Why Germany’s Ilkay Gündogan is moving to Barcelona

BERLIN: Ilkay Gündogan captained Manchester City to its first Champions League trophy earlier this month. But his contract was up, and he has reportedly found a home with one of Europe’s most fabled clubs, Barcelona.

German international Ilkay Gündogan apparently saw the writing on the wall in England. And set his sights instead on a new chapter in Catalonia.

The 32-year old had, as captain of the English Premier League champion Manchester City, just lifted the Champions League trophy, thanks to the club’s win over Internazionale on June 10.  He had fulfilled a dream not only for himself, but for the sky blue side of Manchester, and for Pep Guardiola, who in 2016 made a then-injured Gündogan his first City signing, from Borussia Dortmund.

But his contract with Manchester City was set to expire on June 30, and City, who rarely keep players deep in to their thirties, had offered only a one-year deal. A free transfer would be the only other option.

Top target for Barca

Spanish champions Barcelona meanwhile, reportedly saw this older player as its top target this summer after losing the battle to bring Lionel Messi back into the fold. Barcelona are said to be offering a two-year contract with an option for one more.

“If Barca sign him, they will have a spectacular footballer on their hands,” Guardiola, a former Barcelona player and coach, told reporters on Monday. “I am aware (Barcelona coach) Xavi has called him a lot. If, in the end, he picks Barca, I will tell him he will enjoy himself.”

Though he made his name at Borussia Dortmund as a deeper lying midfielder, Gündogan has added an increased attacking threat to his game at City, culminating in both goals in a 2-1 win over Manchester United in the FA Cup final on June 3.

He will doubtless enjoy himself at Barcelona, but he will also be pressed to best Spanish youngster Pedri. The 20-year old is a consistent offensive threat from the middle, in the same manner as Gündogan. But the German midfielder’s versatility will serve him well.

Gündogan’s likely signing puts him in one of Europe’s most famous clubs in the autumn of his career. But, having been a softly spoken captain of a City side packed with talent, he will undoubtedly continue to lead, and has a chance to land more silverware in coming years.

Said City’s Kevin de Bruyne ahead of the Champions League final: “He’s not the loudest player but he’s exceptional. Whenever it gets tough, he’s there. He scores incredible goals. He’s important. He’s our captain.”

City moving on

Gündogan won 14 trophies in his seven-year run with Guardiola and City, including last season”s treble of the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup.

Guardiola told reporters on Monday he wanted to keep the midfielder. But not long after, the club reportedly agreed to bring Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic over from Chelsea. Kovacic was actually part of the Chelsea side that defeated City in Champions League final in 2021. Prior to that, he also helped Real Madrid win three Champions Leagues.

City will be glad to have a new midfielder after giving up Gündoğan, who scored six times in the last seven games of the season. Though Kovacic has pedigree, he has big shoes to fill. —DW

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