A man who witnessed the midfielder’s talents up close at Bochum and Nurnberg has not been surprised by his success at the highest level
Ilkay Gundogan’s former coach Michael Oenning has revealed the arguments he used to have with Jurgen Klopp over the Manchester City star’s best position, which he feels has always been as a No.10.
Gundogan has long been considered among the top defensive midfielders in European football, but this season he has been making headlines for his exploits in the final third after being asked to play further forward by Pep Guardiola.
Oenning says he noticed the 27-year-old’s eye for goal at the start of his career with Bochum and Nurnberg, which prompted him to advise Klopp on how best to use him at Borussia Dortmund, but claims his fellow German didn’t buy into his attacking potential.
What was said?
The ex-Nurnberg manager told Goal of Gundogan’s early career development: “After the first training session at Bochum, I spoke with Ilkay and said to him: ‘You will be a professional footballer!’
“He was a little bit shy and he was laughing, but I could see the fire in his eyes. I had no doubts that he would reach his aims.
“For me, Ilkay is and was a No.10. I often argued with Jurgen Klopp about his best position, but he made him into one of the best defensive midfielders.”
Oenning added: “From the first moment, we had a special relationship. I trusted him 100 per cent and he understands immediately what I want from him on the pitch.
“He feels totally free and he learns very quickly. I think he would like to hear that he is a mixture of Xavi and Iniesta, two players he loves most.
“Ilkay has this instinct for football that you can’t learn.”
How did Gundogan perform under Klopp at Dortmund?
Dortmund spent €4 million to bring Gundogan from Nurnberg to Westfalenstadion in 2011, and he went on to feature in 157 games across all competitions for the club.
The City playmaker also provided 15 goals and 20 assists from a deep-lying midfield position, helping Klopp’s side to win three domestic trophies and reach the 2013 Champions League final.
Gundogan’s stunning 2020-21 campaign at City
Guardiola used Gundogan in the same way as Klopp after signing him from Dortmund for £20 million ($28m) back in 2016, with the Germany international playing a key role in City’s emergence as the dominant force in English football.
Gundogan has picked up eight trophies with the club already, including two Premier League titles, but he had been more of an unsung hero than a talismanic figure prior to the current season.
Guardiola shifted the former Dortmund ace into a No.10 role in December and he subsequently embarked on an unprecedented scoring spree, scoring nine goals in his last 10 games.
City are now on course for success in the Premier League again, with Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup honours also still up for grabs, and Gundogan is being touted as a potential PFA Player of the Year winner for his outstanding contribution to their cause.
Gundogan will be available for selection again when City take on Borussia Monchengladbach in the first leg of their round-of-16 Champions League tie on Wednesday night.