Gundogan doesn’t scare like Keane or scream like Gerrard, but there has rarely been a better leader

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Pep Guardiola embraces Ilkay Gundogan Credit: Alamy
Pep Guardiola embraces Ilkay Gundogan Credit: Alamy

Ilkay Gundogan was mocked for his team talk before the Leeds game, but his actions speak so much louder than words as the captain leads Man City by example.


The reaction in some quarters was predictable and tedious. As the footage of Ilkay Gundogan’s team talk before the Leeds game circulated on social media, the cry emoji-soaked suggestion from many was that not enough spittle had been flecked, not enough expletives had been used, not enough figurative rockets had been inserted into metaphorical orifices.

Gundogan was ridiculed for demanding “intensity and high-pressing” in his softly-spoken voice, for slightly stumbling over his words when reminding his teammates they were “not allowed to do any mistakes” – essentially for not screaming while giving his best Roy Keane or Steven Gerrard impression.

The midfielder, of course, proceeded to lead by example. His two goals inspired Manchester City to a crucial victory, even if his subsequent penalty miss slightly skewed that perception of title saviour.

There was no spot kick to distract from his brilliance at Goodison Park. Everton were stubborn, determined, organised and resolute; Everton were precisely as advertised. Yet with one moment of improvisation and flick of his boot, Gundogan broke their resistance and dashed one of those few remaining hopes Arsenal have of catching Manchester City.

As so often happens, the breakthrough came almost immediately after David’s best chance to chop Goliath down to size was squandered. With more than half an hour gone and neither side having a shot of note, James Tarkowski won a knockdown from an Everton corner but Mason Holgate found the height and angle too awkward to manoeuvre.

The pattern of the game was thoroughly embedded by this point: Everton spent their time chasing shadows without ever being particular spooked by long periods out of position, then suddenly Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Abdoulaye Doucoure or Dwight McNeil broke with no teammate within a 50-yard radius. The only blows were glancing at best from either side.

But then Gundogan cushioned a low Riyad Mahrez cross with his thigh, the German’s back to goal. The next movement was to flick the ball over his shoulder and past Jordan Pickford with the outside of his boot. It was impudent. It was imaginative. It was immense.

A couple of minutes later, Gundogan latched onto a loose ball and clipped it perfectly towards the head of Erling Haaland. The Norwegian’s third touch came in the game’s 39th minute but was integral all the same.

And with a second-half free-kick after James Garner tripped Phil Foden in a territory disputed by James Ward-Prowse, Lionel Messi and friends, Gundogan completed his latest transformative turn.

There might never have been a more influential player in Premier League title run-in history. Manchester City’s top scorer of the 2020/21 season grabbed the two goals which helped overcome an obstinate Aston Villa on the final day of the 2021/22 campaign, before coming to the fore in the clinch of an ongoing Treble pursuit to complete an unlikely hat-trick.

The Manchester City captain’s words might not be resounding enough for some, but his actions are consistently ear-splitting. Barcelona are still circling a player whose Etihad contract expires this summer, but Pep Guardiola will not be alone in knowing there is no replicating what Gundogan brings to this brilliant team.

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