Two years ago he was ranked as “world class” by kicker-Sportmagazin. However shortly after this he was put out of action for 430 days by a terrible injury. He only returned to the Bundesliga on 18. October 2014 and since then he has been trying to return once more to his top form.
A nasty spinal injury called spondylolisthesis, one not well known publicly yet widespread among athletes, along with inflammation of the nerve roots threw the midfielder off the top of his game. “I do think that I set the standard high before my injury – even for myself personally”, said the 24-year-old towards the end of last season and self-critically added: “Now I’m getting back to my former strength step by step. There are games from time to time in which I dive or I’m not playing at the level that I normally would be.” He estimated that he was playing at “60 to 70 percent” of his full potential.
A healthy Gündogan is a huge bonus for each team for he is a midfielder who combines precision and a brilliant passing game with an excellent ability to read the game well, while looking for free space and the key moment to make the perfect pass.
After playing for SV Gelsenkirchen-Hessler 06, Schalke 04 and SSV Buer he landed a spot as a highly talented player in VfL Bochum’s youth team in 2005. Here he matured into a junior national player and completed the 2008/09 season with two games for the reserve team in the Regionalliga West. Gündogan was totally committed to FC Nürnberg, who was in the 2. Bundesliga at the time, during the second half of the season. Although he was only used once in the season in which the club was promoted, the rise of Ilkay Gündogan began with the team’s promotion to the top division.
Here he became one of the absolute top performers and became well known throughout the league for his role in centre midfield at kick off. Additionally, he completed his school exams on the side of his footballing achievements. Despite a promising career in football sitting his exams was extremely important to Gündogan: “Because as a footballer there aren’t many opportunities after you’ve retired and only a few will have earned enough.”
After his transfer to BVB in summer 2011 he had to get used to the higher expectations which he managed after a few months. “I needed to fight back step by step.” Gündogan satisfied and managed to earn himself a place in the national team. He made his debut on 11. October 2011 and was even selected for the national team at the Euros in 2012. He then missed the 2014 World cup because of a serious back injury. Now he has decided: “I know what I have here. Here I have a Coach and teammates all around me who will help me to return to my former strength again. I made the jump to the absolute top level at Dortmund and this is where I want to do it again.”
The football star acts modestly and cautiously in his private life. He has said that he would have liked to have become a “lawyer” but if that had not worked out he would “probably have done something with sport like sports management or marketing”. He also gets involved in various social projects including “Integration – succeed in playing” of which he was the inspiration. “As a German-Turk I know what it is like to grow up in two different cultures. I try to be a role model in some ways, especially for young people who watch football.”