Borussia Dortmund Q&A – Ilkay Gundogan once shared a flat with Shinji Kagawa

Much has been written about Ilkay Gundogan this summer with the Germany international linked with moves to Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. spoke to Seb of – an independent voice of Borussia Dortmund delivered in England – to gain insight on a potential Manchester United signing this summer.

Tell us about Ilkay Gundogan’s relationship with the Borussia Dortmund fans, team-mates and Jurgen Klopp?

In general, Gündogan had a rough start at Dortmund. He wasn’t performing well in the first six months and Klopp didn’t even give him a spot on the bench. Apparently, the step from Nürnberg to Dortmund was too big and the expectations to replace Sahin instantly were too high. That influenced the relationships, of course.

With the fans: Many fans thought that he was a waste of money at the beginning. His performances were lacking everything: Speed, ambition, mentality. He lost the ball too many times and didn’t even come close to Sahin’s performances. But after six months there was a turning point. He scored the decider in the 120th minute against Greuther Furth (well, he hit the post and the ball was deflected from the keeper’s back into the goal). It seemed to have broken down a mental wall. Suddenly, he started to perform better and better. He was a crucial part in the 5-2 pumping of Bayern in the cup final 2012. The fans started liking him more as he became a central figure in the Champions League season 2012/2013 with outstanding performances. Nonetheless, it was always doubted that he would stay at the club which hindered a ‘deeper’ connection / relationship. There was admiration for his skills but he was never celebrated like other players. When rumours started in summer 2013 that Gündogan might want to leave the fans were not amused. The tactics of delaying new contract negotiations weren’t perceived well.

Personally, I met Gündogan once in the city centre of Dortmund and had a wee chat with him. He was very kind and laid back. Maybe, even a bit shy but definitely not cocky or arrogant.

With team-mates: Gündogan used to live in a shared flat with Kagawa and Perisic. From an outside perspective he seemed to be integrated well in the team and is/was friends with some players. Mostly on a professional level I guess, but nothing unusual.

With Klopp: Klopp always trusted the skills of Gündogan. He was speaking a lot to him during the beginning of the 2011/2012 season when he didn’t play him for a long time. It is probably Klopp’s style to motivate his players and to believe in their strengths. Gündogan paid it back. With all the rumours and stuff, no major problems in their relationship have been reported. I think they are both dealing professionally with it.

In 2013 Gundogan suffered with compression of spinal in the back area. It kept him on the sidelines for over a year. How has he performed since returning?

He is nowhere near his form he had before the injury. It’s often said that a player needs as long as he was injured afterwards to get back to the level he used to be. That would suggest that it takes a couple of months before he’s back in perfect form. Signing Gündogan would be a bet on the future. There is a probability that he will perform better the next season but it is also possible that he cannot return to his ‘near-to-world-class’ level.

If you had to compare Gundogan to one current and one former player, who would they be and why?

I think it is always hard to compare current players to former players as the gameplay changes over time and roles are interpreted differently.

Based on Gündogan in perfect form, I’d compare his style with Xavi or Modric. He started his career as a ‘10’ and is now playing an ‘8’. His main strengths are the short-passing and the pressing resistance. Even under loads of pressure he can keep the ball and open the match for his teammates. His roomly perception of the pitch is outstanding. Gündogan is a very vertical player. He can collect the ball from deep down in his own half, play an opening pass and then move forward and act as a ‘10’. The lack of running speed is compensated by his anticipation. Creativity and no-look-passes are also his strengths as well as penalty taking. His shots from outside the box lack speed but are well placed and can be dangerous from time to time.

Gundogan has been linked with moves to Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United. 1) Which club suits his style best and 2) where do you think he will end up this summer?

At full strength Gündogan would fit in at all of these sides. His style would probably fit best for Barcelona. That’s why they approached him after Xavi announced to leave the club.

Pep’s Bayern would have been a good fit as well but it was rumoured that Bayern Munich doesn’t trust Gündogan’s abilities and form anymore and that his salary wishes were exorbitant. The links to Manchester United have so far been denied by Borussia Dortmund.

I think he will either end up in England or Italy. Barcelona has a transfer ban and could only sign him for the beginning of 2016. Bayern do not want him anymore, both Madrid clubs don’t seem to need / want him either. Inter and Juve might be possibilities, depending on what happens at Juve with Pogba and Vidal. Some people link Gündogan to VfL Wolfsburg. In England there is apparently only Manchester United keen on signing him. Gündogan’’s goal is to play for one of the big five teams in the world and thus United would be the only possibility left.

Watzke said Borussia Dortmund are not planning with Gündogan anymore and want a transfer fee. Either Gündogan is trying all it takes to get to Manchester United or he cuts back his expectations and moves to teams below the big five like Tottenham, Liverpool, Inter, Juve, Valencia, etc.

Does Ilkay have what it takes to thrive in the Premier League unlike Shinji Kagawa and Nuri Sahin?

That is a very hypothetical question. I’’d say all three players theoretically have what it takes to thrive in the Premier League. It didn’t work out for Kagawa and Sahin because of several reasons. On the paper Gündogan has more potential than Kagawa or Sahin. He has shown in Dortmund, e.g. in the Champions League final 2013 what a great player he can be. If he can get back to that level, he should be able to make it.

But it took him half a year to adapt to a bigger club (Nürnberg to Dortmund) and he needed a coach that gave him the time to develop. The question is whether that would be possible in the Premier League as well. The higher the costs for a player the more people will expect. These expectations might drag him down. If he’s given time to get back to full form and self-confidence, he’’ll thrive!

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