Ilkay Gundogan: We profile the Manchester United target
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 25/04/15 8:10pm
With Manchester United reportedly closing in on a £21.5million deal for Ilkay Gundogan, we take a closer look at the Borussia Dortmund midfielder who has also been linked with Arsenal and Manchester City.
Name: Ilkay Gundogan
Position: Central midfielder
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Nation: Germany (nine caps, two goals)
Despite his status as a fan favourite at Dortmund, Gundogan was raised in the neighbouring city of Gelsenkirchen, home of their bitter rivals Schalke 04. Gundogan was born to Turkish parents but eventually chose to represent Germany, the country of his birth.
The midfielder had a brief spell at Schalke as a schoolboy, but his first professional contract actually came at Bochum, who he joined in 2005 before he was snapped up by FC Nurnberg as a promising 18-year-old four years later.
Gundogan was already a German youth international at this point, but it was at Nurnberg that the rising star began to establish himself in the Bundesliga. After helping them avoid relegation in his first season, he impressed the following year, scoring five goals in 25 Bundesliga appearances as they secured a sixth-placed finish.
Gundogan's impact had not gone unnoticed by Nurnberg's Bundesliga rivals, and champions Dortmund clinched a reported £3million deal for his signature in May 2011.
"Gundogan is willing to learn and is very smart," said Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp at the time. "He also brings a great attitude. Ilkay has a great passing game, is a complete player, and fits perfectly into our footballing system."
But despite Klopp's backing, Gundogan had a challenging start to life at Dortmund. The relatively unknown 20-year-old was given the unenviable task of replacing Nuri Sahin, the Bundesliga Player of the Season who had just departed for Real Madrid after captaining Dortmund to their first title triumph under Klopp.
Deployed as a deep-lying playmaker, Gundogan soon found himself dropped to the bench. "It was a tough time," he reflected. "Things hadn't gone as well as I had thought, and the coach was right to take me out of the team and protect me. It did me good to take a step back and regain some perspective."
But 2012 would prove a pivotal year for Gundogan as he won back his place in Dortmund's midfield and became a central figure as they secured a German Cup and Bundesliga double.
After his early struggles, Gundogan had got to grips with Dortmund's explosive playing style, combining creativity and outstanding passing with the defensive attributes and tireless energy needed alongside Sven Bender or Sebastian Kehl at the base of their midfield .
He was rewarded with a place in Germany's squad for the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. "To be able to experience all that at the aged of 21 was a dream come true," he said.
Strength to strength
The following season would prove to be one of near misses for Dortmund, as they were beaten by rivals Bayern Munich to Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League titles, but Gundogan went from strength to strength.
He was ever-present on their run to the Champions League final, where he scored from the penalty spot and completed more passes than any of his team-mates as Dortmund were narrowly beaten 2-1 by Bayern at Wembley.
Surprisingly, Gundogan has never claimed more than three assists in a single Bundesliga season but, as Klopp says, he is a complete midfielder with numerous strengths. While he doesn't always provide the killer pass, Sahin is integral to Dortmund's playing style both on and off the ball and in the 2012/13 season he provided a perfect platform for Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Jakub Blaszczykowski, all of whom finished the season in double figures for goals.
A long-term back problem ruled Gundogan out from August 2013 until October last year, causing him to miss a full season as well as Germany’s victorious World Cup campaign, but he has returned to the international fold this season.
Gundogan has also notched three goals and three assists in 19 league appearances for struggling Dortmund this season, but with his contract set to expire next summer and Klopp on his way out of the club, his time at the Westfalenstadion is coming to an end.
"Signing a creative player should be our priority this summer," said Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal in February. "I'm looking for balance and I need it in midfield."
That balance looks set to be provided by Gundogan next season. Van Gaal reportedly sees Gundogan as a long-term successor to Michael Carrick, but as well as intelligence in possession and tactical discipline, he offers greater mobility and creativity.
His energetic and tough-tackling playing style also suggests he would have no problem adjusting to the pace of the Premier League.
Manchester City and Arsenal are also thought to be admirers of the 24-year-old, while Bayern have a history of plundering their rivals’s top talents, so United must move swiftly to get their man.
Gundogan is an elite-level talent who still has his best years ahead of him. Van Gaal will hope to build his midfield around him for years to come.