Wednesday 20 March 2019

'Open-minded' Gundogan refuses to rule out Manchester City exit

Gundogan: “There is no decision yet – otherwise I would have signed or rejected a contract.” Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Gundogan: “There is no decision yet – otherwise I would have signed or rejected a contract.” Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

James Ducker

Less than 48 hours after Pep Guardiola had told Ilkay Gundogan he "wants to feel that he wants to stay" at Manchester City, it would have been very easy for the Germany midfielder to tell his manager exactly what he wanted to hear.

Sat next to Guardiola at a press conference ahead of the second leg of City's Champions League last-16 tie against Schalke at the Etihad Stadium tonight, few could have blamed Gundogan had he plumped for the easy option and delivered a few platitudes when quizzed about his future.

But Gundogan had no intention of sidestepping difficult questions, insisting he would not be pressured into signing a new contract with City and leaving the door open to a move.

"There is no decision yet - otherwise I would have signed or rejected a contract," said Gundogan, whose side are firm favourites to progress to the quarter-finals after coming from 2-1 down with 10 men to beat Schalke 3-2 in the first leg.

"We are still in talks, but I don't feel there is much pressure, maybe also because we are still competing in all the competitions and want to go as far as possible.

"I am very happy at the moment here, especially about how we play under Pep and that is the main thing."

The German is out of contract at the end of next season and talks over a new deal have stalled. Unless that changes, City may have to consider cashing in on him this summer, or risk losing him for nothing next year.

Both scenarios are unpalatable. Not only is Gundogan the only quality replacement they have in defensive midfield for Fernandinho - as he is showcasing in the absence of the injured Brazilian - but the threat of a transfer-window ban by Fifa, who are investigating the club's recruitment practices, is another potential complication.

Whether that stand-off contributed to a slightly awkward silence between Guardiola and Gundogan as they faced the media yesterday is hard to know.

But there was none of the bonhomie that usually exists between manager and player in these situations.

Asked why he would contemplate leaving a club who offer so much, Gundogan made a point of stressing that his next contract could determine where he finishes his playing career and that, at 28, he had to consider the prospect of embracing a new challenge elsewhere.

"This is something everyone has to decide for themselves," Gundogan said.

"I am 28 now, so my next contract will maybe decide where I will be for the end of my career.

"Everyone feels different. Maybe someone has an inner feeling in his self to go for a new challenge or to change something.

"If you see on my (curriculum) vitae, you can read that I am always open-minded for challenges, but it is a personal situation. Everyone has to make his own decision. At the moment I try to play as good as possible and I guess after the season we are going to talk again."

One thing Gundogan and Guardiola agreed on was that City would be asking for trouble if they felt their job against Schalke was done.

Both cited shock comebacks by Manchester United and Ajax, against Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid respectively, as examples of the Champions League's ability to surprise and Guardiola claimed City were still "teenagers" in the competition, eager to join the grown-ups who have won it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Manchester City (3) v Schalke (2)

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