Borussia Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan put to end questions over his immediate future on Tuesday as he penned a one-year contract extension with Jurgen Klopp's side, his new deal now expiring in 2016.
The 23-year-old was arguably Europe's most coveted midfielder just a few months ago, and with his previous contract at BVB set to run just one year beyond this summer, the club was in a position in which they would have to either sell or risk losing him on a free transfer in 2015.
Gundogan's stock has dropped considerably as a result of a persistent back injury sustained in mid-August. The nerve inflammation, which has since sidelined him and which Klopp said in a recent press conference will keep him out of action until next season, has become a concern for would-be suitors. After claiming Real Madrid's preferred signing in midfield was Gundogan in November, Marca reported in February that the club had turned to Arturo Vidal in part due to uncertainty over the German's long-term health.
Heading into this summer, Gundogan's options were limited. His injury made him less desirable to the biggest clubs and even if he had offers from somewhat lesser sides, there was no reason for him to commit to a four- or five-year contract with a team below the top tier when just a year ago he played at a level worthy of any club in Europe. Moreover, it's hard enough for a player to find his feet once again after such a long time on the sidelines. This difficulty can only be compounded by the task of adapting to a new team, country and language.
Staying at BVB was his only reasonable option. And although a new deal gives the club some leverage to potentially force him to honor his contract, the length thereof in his case gave BVB very little in terms of negotiating power and presumably gave Gundogan a salary raise.
A contract extension usually means a commitment between club and player, but the short duration of Gundogan's deal can mean one or both of two things that are unsavory for BVB and/or the player himself: 1) He will leave in 12 months; or 2) His career is in danger.
A 12-month extension means that should the player make a full recovery, Gundogan and Dortmund will be in the same situation in 12 months' time. The club will try to convince the player to pen a new deal, but the ball will again be in Gundogan's court; he'll be able to choose Dortmund or any other club that offers BVB enough money for his release. It's a case of kicking the can further down the road, with the kick being particularly soft.
The more worrisome possibility for both parties is that Gundogan's injury is actually career-threatening, and Dortmund were at this point unwilling to pledge millions of Euros in the long term to a player who could be forced into early retirement. That of course would mean bad news for Gundogan and for BVB, who if he were forced to retire, they would lose him without receiving a transfer fee.
At face value, Gundogan's extension may appear to be a big positive for Dortmund, who managed to convince a coveted, star player to turn down offers from clubs abroad and commit his future to BVB. In reality, his extension is hardly different from that of Mario Gotze, who in 2012 penned a deal through 2016 but managed to negotiate a release clause that was triggered just a year later.
Gotze, who turned 20 just days before the transfer window opened, wasn't quite ready to leave in 2012. Due to his injury, Gundogan also isn't ready to leave in 2014. But if he has a good 2014-15 season—or fails to recover from his injury—he in all likelihood is as good as gone next July.
Much like Robert Lewandowski a year ago, the beginning of the end of Gundogan's career at Dortmund has started early. The only hope for BVB fans is that the club had only offered him a year due to concerns over his injury and he had not necessarily decided to leave. In that case the possibility of an extension in 12 months is conceivable. Just don't count on it.