It was the news Manchester City fans feared. Less than two weeks after captaining his team to the pinnacle of European and English football it was a case of Ilkay Gundo-gone!
City’s inspirational skipper – the ever popular 32-year old German who won everything worth winning in a magnificent seven seasons at the Etihad – had opted for sunnier climes and a free transfer switch to Barcelona.
Silky Ilkay, The Gun Dog, Mr Whippy – Gundogan was known, loved and appreciated in so many different guises, but he’s already immortalised as the man who led City to their first ever Champions League glory, and the last instalment of an astonishing Treble.
His departure after 304 appearances, 60 goals, 38 assists, five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, four League Cups, two Community Shields (if they count as bona fide trophies) and of course, lifting ‘Big Ears’ in Istanbul, means he goes on the highest of highs amidst a myriad of emotions.
There was sadness and disappointment mixed with gratitude, admiration and no little frustration as a player, seemingly at the peak of his playing prowess, was switching to a club detested by most City fans.
Whereas there was nothing but thanks for his contribution and achievements, along with best wishes for his future, the same couldn’t be said of Gundo’s new employers.
Viewed by a majority of City supporters as corrupt, crooked, arrogant and self-entitled, there’s zero respect or affection for the present day Barcelona.
That said, it’s not difficult to see why Gundogan is heading to La Liga.
He’d previously cited the pace and physicality of the Premier League as a concern and threat to his longevity as a player. La Liga is far less physically demanding. It’s played at a slower tempo with ‘tackles’ in English football deemed fouls in Spain. In essence he’ll be afforded more protection.
It’s understood Gundo was offered a two-year contract with an option for a third season at the Nou Camp. To all intent and purposes that appears to be an extra year to what City had in mind.
Pep Guardiola was keen for City to retain the man who had been his first signing at the Etihad – a bargain £21m from Borussia Dortmund – in 2016.
We’re always told that, ‘age is just a number’, but Ilkay will be 33 in October, meaning he’d be nigh on 36 at the end of any three-year contract extension. On the face of it, City should not be letting their wonderful on-field leader walk out the door for free, but Txiki, Ferran and Pep aren’t often wrong on such matters.
Gundo will undoubtedly flourish in Spain. You only have to look at 37-years young Luka Modric at Real Madrid, to see what can be done away from the intensity of the Premier League.
Putting aside the dislike/loathing for FC Barcelona, the Catalan capital is a beautiful city and one that is more to the liking of Mrs Gundogan – stunning Italian model, Sara Arfaoui – who infamously, albeit greatly exaggerated by the sh*t stirring British tabloids, criticised the cuisine of Manchester’s finest restaurants.
Another beautiful partner of another wonderful City midfielder – Ines Tomaz who is expecting Bernardo Silva’s baby – is also known to be none too enamoured with the Mancunian weather.
The now annual, and wearisome saga, of Bernardo’s yearning for the sun and Mediterranean lifestyle is already in full swing. The problem for City’s Portuguese playmaker is his preferred option to follow Gundo, appears beyond Barcelona’s means.
PSG and Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia are his only options at the moment, unless of course he sticks with City and the remaining two years of his contract – which would be nice!
If, as seems likely, Aymeric Laporte leaves for regular first team football to help preserve his place in the Spanish national team, and a return to the Etihad for Joao Cancelo is about as welcome as a fart in a space suit, this could be a summer of change, far eclipsing that of 2022.
Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko departed for fees of circa £125m, but should Bernardo, Laporte and Cancelo leave, City could and should expect much more.
At just £25m (plus £5m in add-ons) Etihad bound Mateo Kovacic (29) looks like a bargain buy. With four Champions League winner’s medals and career spanning Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea, the experienced Croatian international will be a huge asset to Pep’s squad.
Irrespective of City’s treble success, it’s an imperative that even the best of teams recruit new faces to enhance the hunger, desire and determination to keep winning the big prizes.
Transfer speculation sees City linked with Declan Rice (24) at West Ham and Josko Gvardiol (21) at RB Leipzig. Both would undoubtedly be expensive but valuable additions, with youth on their side.
No City fan likes to see their favourite players depart – especially if it isn’t at the club’s behest – but it’s the nature of the game and nobody copes better than City.
You only have to look how City have ‘lost’ legends such as Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and now Ilkay Gundogan.
Pep has managed to replace the 'irreplaceable' over the past seven seasons. The statistics don't lie.
Five Premier League titles, a second and a third place - the latter in his first season - provide clear evidence. He adapts formations and tactics. He doesn’t always seek like-for-like players, but in Guardiola’s own words. ‘We are always there at the end of a season.’ Consistency is the key.
It’s 'auf wiedersehen' Gundo, most likely 'adios' Aymeric, possibly 'adeus' to Bernardo and almost definitely Cancelo, but Pep doesn’t and never has feared change – he thrives on it. Forever innovative, meticulous in his approach and relentless is his pursuit of perfection, he is the best football manager, not only of his generation, but of all time.
The Catalan genius has two years left on his contract at City. He's said he will honour the contract, but what happens in the summer of 2025? That'll be nine years in Manchester - three times more than he spent with Bayern Munich and more than twice as long at his beloved Barcelona.
There's a time and a place for everything, and worrying about life after Pep is not for now.
No, for the time being both he and City's supporters will embrace any changes required to ensure Guardiola's genre of 'Carry On Winning' continues.
By David Walker
Twitter @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu