What with Manchester City’s dramatic end of season capitulation, incoming boss Pep Guardiola must have been tearing out the remaining hair follicles on his head over much of the squad he was set to inherit.
With Yaya Toure’s Premier League legacy very nearly mired by a painfully carefree view on defensive duties (or duties full stop), the loss of form of string-puller David Silva, and the loss of anything resembling a competent centre-half, the former Barcelona manager must have been rather keen to bring his own influence into the team at the earliest opportunity.
The first acquisition under the Spaniards reign is none other than Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan.
Whilst the German international is set to miss Euro 2016 due to an eye-wincing dislocation of his kneecap suffered in training at the start of May, the club clearly felt confident that the energetic playmaker would be more than worth his £20 million valuation.
Joining Jurgen Kopp’s Dortmund from Nuremberg in 2011, a 20-year-old Gundogan was initially tasked with replacing Bundesliga Player of the Year Nuri Sahin. Later, he would help a youthful and exciting side to a 2012 Bundesliga and a 2013 Champions League final.
Whilst previous seasons’ summer transfer circuses have featured the mercurial midfielders talents far more often than not, it was during that campaign’s semi-final against Real Madrid that Europe’s elite teams started to treat Gundogan as a potential prize acquisition.
The German international is considered a ‘complete midfielder’. What it meant for Klopp is that the Yellow and Black always had a reliable lynch-pin whenever the famous Gegenpressing led to a loose ball.
Of course, ultimately to succeed as a Dortmund player, due to the sides explosive unhinged style, speed of thought is as in demand as technical skill. Instantaneous decision making with end product, encouraged by the clubs infamous ‘Footbonaut’ training, is more than likely behind Pep’s decision to plump for the midfielder.
Whilst targets such as Paul Pogba will always be the pin-up that a club the size of Manchester City now require, as well as an outstanding player of course. Gundogan however, is the metronome that Guardiola sides always have at heart of them. Xavi at Barcelona, Xabi Alonso at Bayern – there has to be that glue that holds it all together.
His passing statistics possibly even outdo the possession masters. Gundogan’s total sits at a European record of 1,935 for this season, nearly 100 more than 2nd-placed Alonso, data that would make a manager who implores losing the ball as much as Guardiola purr in delight. Needless to say Gundogan would be a vital first step in implementing a new possession-based style at the Etihad Stadium.
Whilst the player has never achieved more than three assists in a full season, Gundogan’s worth has previously been in providing perfect platform for the likes of Mario Götze, Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus – a front threesome that the Citizens aren’t a million miles away from replicating on a good day.
Gundagan was then perfectly accompanied by Sven Bender or Sebastian Kehl, two equally hard-working and strong in the tackle midfield units. Such an immovable twosome of that ilk perhaps will not be afforded by the German, especially if Yaya Touré decides to stay and fight for a place.
The protection of his playmaker may just be Guardiola’s next port of call regarding new recruits, that is if the summer cull doesn’t also see Fernandinho make a sharp exit.
Whilst Ilkay’s talents in the final third will never compare to the genius of Touré, Man City fans will be safe in the knowledge that they haven’t just taken a step into an altogether more impressive brand of football, but a major leap.
“Gundogan is willing to learn and is very smart, He also brings a great attitude. Ilkay has a great passing game, is a complete player, and fits perfectly into our footballing system.” – Jurgen Klopp
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