More difficult for Yamal than it was for Foden: Ilkay Gundogan | Football News - Hindustan Times

More difficult for Yamal than it was for Foden: Ilkay Gundogan

Mar 01, 2024 10:27 PM IST

Barcelona midfielder speaks about how Foden was eased into the City team while the experience has been very different for Yamal

When Ilkay Gundogan arrived at Manchester City as Pep Guardiola’s first signing in 2016, Phil Foden was over one year away from his Premier League debut. Before that happened in November 2017, Foden, having lit up the under-17 World Cup where won the Golden Ball and scored a goal off either foot in the final, had got a packed Salt Lake stadium to chant his name. In seven seasons with City, Gundogan saw the blossoming of a generational talent.

Barcelona's German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan(AFP)
Barcelona's German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan(AFP)

In Foden he trusted, Guardiola said explaining why City would not go to the “market” when David Silva left. Yes, given the wealth of talent at his disposal it still meant Foden not starting the FA Cup and the Champions League final last season but that he was brought as Kevin de Bruyne’s replacement tells you something. As does Guardiola shifting Foden to the centre following De Bruyne’s injury in 2023-24.

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In 2023, Gundogan moved to Barcelona where Lamine Yamal has been a midfield partner. Yamal is 16, Foden was 17 when he debuted in the Premier League. Apart from adding to his sense of déjà vu, it made Gundogan well placed to take HT’s question on comparing the development of the attacking midfielders.

In the way Guardiola and Xavi deflect pressure off young players without denying them time on the pitch, they are similar, said Gundogan. “For Lamine it is maybe a bit more difficult because he already takes a lot more responsibility at the age of 16. He is playing a lot more games, lot more 90 minute games than when Phil was 16.”

The big squad, the stiff competition meant Foden could be eased into the first team, said the midfielder. Not so Yamal, the youngest player to represent Spain breaking a record that belonged to Barcelona teammate Gavi. Yamal is also Spain’s youngest scorer. He has played 25 of Barcelona’s 26 games (3 goals and 6 assists as per Transfermarkt) in La Liga this term and featured in all Champions League fixtures. Add to that four games for Spain where he has two goals after making his debut last September against Georgia.

“But as I know Lamine, this (the games) will help him because he has a great attitude, great character and is down to earth. With Raphina being fit, this will be good competition for him. And it is what you need at the end of the day. Even though he is 16, he needs to have the feeling that he has to compete.”

Yamal is among the dozen on Barcelona’s roster who were born on or after 2004. There are three –Alejandro Balde, Fermin Lopez and Marc Casado born in 2003. It is just as well that Gundogan said he wanted to pass on things “that were important to me” through actions because his “Spanish is not perfect.” But he said he saw a good future for the club.

Training over in Barcelona on Friday, Gundogan was speaking to a group of journalists from the Asia-Pacific region on a Teams call. His first year at City and 2023-24 have been similar because they were start of new projects, said the Germany midfielder. Pep started “near zero and that is the starting point for myself here.”

So he is prepared for the “bumps on the road”. Gundogan said “things are better (at Barcelona) than when I joined City” who finished third in the league that season. “Consistency is missing,” said the man who knows all about being serially successful. “It is much more difficult to do that at the start than when you are at a more developed stage of the project.”

Gundogan accepted there is a “gap in the league” where defending champions Barcelona, who play Athletic away on Sunday, are third on 57 points eight points behind leaders Real Madrid and two behind Girona the season’s surprise package. But a Champions League quarter-final is possible. And that is why Gundogan said he didn’t want to look ahead to the time when Xavi, who was the “main reason” he joined Barcelona, won’t be there. Instead, he would like to make the farewell happy for the Barcelona legend.

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    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata and has been a sport journalist for over three decades. He writes mainly on football.

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