’ response to this nonsense, Gundogan was clearly tired, after all having spent a season in the world’s most stressful league.
And the player himself? Like I said, it’s complicated. When Ilkay Gündogan later appeared in the interview area, he said a few sentences in his own solemn form, which could be read as coded messages. It was supposed to be cooler in the later stages and hold the ball better, things like that. Possible translation: With me, Ilkay Gundogan, this would not have happened. However, people who saw Gundogan in the VIP area after the match reported a player who was completely relaxed and had nothing to blame the coach or the evening.
The story of Ilkay Gundogan and the German national team is well known, but now there is a new season. What has happened so far is that Gundogan has missed out on successful tournaments due to injuries and has played little in unsuccessful tournaments. And also that the director has written an antagonist named Toni Kroos in the plot for cheap dramatic reasons – a rival who was and still is very good, but also plays similarly a Usually players of this type in the starting lineup are enough.
Gundogan competes with Leon Goretzka, but also with Thomas Muller
Here’s the new development in the series: Kroos has cleared his place, but it’s not at all clear that Gundogan will get that spot either. Although the 31-year-old can be used in a variety of ways, he can be used in the back, middle, front and now also in the very front midfield – but it seems his destiny is, to play for his quality, always meeting opponents who need to play the most. In the current situation, Gundogan faces a huge block of Bayern – players such as Joshua Kimmich (back midfield), Leon Goretzka (midfield) and Thomas Muller (very front midfield), who not so long ago together with coach Flick won a thousand titles.
Mixing the midfield properly would be a very nice luxury task for Flick, but it could also be very crucial for the game. If he put Gündogan in the far off position alongside Kimmich, he would have gained quiet authority there, giving his teammates a sense of security because they can deliver every ball there under pressure and know: Gündogan doesn’t lose it. At the same time, Flick could have lost a lot of fitness in this relevant area, with Gündogan having a pair of narrower shoulders than Goretzka, and he’s not the kind of ranger who throws himself in the way of hackers anyway.
If the national coach decides in favor of Gundogan’s attack (which Gundogan prefers), he may have to entrust him with the position of Thomas Muller, which Thomas Muller would not favor. Anyone who listened to Flick on Friday before the third Nations League match against Hungary would recommend Gundogan not to speculate on Mueller’s whereabouts. Muller was “very important”, Flick was enthusiastic, and the team needed experienced staff “who would perform at the highest level. He is a good player for every team”. All this also applies to Gundogan. But it seemed like a clear commitment to Mueller.
Players sometimes say they like to go to the national team because after that they see something different than in the club. Gundogan doesn’t say that, it would also be cheating. He meets different teammates in the Bundesliga compared to Manchester City, but sees the same otherwise.
The situation is similar in Manchester: Rodri and De Bruyne are untouchable
It’s no exaggeration to describe Gundogan as a world-class player who, as Flick might say, is good for every team. For years Gundogan has been a great master of the small pass and at times you had to turn the scenes back a bit to discover that clever turn of the game with which Gundogan once again prepared a target beforehand. Under the leadership of Pep Guardiola, he developed until he became a weak goalscorer, as it just happened, deciding the Manchester City championship with two goals in the center of the attack. But he was just a substitute in this match.
He already knows the style that Gundogan found in the DFB from the club: either way, the coaches value him immeasurably, but he always has him with untouchable defense (Kimmich/Rodri) and untouchable attack (Müller/De Bruyne) an act. And the players between front and back (here Goretzka, there’s Bernardo Silva) have special skills that coaches sometimes think fit the team with half a toe better than Ilkay Gundogan’s. Then again he is number 11 and a half in the starting lineup.
Gündogan is a global superstar and top-back, and he makes the best of a complex game possible, even though he sometimes doesn’t understand the deepest debates at all. He sees himself as a standout player in the Premier League in recent years and in nearly every starting lineup in the world, and he also believes the player who can give a team the tempo as much as they need is enough rhythm in the game himself. Gundogan’s contract at Manchester runs only until 2023, and he will be watching this summer transfer closely and also whether and how his role at Guardiola will change. It is not impossible for him to leave Manchester this summer, but that is not very likely. Manchester do not have to generate transfer fees for players who will be free after a year (reason: wealth). And Gundogan does not have to rush into anything, he plays often enough and always finds something when in doubt (reason: quality).
For now, Ilkay Gündogan assumes he will be close enough to Pep Guardiola’s starting team by November to play at least 83 minutes in the opening game of the German World Cup.