The Turkish influence in German football is deep-rooted and has been ingrained in the national team and the Bundesliga, Nuri Şahin and Mesut Özil. Both with Turkish heritage, either playing in the German league or representing the nation at international level.
There was name omitted from that star-studded list – İlkay Gündoğan. No more Dortmund’s unassuming €4.3m signing from Nürnberg. He was recruited to replace the Bundesliga player of the season 10/11 – Şahin. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.
He’s stepped in and fit himself seamlessly into that Dortmund team. He did linger amongst the shadows for most of last season. Not quite your knight in shiny gel – like Nuri Şahin. @CoolHandJakeGS on Twitter compared his physique to that of a cast-iron stove. On the face of that description, there is an image conjured in your mind of him not being as subtle a player as the Turk. Not possessing that captivating technique. Lacking of that exploring range of passing.
Not quite your delicate deep-lying distributor, but a man with a fair level of technique.
This was more than apparent against Málaga last week. He seemingly controlled the game for the Germans. On a night where Mario Götze tried his best not to score and Marco Reus was ineffective, the invention had to come from somewhere. Gündoğan duly obliged and picked up the baton.
With Jürgen Klopp having employed him in central attacking midfield role against Stuttgart the weekend before (though he wasn’t the most influential – having later been subbed off), his ability going forward is no secret.
The German ran the show at La Rosaleda that night. His dynamism was expressed in his surging bursts forward from midfield, carrying the ball past Málaga players with ease. Dribbling is a fairly big part of his game and the 22-year-old never shies away from taking on the opposition. He doesn’t glide, he drives. It accentuates the purposefulness of everything he does.
Once he’s run into a commanding position he then has the awareness to pick out a team-mate. In the first-leg of their Champions League quarter final tie, he had released the likes of Götze and Lewandowski who really should’ve converted their chances. An elucidation of his final product to match his running.
With a pass success rate of near on 87 per cent and a long-ball accuracy ratio of just ten less, there is a more than respectable amount of technique to compliment the tenacity. Under the tutelage of Klopp, at the Westfalenstadion, he’s becoming a truly well-rounded player. No, not like Anderson.
His ebullience could be matched to that of Arturo Vidal. In many disciplines of their game they mirror each other. Their level of inventiveness is similar; their ability to deliver long-balls on par with each other; but there is one area where the Chilean is undoubtedly superior. On the defensive side.
Vidal makes more tackles, concedes less fouls per challenge and is dribbled less times. This is a glaring hole in Gündoğan’s all-round game. As stats can be, this may be a misleading point. Vidal is normally partnered in midfield by a less doggish Andrea Pirlo, hence the onus is more on the Mohican midfielder to break up play. As with Gündoğan – he is paired with the more defensive-minded likes of Sven Bender and Sebastian Kehl.
These two players have crucial European ties this week, playing on the biggest of stages. All the more reason for them to show their worth.
Having pointed out Gündoğan’s evident areas of strength and what he did so well against Málaga last week, surely it’s clear to Manuel Pellegrini and his men where they can neutralise this threat.
And there’s the beauty of his position. Gündoğan is neither weighed solely with the burden to attack or defend. He’s the midfield hybrid who does both. Hence man-marking him is no easy task. Isco will have his hands filled with containing Kehl/Bender’s distribution; Toulalan will be keeping a constant eye on the inward and outward movements of Götzeus – leaving Iturra the only man for the job. However, man-marking would limit the Chilean’s game and could leave space for Dortmund’s fluidity to exploit.
Beyond this, Gündoğan is about as static as Tony Pulis on the touchline. Not keeping to one position, yet simultaneously holding a disciplined role. The German is always available to supplement attacks and perennially on hand to bolster the defence. This is a massive part of his game. If this is distorted – Dortmund’s plans may equally be as affected.
Being the home team as well as favourites, BVB are expected to attack, and attack with conviction. But as they had seen last week, Málaga are no slouches coming forward. This puts Dortmund treading a fine line – and keeping it all in that fine-tuned balance is İlkay Gündoğan.
Disrupt his influence on proceedings and we may well be seeing three Spanish teams in the semi-finals. But with the possibility of a €100k bonus for going through, his team-mates have incentive enough.
Follow me on Twitter: @VineshParmar4