By Clark Whitney
Throughout the 2010-11 season, there was no better midfielder in Germany than Nuri Sahin. The Turkey international had a dream campaign that led to the Bundesliga title, and his fine performances earned him interest from abroad. With the announcement of his departure for Real Madrid on Monday, Dortmund have lost the cornerstone of their midfield. For the time being, some large question marks loom over BVB’s future: how will the champions manage without Sahin, and who will step into the departed player’s shoes?
Enter Ilkay Gundogan.
Anticipating Sahin’s move, Dortmund were quick to search for a replacement and last week confirmed the capture of Gundogan from Nurnberg. Once dubbed the 'new Ozil', the 20-year old is more a combination of the former Werder Bremen creator, and Sahin. A box-to-box player, Gundogan tends to take up deeper positions than Ozil, but is more often found at the edge of the penalty box than Sahin. He tends to be much more of a direct goal threat than Ozil, with ability to shoot from distance, though his typical range is somewhat less than that of the man whose place in the team he will likely fulfill. Like both his comparisons, however, Gundogan is technically proficient, and excels in the quick, flat-passing system that characterises Dortmund’s style of play.
| CAREER STATISTICS | ILKAY GUNDOGAN (Nurnberg)
Clubs: Bochum II (2008-09), Nurnberg (2009-11), Dortmund (2011-)
The challenge Jurgen Klopp faces in the coming year is converting Gundogan from a No. 10 to a holding midfielder. In a recent interview with Bild, Turkey scout and former BVB forward Erdal Keser branded Gundogan a more aggressive player than Sahin. The Dortmund newcomer naturally gravitates towards the edge of the box, which could yield problems for Klopp’s side, given that Shinji Kagawa is already pencilled in for the role in that area. Moreover, the trainer’s current system relies on forward runs from full-backs, which requires that holding midfield duo Sahin and Sven Bender cover the space behind the marauding wide defenders. There just isn’t room for another man behind main striker Lucas Barrios.
In all likelihood, Klopp will have to make modifications to his system. Following the announcement of Sahin’s departure, sporting director Michael Zorc admitted: “It’s hard to replace Nuri with another player. Our playing style will change.” Exactly how BVB will change remains to be seen, but the coach has his work cut out.
|"[Gundogan] is willing to learn and is very smart. He also brings a great attitude. Ilkay has a great passing game, is a complete player, and fits perfectly into our footballing system."
- Jurgen Klopp
No matter Klopp’s system, it may well have limited dependence on Gundogan. To pin Dortmund’s Champions League hopes on a player who is just 20 years of age would be irresponsible and inviting of danger, especially if he is forced to change his playing style in the process. Sahin spent four years at Dortmund and a fifth on loan before he fully blossomed at age 22; Gundogan may require one, two, or more years to achieve his potential.
Having lost a vital component of their team, Dortmund have made the right step in finding and securing a promising, reasonably priced alternative. However, those expecting a like-for-like swap and the same BVB team to play next season will be disappointed. Gundogan could make his breakthrough in 2011-12, but it would be a mistake to expect him to fit perfectly into Sahin’s shoes. He is the first, but will not be the last signing Dortmund make this summer, and is only one part of the very large puzzle that is the BVB team.
Klopp once before formulated a winning combination with a group of talented young players. Fans can only trust that, with or without Gundogan as a main component, he will do so again.
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