Ilkay Gundogan is one of the game’s most intellectual players, so it’s fascinating to watch him start his coaching career with Manchester City’s U16 team earlier this month.
A crossbar challenge and several two-touch keep-ups provided some amusement. However, there was also valuable information available for the club’s young players.
Gundogan stressed the importance of maintaining eye contact with the passer and pulling opponents to one side of the pitch before switching the ball to the other side. When a drill became monotonous, he emphasized how much repetition had aided him.
Ilkay Gundogan’s mastery of the game is so deep that he feels perfectly at ease in the role of coach. It’s debatable whether he’d desire the attention that comes with top-level management.
Speaking to him during his goal-scoring spree last season, during which he scored 11 goals in 12 Premier League games, Ilkay Gundogan made it clear that such individual feats mean little to him. He makes you believe it as well.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t make me any happier.” What makes me happy is the team’s desire to win games, compete for all of the trophies available in all of the many tournaments, and raise trophies at the conclusion of the season.”
During that stretch, what was his favorite goal? It happened at home to Saturday’s opponents Tottenham, and it wasn’t due to anything he did. It was because he remembered his goalkeeper Ederson’s delight after having assisted on his second goal of the day.
That ethos explains why he might be a good coach candidate. Pep Guardiola, for one, believes so. For the same reason, Manchester City’s head coach was touted as a prospective manager long before his own playing career ended.
“If a midfield player wants to be a manager, they can,” Guardiola says Sky Sports. “When you’re a midfield player, you have to think about the team.”
“You think about goals when you’re a striker.” You’re not paying attention to what’s going on around you.
“If you want to survive as a midfielder, you have to think about what’s going on in front of you and what’s going on behind you, because you’re in the centre of the team.”
“That is why you can accomplish it if you play there, if you are educated, and if you have the passion.”
Gundogan possesses this ability.
His metronomic usage of the ball, like Guardiola’s, looks to be meant to move opponents around the pitch before playing that crucial pass. He is highly aware of how his own work fits into the larger picture. He already sees the greater picture.
Ilkay Gundogan is one of the few players who can communicate the subtleties of a team’s build-up play. Before making certain runs, he talks about looking for trigger movements in his teammates. He says that a run could be set up to allow someone else to get a pass.
He goes into such length on the importance of finding a teammate’s preferred foot and why misplacing even one pass in a hundred as a midfielder is too many. “We discuss tactics,” Guardiola says. “He is quite brilliant, which is why he is so enthusiastic about it.”
“I believe the academy players should be appreciative of these types of tutoring sessions with him.” Ilkay strikes me as a really intelligent man. And, of course, if you’re a smart man, you’re also a smart player. It will be interesting to see him in the future if he decides to become a manager because of his quality and skills.”
Guardiola may not have to wait as long as he thinks.
“I’ll go watch him one day,” he admits, a cheeky grin on his face.
“Perhaps seeing his training sessions will teach me something.”
It doesn’t get much better than that in terms of praise.