It says a lot for Ilkay Gündogan's ability that he became a firm fan favourite at Borussia Dortmund in such a short space of time. The fact that he was born in Gelsenkirchen (24 October 1990), the home of arch-rivals FC Schalke 04, makes that achievement all the more remarkable.
To make matters worse, Gündogan even played for his hometown club's youth team, but his silky performances for BVB, especially in the second half of the 2011/12 campaign, soon eased any anxieties about where his loyalties lie.
Following his short spell at Schalke, Gündogan joined the VfL Bochum youth academy in 2005 before catching the eye of then Bundesliga 2 side 1. FC Nuremberg, who secured the youngster's services in early 2009. Given his composure on the ball and ability to spot gaps in the opposition defence, the midfielder established himself as an indispensible figure at the heart of the recently promoted side. Quite an achievement for a player who was still studying for his school leaving certificate at the time!
His performances did not go unnoticed and there was soon a long queue of clubs hoping to snap him up. Dortmund won the race for his signature and brought him back to the Ruhr area. "He's an extraordinarily good passer, technically superb, has a terrific attitude and is a very smart boy," said BVB coach Jürgen Klopp.
Gündogan's rapid rise to the top is far from over. Opting to represent Germany rather than his parents' homeland Turkey, he earned his first senior international cap in October 2011 against Belgium and travelled to EURO 2012 as a squad member.
However, it was during the following season that the defensive midfielder truly made a name for himself as an integral cog in Dortmund's system under Klopp. Impressive performances in BVB's UEFA Champions League campaign in 2012/13 earned Gündogan admirers the world over, who were quick to notice the youngsters' world class potential.