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back Bundesliga | 15.01.2014 11:53:29

Ten things about Ilkay Gündogan

  • String-puller: Ilkay Gündogan helped BVB lift the league and Cup double in 2012 and starred in the 2012/13 Champions League season, scoring against FC Bayern in the final
  • At international level he chose Germany ahead of Turkey, the country of his parents' birth, and is now an active proponent of social integration for people with migrant backgrounds in Germany
  • Gündogan's Dortmund team-mate Nuri Sahin (r.) opted to play for Turkey rather than his country of birth Germany, but that of course hasn't stopped the midfield duo becoming firm friends (© Imago)

Munich - Already a household name in Germany, Borussia Dortmund's Ilkay Gündogan made the world sit up and take note with his performance and astonishingly composed penalty in the 2013 UEFA Champions League defeat against FC Bayern München.

After the 23-year-old missed all but one of his side’s Bundesliga assignments during the first half of 2013/14 through injury, it is little wonder head coach Jürgen Klopp cannot wait to have the silky-smooth pass master back at his disposal in the New Year.

bundesliga.com presents 10 little-known facts about one of football's must-have midfielders…

Conflict of interest

Despite emerging as a Dortmund fan favourite, Gündogan was born and bred in Gelsenkirchen, the neighbouring city and home of fierce Ruhr rivals FC Schalke 04. It's something he's reminded of on a daily basis, but it doesn't stop him poking fun at team-mate and BVB fanatic Kevin Großkreutz: "I often say to him, "Kevin, I'm going to Gelsenkirchen, would you like to come? He's never accepted the invitation!"

Early Steps

After being inspired during a brief spell as a Schalke schoolboy at the age of nine, his career as a professional footballer began to take shape when he joined VfL Bochum in 2005, after rejecting the chance to return to the Royal Blues. "I started training with the senior team at Bochum and it was then that I really started to believe I wanted to be a professional," explains Gündogan. A move to 1. FC Nürnberg followed in January 2009, and his Bundesliga debut came in August that year.

Obstacles

Arriving in Dortmund in the summer of 2011, Gündogan was given the job of replacing the departed Nuri Sahin in midfield. He struggled to establish himself, however, and by the end of the year had lost his place in the side. "It was a tough time," he recalls. "Things hadn't gone as well as I had thought. The coach [Jürgen Klopp] was right to take me out of the team and protect me. It did me good to take a step back and regain some perspective.”

Breaking the dam

After those initial difficulties, his performances showed a remarkable improvement as 2012 became a defining year in his career. Not only did he play a key role as Dortmund retained their Bundesliga crown, he also starred in the 5-2 DFB Cup final victory over FC Bayern that saw BVB claim their first ever domestic double. However, it's his 120th minute winner against Greuther Fürth in the semi-final that Gündogan remembers most fondly, describing it as "the best moment of my career so far".

On Löw's list

A cultured deep-lying playmaker, Gündogan's displays not only won over the doubters, but also Germany head coach Joachim Löw, who was so impressed he named Gündogan in his 23-man squad for the UEFA European Championships in Poland and Ukraine in 2012. Although he didn't play at the tournament, Gündogan told bvb.de: "To be able to experience all that at the aged of 21 was a dream come true".
© Imago

Big brothers

Although the return of Sahin (r.) to Dortmund in January 2012 meant more midfield competition for Gündogan (l.), the 22-year-old welcomed the return of someone he considers a friend and mentor. "I got to know Nuri when I was at Nürnberg, he gave me his number and we've been friends ever since," he said. "He's like a big brother to me. Even though we're competing now, I'm delighted he's back. He's a fantastic player and person."

Divided loyalties

Being born in Germany to Turkish parents, Gündogan was eligible to play for both countries at international level. He was approached by the Turkish Football Federation, but declined in favour of representing his country of birth. "I had played for Germany from the U-18 level and wanted to win a place in the senior team," he revealed to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "On holiday in Turkey last year, lots of people said to me, 'Even if you play for Germany, we're still proud of you' - that tells me I chose the right path."

Integration

Coming from a migrant background, Gündogan is now one of the most prominent supporters of social integration in Germany and regularly speaks in public on the subject. "I'm very grateful to my parents for raising me in a neighbourhood where I could speak German and fit in with people," explained Gündogan. "Now I'm in a very privileged position and in the public eye, so I want to be a role model for kids and young people in a similar situation."

Family affair

Gündogan isn't the only professional sportsman in his family. His cousin is the Turkish women's volleyball team star Naz Aydemir, who competed for Turkey at the London 2012 Olympics. Gündogan is also currently dating Turkish-German actress Sila Sahin [no relation to Nuri], who came second on German television show 'Let's Dance 2013.'

Philosophy

While his on-field performances are prime examples of discipline and professionalism, Gündogan (r, with Großkreutz) never loses sight of what attracted him to the game in the first place: that football is there to be enjoyed. "It was always important to me that I had fun playing. Football is and remains a game. You can only be good at it if you approach it with enjoyment."

Compiled by Bernie Reeves

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