Two minutes at the start of the FA Cup final cemented Ilkay Gundogan’s status at Manchester City.
Standing on the pitch at Wembley before kick-off against Manchester United, he gathered his teammates into a crowd for a few last words of encouragement, only for Ruben Dias – the loudest and most energetic captain – to step in and deliver his speech. He may have upset another commander, but not Gundogan. With 12 seconds left in the game, he was back in pole position, having scored the fastest goal ever in an FA Cup Final with a right-footed shot that was judged perfect.
Gundogan is an example of a player who talks with his feet. His last act as City captain this season was to lift the Champions League trophy after a 1-0 win over Inter Milan in Istanbul, and this could be his last contribution to the club he joined from Borussia Dortmund in 2016. He has, but if he does not agree to A new contract to extend his stay at Al-Ittihad Stadium, as 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 has to lose. Gundogan was so good during the tour that teammate Kyle Walker joked in a press conference before the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, that his form earned him the dressing room nickname “Zidane’s Prime Minister”. During the trio’s festivities, Jack Grealish filmed himself singing “Gondo Is Burning” to the tune of “Freed From Desire”.
Gundogan, as usual, looked a little shy in the shots. A little less judgmental and reserved, he is more comfortable directing compliments to others than receiving them. It might have been for the best, then, that Gundogan wasn’t on the media stage at Wembley after their FA Cup final tournaments.
“The player is exceptional,” Guardiola said. “What he’s done this season is just exceptional. Not just being part of the important moments and I’ll never forget the two goals he scored against Aston Villa. [on the final day of the 2021-22] And this season he scored several 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 horizon, 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 matches of the season, the German midfielder has scored six goals, including the victory in the FA Cup Final against Manchester United. Another doubles match against Leeds United and Everton settled tight matches in the title race with Arsenal.
Elected captain by the dressing room last summer following the departure of Fernandinho, his leadership style is based on setting an 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 carbs, even watching his portion sizes and cutting out sugar entirely. Before he goes to sleep, he still has at least an hour left of his phone so that the blue light from the screen doesn’t affect his sleep.
Early in his career, Gundogan struggled with a series of injuries and at some point in late 2013, he was told by a doctor that he would have to retire due to a spinal problem. However, the way he has looked after himself has seen him make an average of 48 club appearances since the start of 2017. This season, he has made more than 60 appearances for City and Germany combined. He will turn 33 in October, but any club interested in signing him this summer will know he is likely to get value for money.
It’s not his presence on the field that makes him so desirable. Gundogan shares a floor in an apartment building in Manchester with Guardiola, and the City boss considers him a friend and neighbour. He is a more thoughtful footballer as well, posting regularly on LinkedIn rather than other social media platforms.
As captain of the dressing room, Gundogan acted as a go-between for the team and coaching staff, including when defender Joao Cancelo was unhappy after returning from the World Cup. On the pitch, Gundogan must ensure that Guardiola’s scheme comes to life, often receiving a message from the touchline to pass on to someone else.
Guardiola’s energetic winning machine needs Gundogan and he’s done everything he can to convince him to stay. Asked about his future after the FA Cup final, the City manager simply replied: “He knows what I think.”
Despite winning the treble, City and Guardiola will spend the transfer window trying to improve the squad in the hope that they can do so again next season. However, if they convince him to stay, Gundogan could end up as their signing for the summer.