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Ilkay Gündogan: 'A Lot in Football Happens in Your Mind'

Ilkay Gündogan is one of Germany's most important midfielders. In an interview with DW, the Manchester City captain talks about confidence, coaching and his anticipation at becoming a father.

Ilkay Gündogan coughs as he sits down outside Germany's base camp, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Doha. The air conditioning and the cold indoor temperatures are giving him a bit of trouble, he says.

The 32-year-old midfielder's role in the team is less of an issue, although that wasn't always the case.

"A lot in football is what happens in your mind, so I think it's very important for an individual to have the right mix between confidence and appreciation," Gündogan told DW.


"In 2018, I wasn't necessarily part of the first XI. I saw myself there but I didn't get the same feeling from the other side of things, if that makes sense. This automatically led to maybe lacking a little bit of confidence. I see myself right now in a different situation with the new coach, with kind of a new team, with me being also one of the most experienced players."

Ilkay Gündogan hugs Hansi FlickIlkay Gündogan hugs Hansi Flick

Ilkay Gündogan's relationship with Hansi Flick is a big reason he has rediscovered his form in the Germany teamImage: Wunderl/Beautiful Sports/IMAGO

Germany coach Hansi Flick's confidence in Gündogan has seen him become an integral part of the team and while Leon Goretzka's return to fitness and form poses a threat, Gündogan's experience might give him the edge. He knows the importance of the opening game against Japan on Wednesday and he knows "Spain are waiting."

Ready to play

Indeed, it is that awareness that sets him apart from so many other players. As a midfielder, Gündogan is always conscious of his surroundings and what needs to change to make the game work. His adaptability means representing Germany at a warm World Cup placed in the middle of a domestic season is less of a challenge than it might first appear.

"I really like it because you don't have much time to go straight from club football into international football, but everyone is on a good level performance-wise," said Gündogan. "Maybe it's even an advantage for everyone not to have a break with a few days off, then after cooling down completely you have to come back suddenly and start preparations."

For all nations competing at this World Cup, preparation without facing the human rights issues in Qatar has been impossible. The social and political shadow of this tournament has loomed large over the last few years. In the weeks before the tournament, Leon Goretzka and Thomas Müller spoke out about the situation but for players now the shift in attention is naturally towards the game.

"From a player's point of view, a lot of things have been said, good things have been said in the past, from us also as a team and other nations," said Gündogan. "The tournament is about to start right now so I hope the football can be dominate. As an athlete, you want to celebrate football."

Gündogan the coach?

This might be  Gündogan's last World Cup. At 32, it might even be his last international tournament, although the temptation of playing at a home European Championships in two years might be too great.

Ilkay Gündogan celebrates a goalIlkay Gündogan celebrates a goal

At Manchester City, Ilkay Gündogan has learned from the bestImage: Darren Staples/Newscom/picture alliance

The midfielder has already done some coaching at Manchester City's academy and has started to earn his coaching badges. While he admits coaching hasn't changed the way he plays, it might as well have changed the way he leads.

"I had probably the best managers in the world in my career so far so I consider myself very lucky. I'm very grateful for all the managers that I had and of course, for the one that I have right now," Gündogan said.

"I've seen a lot of different things of the highest quality and I've learnt a lot of stuff so I think there's potential for me because I think it's fun. I think it's nice to be a leader, to lead a team, to have ideas and then to transmit them to the pitch and the players that you have. To see things working out actually is probably something that fills you with pride, so I think that's something that is very nice as a coach, as a manager. I see myself maybe there one day."

Before then though, Gündogan's life will change forever when he becomes a father next year. Even here, in the dusty desert of Qatar amidst the pinnacle event of a professional footballer's career, this is the moment that Gündogan feels the most vulnerable about.

"It already feels like things are changing, especially the way you think about stuff, the way you see stuff. I mean, our baby is not born yet, and you're already kind of more concerned or worried about the future, you know? Even though I know that I have a very privileged life, but at the end of the day, I'm also a normal person with normal thoughts, you know, and anxieties maybe about the future … I can't wait to become a dad."

Before then comes perhaps the last hurrah of a midfielder looking to use his confidence to guide Germany to success. 

This interview was conducted by Thomas Klein and Jonathan Harding on November 20, 2022. Edited by Matt Pearson.

Courtesy: DW

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