The 29-year-old was a beaten finalist during his period with Dortmund and considers that European glory remains possible with Pep Guardiola’s side.
Istanbul, May 30, 2020. It is a destination and event that would mark the ideal end to the season for Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan.
The city is a unique place for the Germany international born to Turkish parents – a place he visits to see friends and loved ones. And in the end of May, the Ataturk Stadium on the western outskirts of town will host this year’s Champions League final.
Gundogan would like to be there. He’s a spectacular collection of awards but the Champions League is missing. It is the one he needs more than any other.
The 29-year-old played a substantial part in City’s back-to-back name triumphs in addition to winning the FA Cup and League Cup twice during his four seasons in England. He won every domestic trophy available at Borussia Dortmund. Jurgen Klopp’s great facet of eight decades ago were the last to prevent Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga crown but their German rivals recovered the year after, winning the treble including a heart-breaking last-minute 2-1 Champions League victory over Dortmund in Wembley.
“I don’t think it is going to be my only closing – naturally,” Gundogan told Target. “I hope so too. I don’t really have a lot of time, that is why I try to push my team-mates as far as possible.
“But yeah, I am confident that we have the chances for a Champions League final.”
Like Gundogan, the Champions League can be missing from City’s collection and it stays the prize most coveted by the club’s hierarchy. City have been heralded as one of the best teams in Premier League history after setting the highest-ever points tally in their past two title-winning seasons. But Gundogan believes they’ll only cement their place amongst the best sides ever if they could eventually end their wait for Champions League success.
He added: “The Champions League is perhaps the most prestigious competition in the sport and if you do not win it, as far as we’re a wonderful team, you feel like there is always something missing.
“Obviously, we strive to do our best but it is not something which you could talk about and then it comes. It’s something you need to attempt and attain.”
City’s dream faces an early test with the mouthwatering challenge of 13-times listing winners Real Madrid in the last 16. The Spanish giants ceased City on their best ever run in the contest in 2016, when they won by only a single goal in the Bernabeu, two weeks before Gundogan’s arrival.
Guardiola believes it’s harder for City to succeed in Europe because they don’t have the exact same history and expertise in the contest but Gundogan claims that a huge result could change the narrative.
He said: “It is so tricky to explain it I believe we need a huge game that we win. And to undergo thinking ‘this was so hard now’, where we will need to struggle also. We must overcome difficulties, something like that is required.
“That is why I think you learn from games such as off in Atalanta – with one guy down and Kyle Walker as a goalkeeper – or at home against Shakhtar and you battle and it is not a terrific performance and you draw. These sorts of games are also significant.
“You can’t just win each and every match by three, four or five goals and then once you run to the past 16 playing a fantastic team, 1-0 down, expect to flip it around easily. It is not always like this. I think struggles are a part of our profession. And it is always about overcoming these sorts of moments.”
Conceding goals has been City’s biggest problem in Europe. In their three exits under Guardiola, the Premier League champions let in six against Monaco, five against Liverpool and four in last year’s dramatic defeat to Tottenham. Guardiola is not about to take a backward step in the contest and will continue to play with his customary high defensive line in Europe with its risk and reward.
It’s critical that City play with confidence and Gundogan admits that it is not always something that may be switched on in tough times. “It is important in life and sport if you do something with the confidence you can do it better,” he said. “That’s the exact same in soccer and everything else.
“It is harder [in larger games]. However, I think it’s also something that you can develop during a game. Having powerful moments in a match, like scoring or anything, always provides you that lift. But it may be the opposite sometimes – things go wrong, it is completely normal, you fail and your confidence decreases.
“So it’s a weird thing with confidence. I would say it is not always something that you can really describe and not something you can just automatically switch on.”
A recent streak of nine wins in 10 matches ought to be a confidence booster ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Spain for the first leg. But Gundogan knows there’s an awfully long way to go before that dream of a perfect night in Istanbul can become a reality.