The transfer of Ilkay Gundogan from Manchester City to Barcelona was confirmed just a couple of weeks after he completed a historic treble with the Citizens. In this article, we ask the question: was Gundogan right to leave City on a high, or will he regret the decision to move to La Liga? Before we get into the nuts and bolts of that, however, let’s take a brief look back at the German midfielder’s career to date.
Ilkay Gundogan Career
After playing with a few clubs as a youth, his senior career really began when he signed for German second-tier side FC Nurnberg in 2009. He made 53 appearances for the club in total, scoring eight goals. He then got his big break when he moved to Borussia Dortmund who had just won the Bundesliga title under Jurgen Klopp.
The move to Dortmund almost coincided with Gundogan’s progression from the under-21 to the senior German national side. For both club and country, Gundogan built a reputation as a hard-working and highly effective midfielder who could score and provide assists as well as getting stuck into the less glamorous graft of breaking up opposition attacks. A leader and hugely intelligent footballer, he didn’t appear to have any weaknesses and continued to develop under Klopp’s tutelage.
While at Dortmund, Gundogan won the league and cup double in his first season, as his side won the Bundesliga title and the DFB-Pokal. He helped his side to the Champions League final the following season, though they ended up losing 2-1 to fellow Germans Bayern Munich in the final at Wembley (despite Gundogan scoring for Dortmund from the penalty spot).
When Pep Guardiola took over as Manchester City manager in 2016, the former Bayern Munich manager’s first signing was Gundogan. That in itself says a lot about just how good the player clearly was. The Germany international repaid the faith and made a total of 304 appearances for the Citizens, scoring 60 goals across all competitions… including two in the 2022/23 FA Cup final victory over neighbours Manchester United at Wembley.
With City, Gundogan won the Premier League title five times, the FA Cup twice, the League Cup four times and the Champions League once. So not a bad haul, all things considered!
Was Gundogan Right to Leave Treble-Winning City?
Time will tell whether or not the decision to leave Man City for Barca proves a good one. But of course, a lot would depend on the definition of “good” and ultimately that can only be answered by Gundogan himself.
Given that he is 32 years old, and hence nearer at least to the back end of his career, he might have thought he would get fewer opportunities for first-team football in the coming seasons had he stayed at City. Having said that, there are no guarantees of starting every game (or most of them) at Barca, as they have many talented midfielders on their books including the captain Sergio Busquets (although he’s 34 at the time of writing), and the talented youngsters Pedri and Gavi. Additionally, like a fine wine, Gundogan seems to be getting better with age, is a huge favourite of the manager and has just enjoyed one of his best seasons ever with City. So it doesn’t seem likely this was a huge factor in his decision to move.
Cold, Hard Cash
Of course, with Gundogan’s City contract expiring at the end of June, it is very possible there were certain financial reasons for making the move. And if indeed cash is a big motivating factor for the German, a “good” outcome for him at Barca might simply involve his bank account becoming even fuller than it already is. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have been offered a very generous pay packet had he opted to stay in Manchester. But a player tends to be offered more generous terms when the club acquiring them don’t have to pay a transfer fee. Moreover, Barca offered Gundogan a two-year deal, with an option on another year and it is believed City were only prepared to offer him a single-season extension.
Every player worth his salt wants to win trophies. And – as we know, looking at the summary of his career above – Gundogan has already won more than most players manage. But after bagging the treble with Man City, could he be motivated by achieving more trophy success at Barcelona? Possibly, but how much more success can a team achieve compared to City’s recent accomplishments?
Okay, Barca won La Liga and the Supercopa de España in 2022/23, but they went out at the Group Stage of the Champions League (finishing third behind Bayern Munich and Inter Milan), and then got knocked out of the Europa League by Manchester United.
Having said that, under former playing legend Xavi, Barca appear to be moving in the right direction and the fact they won La Liga by 10 points ahead of Real Madrid certainly speaks volumes. They have some very exciting young players, from the aforementioned Pedri and Gavi, and Ferran Torres, as well as some proven stars like Robert Lewandowski, who is still banging in the goals for fun. But is the Barca squad as strong as the City one that Gundogan just left? Probably not, in our view. But, on the flip side, that might mean Gundogan is more likely to play more games.
New Culture, New Challenge
Gundogan is a thoughtful, intelligent man with interests outside football. A part of him would no doubt have loved to have stayed at City but another part would have been keen to experience living in another country and culture. And of course taking on a new football challenge. Playing for another of the world’s great clubs and experiencing an incredible city like Barcelona would surely have been a key driver of Gundogan’s move.
Manchester has many positives, but the weather isn’t one of them. Might it be that the Catalonian climate might have proved rather alluring to Gundogan after six years of enduring the rain of Manchester? Quite possibly. If you disregard the likelihood of winning silverware, the opportunities for first-team football, the new challenge and culture, and the various financial incentives, maybe it all comes down to Gundogan wanting a bit of sunshine in his life?!