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Underappreciated in a highly-rated team; how about some love for Ilkay Gundogan?

Stop focusing on what he isn't and start thinking about what he is

Man City function as a unit per Pep Guardiola’s design.

But there’s no doubting the supreme individual talent in the squad.

Over the last two seasons, several City players have occupied the spotlight of media and fan appreciation: Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Ederson, Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva, Sergio Aguero, Aymeric Laporte, Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho.

All have rightfully been singled out for extensive individual praise at some point since the start of 2017/18.


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*alternate clap and fire emojis*

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*alternate clap and fire emojis*

Given the outpouring of reverence for this record-breaking team, you may think there’s no such thing as an unsung hero at the Etihad anymore.

But is it, perhaps, Ilkay Gundogan?

I don’t think the German is disliked by City fans — no fan base is as familiar with his attributes.

It’s just that he represents competition for their favourites.

Many prefer Fernandinho at the base of the three-man midfield as the Brazilian provides combative bite and expert sh*thousery to complement the technicians.

Namely, De Bruyne, Silva, Bernardo and, to a lesser extent due to inexperience, Phil Foden.

Making football look easy is difficult

Getty - Contributor
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Making football look easy is difficult

With only three places available in Guardiola’s preferred 4-3-3, Gundogan would probably be in the minority of City fans’ ideal starting line-ups.

But this is more a reflection of City’s depth — Gundogan would be one of the first names on the team sheet for Spurs, Man United, Chelsea and plenty more big European clubs.

While he isn’t as hawkish as Fernandinho or as box-office as De Bruyne, his contribution should not be overlooked.

The 28-year-old may not be the energetic terrier he was as Borussia Dortmund — injuries have reduced his mobility.

But he has evolved into a technical metronome who excels at the basic principles that Andres Iniesta and Xavi learned at La Masia — receive, pass, offer, receive, pass, offer.

CLARIFICATION: Gundogan is not as good as these two, but who is?

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CLARIFICATION: Gundogan is not as good as these two, but who is?

Gundogan is far from a sideways pass merchant though.

He plays with his head up and often chips balls in behind the opposition’s ranks in search of Sterling, Sane or Aguero.

He may lack the audacity of Silva and De Bruyne, but he is their equals in terms of match awareness and football intelligence.

Maybe his critics spend too much time thinking about what he is not and what he used to be, rather than what he is and what he has become.

And it has taken time for him to establish his understated role in this team.

Signed in June of 2016, we’ve seen the best of him since Christmas this season, concrete signs of why Guardiola was so keen for the Dortmund man to be his first recruit as City manager.

Past life

Bongarts - Getty
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Past life

Replies to the club’s official Twitter account demand a front three of Sane, Sterling and Aguero, with Bernardo in midfield.

And fair enough, that sounds bloody good.

But Guardiola has revealed a preference for Gundogan in midfield and Bernardo as a right winger.

We do not know whether the Portuguese’s brilliance out wide or the German’s control is the primary reason for this approach (maybe a bit of both?) but the faith Guardiola has shown in Gundogan has been repaid more often than not.

Trust

Getty - Contributor
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Trust

His future at the club is uncertain as it remains to be seen whether or not he will sign a new contract.

And his immediate involvement in this season’s conclusion was cast in doubt as he exited the Old Trafford pitch in discomfort midweek.

Whatever the case, he has exhibited his considerable talent in the last few months and any inferiority complex has been erased.

Fernandinho, he isn’t. De Bruyne, he isn’t.

But there’s only one Ilkay Gundogan, and Guardiola seemingly wouldn’t have him any other way.


NEXT: This season’s Premier League runners-up will leave a strange and bittersweet legacy

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