Ilkay Gundogan is a football fanatic but will NOT watch the Champions League final
Another trying week lies ahead and Ilkay Gundogan is introspective about it.
Manchester City are aiming to clinch a fourth Premier League title in five years – silverware that is becoming the norm.
“Look, even we lose sight of that. Even myself sometimes I lose sight of it,” says Gundogan.
“Especially after last Wednesday. But it would be an exceptional achievement, to dominate during those years would be incredible. If we lose a match, we are in trouble.
Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan sat down with sports mail to talk about the season finale
City are set to win another Premier League title – their fourth in the last five years
City need a few wins and a draw to ensure they beat Liverpool, with the pair having swapped titles for the past two years. It starts at Wolves on Wednesday and there is similar feverish anticipation for this run-in as in 2019, when City clinched it by a single point.
That year, Gundogan chained the Istanbul derby.
City had beaten Crystal Palace in a game early on Sunday and the temptation would be to watch Liverpool’s response on the return trip from the capital. A Galatasaray supporter growing up, Gundogan instead listened to their 1-1 draw at Fenerbahce. Liverpool still beat Chelsea, as expected.
“It was a bigger game! Gundogan smiled.
“If there’s a more exciting game for me, I’m watching this. The last game against Spurs, for example, I watched because I was at home and I said to myself: “this is going to be a good game”. What he was! Now, being in the position where you have it in your hands, I don’t think it’s a necessity.
The 31-year-old, lockdown-obsessed Football Manager, has had to change his ways at home since fiancee Sara Arfaoui moved into his city center flat next door to Pep Guardiola. Gundogan jokes that his football consumption is a bone of contention; he learns to turn off the TV from time to time.
Roberto Martinez once installed two TVs in his living room with an L-shaped sofa, so he could study games with headphones, while his wife Beth simultaneously consumed other programs and the couple could still be together .
“I think my fiancée would kill me if I asked her that,” Gundogan says. “That wouldn’t leave me in a good position.”
City are now in a solid position, following an emphatic response to last week’s barely believable Champions League exit at Real Madrid and Tottenham’s point at Anfield. The rivalry is relatively peaceful between players. This is not Arsenal-Manchester United of the early 2000s.
Gundogan enjoys a peaceful rivalry with Liverpool based on ‘fairness and respect’
“Those kinds of rivalries don’t really exist in modern football anymore,” he said.
“For some people who are older schools, you know, it could be bad. The game is not like, I don’t know, 20-30 years ago, with people on the pitch killing each other and intentionally trying to hurt each other.
“That’s not how we want the game to be. I want fairness. I want respect. Just because there’s a rivalry doesn’t mean we need each other. -kill on or off the field.
Gundogan wanted the Bernabeu to swallow him whole last week.
The wounds have not healed, the circumstances of the collapse remain raw. The dressing room fell silent as some players wept as they accepted those absurd two minutes in stoppage time, thwarting a North West final in France later this month.
“If I think about the final in Paris, I get very angry,” says Gundogan. “Frustrated, disappointed. I’m definitely not going to watch it. I will definitely try to do something else that day. Nothing will really help, the only thing that will is time. It gets a little easier, even if you know – Again – you missed a big chance to lift a possible trophy.
The Germany international (left) is still ‘angry’ after City’s Champions League semi-final exit
“Maybe there’s not much we can say to ourselves that we did wrong, but at the end of the day we conceded two goals in two minutes.
“We weren’t there when needed and we weren’t focused enough. It was not enough. This is the blame we give ourselves.
Gundogan seems exceptionally hard on himself, discussing his apparent limitations as a footballer and a man.
“It takes a lot to make me mad. But when I get angry, I explode. I keep it inside of me as long as possible, but that’s not the best way to handle things either.
‘[I overthink] all possible life scenarios. I feel like the more options you have in life, the more you start thinking.
“A lot of people can relate to what this is related to – maybe sometimes having a lot of choice isn’t the best. Maybe that’s why a lot of people struggle with their relationships.
Gundogan, who is self-critical, spent time away from the pitch with boss Pep Guardiola
Gundogan is a fascination as he dissects himself, almost as if he was born in the wrong era.
He recounts how his parents met and immediately married, how the world – and by proxy, football – really only rewards the superficial.
“Society has gone a bit in the wrong direction. People don’t appreciate if you’re a good human being. Oh, 100% social media is a big part of that. A big part. The number of likes you get, or who comments under your photo, is more important than the guy next to you giving you an honest opinion.
‘I always think, don’t make yourself too important. Be down to earth, humble – although sometimes it feels like it’s not always the best thing to do in this business these days.
The German international, born in Gelsenkirchen to Turkish parents, held Manchester close to his heart for six years.
Noticing Gundogan having a coffee in the northern quarter has become something of a tourist attraction, but his lasting legacy here will be community work.
Whether it’s sending meals to food banks, donating money to these causes, visiting the elderly or raising money for disaster-stricken cafes, struggling with Covid, he likes to hang out. More generally, it supports the United Nations Refugee Agency.
“I feel responsible for living a privileged life,” he says. “Life can be very difficult and cruel. I come from a similar region in Germany, very industrial. These are working-class towns where, for some, the level of remuneration is limited. And football is the main thing.
“The Rhine region where I come from – not just Gelsenkirchen – football is so important to society. That’s probably also a reason why I could identify quite easily with the city of Manchester. I feel good here. I feel at home here.
He became Guardiola’s first signing when the Catalan boss took charge of Manchester City
“Maybe there is a connection to my game with the work I do off the pitch, if that makes sense? I think that kinda describes how I am as a football player. I never really thought of myself as the main man, the star player or the guy who always wants attention.
“I fit into the role of making his teammates better, although maybe I don’t shine as much.” I’m very realistic about what I know about myself, what I can achieve and what I can’t.’
Gundogan is one of Guardiola’s five captains and acts as Fernandinho’s vice-president. He enjoys the manager’s company, with the pair spending time together away from the training ground. Gundogan discusses the intuition needed to play for this team in the same way as Guardiola and the midfielder’s ability to slow down play is often vital.
With one year remaining on his contract, it will be interesting to watch his moves from here. Gundogan was Guardiola’s first signing and he says the six seasons have given him real fulfillment – even allowing for two long-term knee injuries.
“The club really looked after me, coming from a foreign country. I had a lot of hopes and dreams – and almost all of them came true.
Gundogan laughs a little nervously. Is there always next year?
“Obviously we will try to do better next year.”
He is one of five captains installed by Guardiola and has one year left on his contract at City