Why it is so important for Man City to keep Gundogan

Rob DawsonCorrespondent17 June 2023 at 4:00 a.m. ET5 minute reading

The quality that makes Ilkay Gundogan so special to Man City

Shaka Hislop explains the quality that makes Ilkay Gundogan crucial to Manchester City’s success.

A few minutes at the start of the FA Cup final encapsulated Ilkay Gundogan’s status at Manchester City.

Standing on the Wembley pitch before kick-off against Manchester United, he gathered his team-mates together for a few final words of encouragement, only for Ruben Dias – a taller and more animated leader – to step in and give his own speech. It might have annoyed another captain, but not Gundogan. Twelve seconds into the game he was back on center stage after scoring the fastest ever goal in an FA Cup final with a perfectly timed right-footed volley.

Gundogan is the epitome of a player who talks with his feet. His final act as City captain this season was lifting the Champions League trophy after a 1-0 win over Inter Milan in Istanbul, and it may yet be his final contribution to the club he joined from Borussia Dortmund in 2016. City want to keep him, but if he does not agree a new contract to extend his stay at the Etihad Stadium, there is interest from Barcelona, ​​Arsenal and clubs in Saudi Arabia.

The 32-year-old ignored all talk of his future until the end of the season, but now is the time to make a decision.

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After seven seasons together, manager Pep Guardiola knows exactly what he would lose. Gundogan was so good in the run-up that team-mate Kyle Walker joked in a press conference ahead of the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid that his form had earned the dressing room nickname “Prime Zidane”. During the treble celebrations, Jack Grealish filmed himself singing “Gundo’s on fire” to the tune of “Freed From Desire”.

Gundogan, as usual, looked a bit sheepish in the footage. Understated and somewhat reserved, he is far more comfortable giving out compliments about others than receiving them. It was probably for the best, then, that Gundogan was not in the media theater at Wembley after his FA Cup final heroics.

“The player is exceptional,” said Guardiola. “This season what he has done is just outstanding. Not just being part of the important moments and I won’t forget the two goals he scored against Aston Villa [on the final day of the 2021-22] and this season many times he has scored important goals.”

Gundogan has developed a reputation at City for saving his best for the big occasions. Against Villa in May 2022, with the Premier League title on the line, he scored twice in five minutes late in the game as Guardiola’s side came back from 2–0 down to win 3–2. In the last seven games of this season, the German midfielder scored six goals, including both in the FA Cup final over Man United. Two more doubles against Leeds United and Everton settled close games in the title clash with Arsenal.

Ilkay Gundogan is vital to Man City’s success in obvious and subtle ways, but it is unclear whether he will agree to extend his stay this summer.Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

Elected captain of the dressing room last summer following Fernandinho’s departure, his management style is based on setting the example for everyone else. He has a keen eye for detail in everything from his diet to his sleep patterns. He eats steamed meat and tries to avoid carbohydrates, even monitoring his portion sizes and cutting out sugar altogether. Before going to bed, he has at least an hour away from his phone so that the blue light from the screen does not affect his sleep.

Early in his career Gundogan suffered a series of injuries and at one point in late 2013 he was told by a doctor that he would have to retire due to a spine problem. Yet the manner in which he has been fit has seen him average 48 club appearances per year since the start of 2017; this season he played more than 60 games for City and Germany combined. He turns 33 in October, but any club interested in signing him this summer will know they are likely to get value for money.

It’s not just his presence on the field that makes him so sought after. Gundogan shares a floor in a Manchester apartment block with Guardiola and the City boss regards him as a friend as well as a neighbour. He is also a more thoughtful footballer who regularly posts on LinkedIn rather than other social media platforms.

As head of the dressing room, Gundogan has acted as an intermediary for the squad and the coaching staff, among other things when defender Joao Cancelo was unhappy after his return from the World Cup. On the pitch, it is up to Gundogan to ensure that Guardiola’s plan comes to life and he will often be told from the touchline to pass on to someone else.

Guardiola’s well-oiled winning machine needs Gundogan and he has done everything he can to persuade him to stay. Asked about his future after the FA Cup final, the City manager simply replied: “He knows what I’m thinking.”

Despite winning the treble, City and Guardiola will use the transfer window to try to improve the squad in the hope they can do it all again next season. But if they convince him to stay, Gundogan could still end up as their summer signing.

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