Ilkay Gündogan scored 16 goals in 152 Bundesliga appearances for Borussia Dortmund and Nuremberg before joining Manchester City in 2016. - © 2015 DFL
Ilkay Gündogan scored 16 goals in 152 Bundesliga appearances for Borussia Dortmund and Nuremberg before joining Manchester City in 2016. - © 2015 DFL

İlkay Gündoğan: Germany's UEFA Euro 2024 captain, made in the Bundesliga


A cultured central midfielder, former Borussia Dortmund favourite İlkay Gündoğan has since strutted his stuff to great acclaim for Manchester City and Germany before heading to Spanish giants Barcelona. After being included in Julian Nagelsmann's UEFA Euro 2024 squad, he is looking to captain his country to glory.

Gündoğan is used to dealing with setbacks. Perhaps the first big one came as an eight-year-old, when he ended a brief association with Schalke. For the son of Turkish parents, who was brought up in Gelsenkirchen, realising that he would have to stop training with his hometown club hit him hard.

“It was a huge dream of mine to be able to play for Schalke,” he told RevierSport in 2011. “For it to be over so quickly was not easy to take.”

Growth problems meant that the youngster needed to take some time out of sport but – just like he would do as a professional – he dusted himself down and came back stronger. When he was 13, Schalke offered Gündogan another chance to link up with the Royal Blues, but the fear of suffering yet more disappointment caused him to reject the offer.

Watch: Gündogan: Made in the Bundesliga

Two years later, however, he felt ready to see how far his talents could take him, and he accepted the chance to join Bochum’s academy in 2005.

From there, Gündoğan’s progress was steady – albeit playing in a more advanced role than we have become accustomed to watching him in. He joined Nuremburg in February 2009 after scoring 10 goals for Bochum’s U19 side earlier that season, as well as one in two matches for the reserve team.

Already a Germany U19 international by that stage, the new signing was hailed by then-Nuremburg boss Michael Oenning as “a true number 10”.

The 18-year-old didn’t have to wait long to be reassured that he had chosen his latest move well. Gündoğan made his professional debut as a substitute on the final day of the 2008/09 season, and Nuremburg would go on to beat Energie Cottbus in a play-off to earn promotion to the Bundesliga.

A fresh-faced Ilkay Gündogan earned his Bundesliga stripes at Nuremberg. - 2010 Getty Images

Gündoğan never looked back. He made his top-flight bow on the opening day of the following campaign against – of all teams – Schalke. Playing mostly in a wide role, he registered 22 appearances in his first Bundesliga season, and got his first league goal in a memorable 1-1 Bavarian derby draw with soon-to-be-champions Bayern Munich in February 2010.

Nuremburg finished third from bottom that year, but Gündoğan was starting to show he was a man for the big occasion – scoring in the second leg of their relegation play-off win over Augsburg.

By then, he was drawing coveting glances from elsewhere, but his club manager Dieter Hecking urged him to stay. “It’s clear a boy like İlkay Gündoğan is attracting the interest of the biggest clubs,” the then Nuremburg boss told Bild in the summer of 2010. “But I’d advise him not to move. With us, he can finish his schooling and develop further on the pitch.”

Watch: Gündogan's top 5 Bundesliga goals

Nuremburg insisted their rising star was not for sale anyway, although goalkeeper Raphael Schäfer said the attacking midfielder was worth the €7 million that other clubs were reportedly willing to pay for him.

While Gündoğan was honoured by the club’s faith in him and flattered by Schäfer’s assessment, he vowed not to have his head turned by the newfound attention.

“I have to work harder and possibly even increase the price,” he told kicker. In any case, he wasn't in any rush to move on. “I have faith in my ability, and I think that I have the potential to go further if I can keep learning,” he said.

“But it’s no disadvantage to play here for another year. The money can be tempting… but when you’re not playing it brings you nothing. At my age, money shouldn’t come first.”

Gündoğan's performances caught the eye of Jürgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund and he was at BVB for five years between 2011-2016. - 2013 AFP

With a wise head on young shoulders, Gündoğan continued to impress on the pitch. He netted five times in 25 games in 2010/11, helping to lift his team to an impressive sixth-place finish. That was enough for Dortmund to make their move, and the Germany U21 international joined the new Bundesliga champions in May 2011.

