Gundogan arrives at Manchester City from Borussia Dortmund, but does his injury record make him a risky first signing for Pep Guardiola? DW’s Michael Da Silva takes a look at what his role may be in England.
Pep Guardiola is renowned for building his teams around a nimble and intelligent central midfielder, and like Xavi Hernandez at Barcelona or Philipp Lahm at Bayern Munich, Ilkay Gundogan will become the beating heart of Guardiola’s Manchester City.
While the initial price of £20m plus modest add-ons seems like a bargain for a player of Gundogan’s class, unlike Xavi and Lahm whom Guardiola inherited and reinvented, the concerns over Gundogan’s long-term knee injury makes the Catlan coach’s first City signing something of a risk.
A dislocated knee cap suffered in a freak accident while playing basketball has ruled Gundogan out of Euro 2016 – he already missed the 2014 World Cup through injury – and could see him sidelined until October. Although City have the optimistic belief that he could feature as early as late-August if his rehabilitation goes without a hitch.
But looking beyond the huge question marks over his long-term fitness, once Gundogan is ready to step out at the Etihad, what kind of role can we expect him to fulfill in Manchester?
With Samir Nasri, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva providing support for Sergio Aguero in attack, Gundogan is likely to fulfill his best role as a deep-lying playmaker, a position he has made his own under Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund.
Gundogan had a good campaign with Nuremberg in 2010/11, but was something of a punt by Klopp as there was nothing to suggest he was ready to replace the best player in the Bundesliga at the time Nuri Sahin. Gundogan was uncapped, unheralded and an unproven replacement, and only cost 4 million Euros ($4.5 million).
“Ilkay brings a great attitude,” said Klopp when Gundogan signed for Dortmund in summer 2011. “He has a great passing game, is a complete player, and fits perfectly into our footballing system.” He added. “He is willing to learn and is very smart.”
These are the very qualities that has seen Gundogan develop into one of Europe’s most coveted players and gradually has attracted Guardiola. Much like Guardiola himself was as a player, Gundogan’s considered, calming influence will add some much needed precision and quality to City’s attacks to compliment the fast and furious approach of former Wolfsburg attacker Kevin De Bruyne, who was developed in to a key player since arriving at the Etihad.
Indeed, Guardiola went the extra mile to seal a deal for Gundogan, whose agent, his uncle Ilhan, and the former Bayern coach had a secret meeting in a lush Amsterdam hotel in early March to secure the signature of a player the Catalan coach has coveted for some time.
Guardiola, flanked by City chief and long time confidant Txiki Begiristain, is believed to have wooed Gundogan and told him that he was “desperate” to sign him for City, all but signaling an end to the City career of Inter Milan target Yaya Toure, who was sold by Guardiola at Barcelona in 2010 and has stagnated in recent times.
In a statement on Thursday morning, Gundogan said: “The reason for my transfer is the great opportunity to join Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. Guardiola asked me to go to Manchester and convinced me with his philosophy.”
Indeed, Gundogan is the first piece in the puzzle for Guardiola, who will use the German’s intelligence and versatility to express his own philosophy and transform City’s midfield dynamic. Gundogan is a wonderfully talented footballer who can light up the Premier League, but it could be dangerous policy if City see as little of the midfielder as Dortmund did.