Ilkay Gundogan’s week started with media reports that Manchester City wanted him to leave. Seven days later, he has written himself into the club’s legend, earning a new chant from supporters and completely flipping the mood about his future at the Etihad. And besides, he got married.
If one particular beer maker took weeks, they’d struggle to top the few days Gundogan just went through.
Gundogan has been consistent with his stance on his City contract for months. Expiring in 2023, he is happy at the club and living in Manchester, and in no rush to force contract talks before they are needed. Now, however, his negotiating position has become a lot stronger.
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Those reports that Gundogan would be leaving in the summer were credible. He is 31, can still generate a decent transfer fee, and with two forwards arriving in the summer, players like Jack Grealish or Phil Foden could be pushed into midfield next year, cutting his potential playing time.
Only the rumors that he would get a private plane to Madrid were less credible. Instead, he flew to Copenhagen to marry his fiancée, with the club’s full approval ahead of a title-defining week. And given his match-winning performance against Aston Villa on Sunday, it was the perfect decision.
Gundogan may have felt mortified when he was named on the bench against Villa, given his experience in the big game and his composure in midfield. He may also be surprised to learn that he gave Jack Grealish a wink as City’s last substitution when they needed a goal – which would soon become two goals – to tie the game.
But Pep Guardiola said he wanted Gundogan’s ability as a ‘second runner’ – the club’s best, the manager said – to add an extra body in the penalty area. When Gundogan rose to power at the back post in Raheem Sterling’s crotch, the Etihad went from despair to the belief that another title-winning comeback could come 10 years after the original.
Martin Tyler said in 2012, “I swear you’ll never see anything like this again.” Gundogan’s winner six minutes after his first – and still with nine minutes to go – was a little less dramatic, but probably as close to Aguero’s iconic 93:20 goal as the Premier League will ever get.
When Gundogan was welcomed on stage 24 hours later at City’s title parade, he couldn’t express that he was drowned out by the sound of his new chant. “Ilkay, made the Scousers cry!”
Shortly before that, in the lobby of the Hilton, Gundogan told City TV that he was looking forward to the final year of his current contract, and sounded more than calm about his future.
“I’m very settled, I’ve been here for six years. The club’s appreciation is also great. I wouldn’t be here for six years if the club didn’t appreciate me,” he said.
“I am very grateful to play against such a great team. I have another year, I am looking forward to next year. There is a lot to achieve next year, a lot to look forward to. I enjoy my time here and I’m grateful to the club. City is a great club, I’m looking forward to it.”
If Gundogan felt appreciated before this week, he will surely feel the love now. His goals against Villa will go down in City’s history, turning a great servant into a club legend. If, or when, City sits down with Gundogan and discusses his future, the calm German will know that his position has strengthened this week when it comes to negotiations for an extension.
He has once again shown that he is no longer a throwaway player, but a key figure who still has plenty to offer.
“I had no choice,” he said on Sunday of his run-up to the penalty area. “We were 2-0 down with 20 minutes to go. I had to go into the penalty area to sniff the opportunities. Maybe it was fate, maybe it was luck.”
Raheem Sterling told him at his winner’s celebration that “that’s how the universe works. He didn’t act as much as he’d like, he got a chance to make his mark.” And Gundogan himself tweeted that his season has not always been easy personally.
But looking back, it couldn’t have turned out better. Gundogan has earned legend status with City, and that could help land him a new contract after all the celebrations are over.
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