“He's got a super attitude,” Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp said of the 20-year-old. “He’s smart and willing to learn. Ilkay has a great passing game, is a complete footballer, and fits perfectly into our system.”

Star playmaker Nuri Sahin left Dortmund for Real Madrid that summer, and it was in black and yellow that Gündoğan began developing into the dynamic central midfielder he is today.

The transition from playing at a club punching above its weight to one challenging for titles was naturally not without its difficulties, however, and in October Klopp felt compelled to take the new arrival out of the spotlight.

Gündoğan, having adapted to Klopp’s challenging, high-energy system, was central to it all. So much so, that in March 2013 BVB CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke had to address rumours that Barcelona wanted to sign the club’s number eight.

“We won’t sell Ilkay for any price in the world,” Watzke told Bild.

Dortmund’s midfield metronome played all 12 European games that season, and he was tasked with the responsibility of bringing them level in the final against Bayern at Wembley. Gündoğan calmly slotted home his second-half penalty, but his team lost out to a late Arjen Robben winner.

Perhaps it was at this point that Gündoğan’s luck began to desert him for a time. After starting on the opening day of the 2013/14 campaign, he suffered a back injury that would ultimately keep him out of action for 14 months.

“It was quite a long time where I didn’t want to have surgery too early because surgery of the spine – for a footballer especially – is not easy, and of course it is dangerous,” Gündoğan told Sky Sports in 2016.

Gündogan (l.) held his nerve to tuck a penalty past Manuel Neuer in the 2013 UEFA Champions League final. - 2013 Getty Images

“The expectations from the outside on Ilkay are very big,” he said. “It’s a difficult situation for him.”

Gündoğan earned his first cap for Germany that same month, however, and Klopp’s careful nurturing paid off in the second half of the season. Eventually settling into the deeper role demanded of him at Dortmund, he won back his starting place in March, and scored an extra-time winner in a DFB Cup semi-final against Greuther Fürth.

He then netted his third league goal of the campaign in a crucial victory at Wolfsburg on Matchday 29, and would finish his first season at Dortmund as a league and cup winner.

Gündoğan’s second campaign would look similar on paper – three goals in 28 league appearances – but this time Dortmund could only finish fourth in the league.

It was still one of the most memorable years in the club’s history, however, as Klopp’s exciting and tireless team saw off the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid to reach the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League final.

The midfielder has suffered terrible luck with injuries throughout his career, but is one of the world's best at full health. - imago sportfotodienst

“I was really scared, and I didn’t know if I would ever be able to play football again.”

Thankfully Gündoğan did – returning in October 2014 - although injury problems would continue to dog the playmaker for his final two years at Dortmund.  He helped the club reach the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals in April 2016, but a month later he dislocated his knee in training.

Having missed the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Gündoğan would also sit out UEFA Euro 2016. And following his move to Manchester City in June 2016, the 27-year-old suffered a further blow when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament that December.

Just like at the very start, however, Gündoğan bounced back. In August 2017, he returned to action once more and – having fought so hard to do so – he thoroughly deserved his chance to represent Germany in a major tournament at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Despite only playing a minor role for Germany at the World Cup in Russia, he began the 2022 tournament in the best possible way, with the opening goal in their curtain-raiser against Japan and he remains a central figure for the national side.

Gündoğan continues to improve with age and quickly became a key member of Pep Guardiola's Man City side, with whom he won 13 major trophies, including five Premier League titles. Guardiola's first signing and the hearbeat of City's growth under the former Bayern boss, Gündoğan finally got his hands on the Champions League title that eluded him at Dortmund in his final game for the club before departing for Barcelona in the summer of 2023. 

Gündoğan's growing stature and his development as one of the Germany's squad elder statesmen convinced ex-head coach Hansi Flick to give him the captain's armband last September, a decision Nagelsmann has respected. The 33-year-old's return to Germany, therefore, could result in him leading his country to international glory. That would cap off quite the journey.