For his teammates and national team coach Julian Nagelsmann it is clear: İlkay Gündoğan is one of the best German footballers and a pillar of the national team. The 33-year-old led Manchester City’s star-studded team to a historic treble success last season and was subsequently voted Player of the Year 2023 by the press.
Gündogan: someone “who never shouts”
Gündoğan, who is now under contract with FC Barcelona, was also promoted to DFB captain. First Hansi Flick and now Julian Nagelsmann rely completely on the midfield strategist, who made the leap to professional football at 1. FC Nürnberg in 2009. Nagelsmann described the former Nuremberg and Dortmund player as someone “who never shouts”.
Even though he is not a speaker, Gündoğan has been very controversial in German football for many years, mostly due to non-sporting events. The photo scandal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long dominated public opinion around Gündoğan. Now on Saturday (8.45pm – live on the BR24Sport radio service) there is a test match against Turkey, which will be the first time Gündoğan will face his parents’ national team.
Turkey match at the Olympic Stadium “special game”
“He is an experienced player, he knows it. He has played against Turkish clubs in the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City and FC Barcelona,” DFB sporting director Rudi Völler said in an exclusive interview with BR24Sport. Strictly speaking, Gündoğan only met Galatasaray with BVB in 2014/15; he described these encounters as “sentimental” at the time.
The duel in the Berlin Olympic Stadium is probably a little bigger. “It’s a special match for him, especially for his family,” said Völler: “The stadium will probably be sold out, there will also be many Turkish friends in the stadium.” Perhaps from the stands we will also be able to follow the visit of Turkish President Erdoğan, who will meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin this weekend. A delicate scenario in politically challenging times.
Erdoğan’s photo is the DFB’s lowest point for Gündoğan
Gündoğan and Mesut Özil were photographed with Erdoğan himself during a personal meeting in May 2018. The Turkish ruler was on an election campaign at that time, which is why a heated debate about German-Turkish national actors broke out in Germany. This was followed by a meeting with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the lowest point of Gündoğan’s career in the DFB.
Although the then City player (unlike Özil) came out publicly, in June 2018 he was mercilessly booed during the preparatory matches for the World Cup in Russia. It is said that he was very close to Gündoğan and the window of his car was also smashed. After his preliminary round exit in Russia, Özil in particular was declared a bogeyman, not least because Gündoğan only played 60 minutes.
What distinguishes Gündoğan from Özil
While Özil ended his career in the DFB and accused the association and German society of double standards and racism, the situation around Gündoğan calmed down. He was already captain of Germany in March 2019 when he took the armband from Manuel Neuer during half-time of the national team’s match against Serbia.
Six months later there was excitement again: Gündoğan had liked a controversial post from his former teammate Cenk Tosun. In the photo, the players of the Turkish national team showed a controversial military salute. Shortly afterwards he “consciously” did the same thing again. “Believe me: after last year, the last thing I wanted to do was make a political statement,” Gündoğan said.
Promotion to DFB leader for the European Home Championship
After the elimination in the round of 16 at the 2020 European Championships and the World Cup debacle in Qatar, Gündoğan left his future at the DFB open, but then decided to continue playing for Germany. Thanks to his successes as captain of Manchester City, he also becomes the leader of the German team. First Gündoğan was the representative of the injured Manuel Neuer, now Nagelsmann has made him the undisputed leader for next summer’s home European Championships.
Then Gündoğan will finally have the chance to transform his image among the German public into a positive one. A successful European Championship in his home country would give the Gelsenkirchen native the recognition he has enjoyed for years abroad.