In 10 years time when football fans look back at the great Manchester City side of Pep Guardiola, a number of players will stand out as the best of a generation.
The likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, Ederson, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling – among others – have all embodied the brilliance associated with Guardiola sides. But there is another man who in years to come likely won’t be spoken about in such reverent tones despite the enormous contribution he has made since arriving at the Etihad Stadium.
Ilkay Gundogan was Guardiola’s first signing upon becoming City boss in 2016, and after a first season disrupted by serious injury he has enjoyed a fine career in sky blue. However, with his current City contract set to expire in June 2023, his future in Manchester is uncertain.
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“There are no concrete talks, but we have a good relationship. I’m still patient. There’s no hurry,” the German midfielder said of his situation when speaking to Kicker this week.
“I’m very happy at Manchester City, football-wise there isn’t a more attractive place at the moment. I can imagine staying there beyond 2023.”
City don’t mess around when it comes to tying down their top talents to new long-term contracts years before their deals expire. Over the past couple of years the likes of John Stones, Ruben Dias, Ederson, De Bruyne and Joao Cancelo have all committed their futures to the club, while Phil Foden looks set to follow suit in the coming months.
Age – and an abundance of options and younger talents in his position – might have prevented a similar offer being made to Gundogan. By the end of next season he will be 32, with youngsters like Foden, James McAtee and Cole Palmer all eager to play in his number eight role.
Regardless of whether Gundogan’s time in Manchester comes to an end next June or not, he really should be regarded as one of the great City players of his time.
Over the years his role in Guardiola’s side has changed multiple times; he’s been a holding midfielder, a number eight, a false nine and one half of a double pivot. That he has looked equally as comfortable in all of them is testament to his incredible ability, versatility and professionalism.
Last season was arguably his best for City, 13 Premier League goals making him City’s top-scorer in a title-winning season. The absence of a traditional striker in the team allowed Gundogan to unlock offensive abilities few knew he had, making late Frank Lampard-esque runs into the area from his number eight position.
It’s a touchy subject among some City fans, but it is hard to disagree that City look more in-control and calm in possession when Gundogan is in the midfield alongside Bernardo Silva and Rodri, and De Bruyne is pushed up into the false nine role. Few players are as good at dictating the tempo and rhythm of a game as the German, never-mind pulling off the incisive passes that he does or the intelligent runs into the box.
Gundogan has made 243 appearances for City, scoring 46 goals and providing 33 assists. Those might not be numbers that particularly stand out, but that is partly a product of playing in a team with so many brilliant players who all pull together; there is no room for one stand-out player.
Versatile and reliable midfielders of Gundogan’s ilk are few and far between, and we should remember that. Gundogan has been a superb, if understated, servant to the club and has given the best years of his career in a City shirt.
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