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EURO 2024: The best improver: EM as Gündogan’s bonus story

EURO 2024: The best improver: EM as Gündogan’s bonus story
EURO 2024: The best improver: EM as Gündogan’s bonus story

Arms spread wide. A smile on his face. This is how Ilkay Gündogan celebrates his goal in the 2-0 win against Hungary. The European Championship is a liberation for the DFB captain – both in sporting and emotional terms.

With a smile, Ilkay Gündogan held the trophy for best player up to the camera. The trophy that the DFB captain received from UEFA for his performance in the 2-0 win against Hungary looked more like an ordinary silver tin vase. Nevertheless, it was a symbol of someone who has rarely received as much praise in the German national football jersey, whether white or pink, as in these first days of the new European Championship frenzy.

As “Man of the Match” in Germany’s second group match, Gündogan not only received a trophy. He was also allowed to sit on the press podium to tell his story of the match. And Gündogan said things that a Gündogan would say. Modestly. Not at all exuberantly. “Whether I scored a goal or was Player of the Match is secondary. That is not what a footballer strives for or should strive for. Those are bonus stories,” said the 33-year-old.

Doubts vanished

A week ago, there were doubts as to whether Gündogan should even lead the national team onto the pitch at the home European Championships. Whether national coach Julian Nagelsmann didn’t have better options for his starting eleven. In light of the first two victories, that now sounds like football blasphemy.

“I have a lot of confidence in him because I know what he’s capable of. We all just have to push him a bit because he can push us too. He did very well in both games. And I’m sure it will continue like this,” said Nagelsmann, who never publicly doubted his quiet leader.

Orban-bump as a statement

Now it is dawning on many critics that an exceptional player in the DFB jersey simply did not play to his limits for a long time. His resolute effort against Hungarian Leipzig’s Willi Orbán before Jamal Musiala scored the first goal was a statement. Look, here I am.

Gündogan’s social media manager had a lot of work to do. Many congratulatory posts could be linked on Instagram. The equipment sponsor, of course. The employer FC Barcelona, ​​of course. But colleagues also posted their happiness: Thomas Müller, Musiala, Niclas Füllkrug, all with photos of themselves with Gündogan.

Jack Grealish sent his praises from Manchester. “I can’t describe how good this guy is. Honestly, one of the best I’ve ever played with,” wrote his former colleague. Man City coach Pep Guardiola had already highlighted the outstanding game intelligence before the European Championship kicked off.

Like many other foreign professionals, Gündogan has received more recognition in the place where he works, whether in England or now in Spain, than at home. The term “home” has always complicated the situation for Gündogan. Football star or not, he is no different from many other descendants of immigrants in Germany.

Schweinsteiger in sight

There is always a latent but in the personal side too. No matter how well he plays, can someone like that be the black, red and gold captain? Of course he can. And on Sunday against Switzerland at the end of the European Championship group stage he will be the 17th time – as often as Bastian Schweinsteiger once did. “We all have to trust him more in the country,” demanded Nagelsmann. He meant that in a sporting sense, but the double meaning is always there.

Born in the year of German reunification in 1990 in the Ruhr region of Gelsenkirchen, he embodies the biography of tens of thousands of migrant descendants. “So happy for you Abi,” wrote Antonio Rüdiger in his Stuttgart online article. “Abi” means “big brother” in Turkish.

The big brother role is Gündogan’s job in the pink-celebrated 2024 national team. He leads the magic students Musiala and Florian Wirtz. With 79 international matches under his belt, he is their personal improver, like Dumbledore for Harry Potter, so to speak. “I feel extremely comfortable in this team. That is a very good omen for then playing freely on the pitch, which is not always easy due to the last few years and the results,” said Gündogan.

Tactical highlight with Kroos

The fact that Nagelsmann took him out of the positional dispute at number six and moved him forward to a floating and directing role between number eight, number ten and an unwavering attacker in counter-pressing was a tactical coup. This also enabled Toni Kroos’s return to play to develop its special power. “The good thing is, especially with Toni now, that when we look at each other on the pitch, even for a millisecond, we know what the other is thinking and what he is planning in the next situation,” said Gündogan.

Kroos is known to be a man of firm principles. It is not in the nature of the six-time Champions League winner to single out a colleague. But he made an exception for Gündogan: “I’m happy for Illy because of course his career in the national team has not been as successful as his club career,” said Kroos. “I hope that he will step out of the perceived shadow during the tournament. We have no doubts about the kind of player he is,” noted the 34-year-old.

Source: Stern

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