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Gundogan Reveals Pirlo, Zidane and Xavi Are His Heroes as He Fights for Fitness

Alex LivieFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2017

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06: Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City (R) takes the ball past Patrick Roberts of Celtic (L) during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Manchester City FC and Celtic FC at Etihad Stadium on December 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The gym seems like his home and the physio his constant companion. Ilkay Gundogan is working hard on returning from the injury that halted his start to life in England and went a long way to derailing Manchester City's Premier League title challenge.

The 26-year-old, who arrived in Manchester from Borussia Dortmund under an injury cloud, made a seamless transition to life in the Premier League, with his style perfectly suited to that of City manager Pep Guardiola.

With Gundogan in partnership with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, City were a quicksilver attacking unit. But disaster struck on December 14 as he picked up a cruciate knee ligament injury against Watford.

City players showed their support for Gundogan.
City players showed their support for Gundogan.Michael Regan/Getty Images

It was not as disastrous as the City players' decision to walk out for the game following Gundogan's injury with his shirt on back to front seemed to suggest, but it was a huge blow all the same.

Without Gundogan, City have failed to keep pace with Chelsea in the title race, and it will be next season before he returns to action—despite his best efforts.

"I want to return as soon as possible, to be back on the field, but it just takes time," Gundogan told Bleacher Report during a trip to New York. "I have to come in every morning at 9 a.m. and leave at around 3 p.m., and I spend six hours at the facility doing one thing after the other—it's quite intense."

Expanding on his fitness regime, Gundogan said: "I start in the morning in the gym generally, then a short breakfast, then I'm in the treatment room with the physio. Then back into the gym, then the pool, then my running session—because I've started to run now—then lunch. Then afterwards, there's some 'cooling,' so it's quite intense.

"There's a lot to do, but obviously I am prepared to do it so I'm ready as soon as possible."

Gundogan has been keeping his fans abreast of his progress via his Instagram page. And this week, he shared a picture of a training session during his trip to New York to promote this summer's International Champions Cup.

While he's not shirking the fitness work, Gundogan has other things to keep him occupied. FIFA, though, is not one of them. "Not often" was his response when asked if he played. So the follow-up question of "do you play as yourself on FIFA?" never saw light of day.

But, as you would expect from a squad full of young footballers, there is stiff competition at City for the title of FIFA superstar.

"A lot of them play," said Gundogan. "I don't know about the married ones, if they have time to play—I hope not!—but mostly the young guys, like Gabriel (Jesus), Raheem (Sterling) and John (Stones) play."

One wonders what Guardiola would make of FIFA. Picking 11 midfielders, as he once famously said he would love to do, would probably hit you hard. You get the impression Gundogan would follow a similar, but maybe not quite so extreme, path if given the opportunity to select a dream XI.

Telling Bleacher Report about his idols, Gundogan said: "There was not a specific player. There were players like (Zinedine) Zidane or Xavi, or even a player like Andrea Pirlo. They are players I loved to watch and enjoyed very much—maybe the reason is that I play a similar position to them.

"As a central midfielder I like to watch how other controlling midfielders behave during a game: what kind of passes they play, what kind of solutions they have for different situations. I try to watch the game from a position of a midfielder."

A player who has seen his stock fall on a par with his club side Arsenal is Mesut Ozil. But he would make it into any Gundogan team.

SOPOT, POLAND - JUNE 19: Ilkay Guendogan (L) and Mesut Oezil of the German national team are sighted in a beachbar at the beach on June 19, 2012 in Sopot, Poland.  (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)
Joern Pollex/Getty Images

"I like Mesut Ozil, he started to play very early for the national team," Gundogan said. "He was the first national-team player with a Turkish background, so we have a bigger connection than other players because of our backgrounds—and he is also from Gelsenkirchen, too."

It is likely to be the ICC in the summer when we see Gundogan in competitive action, and the 26-year-old is clearly relishing the prospect of working with Pep again.

"When I met him for the first time, it was exactly what I would have expected," Gundogan said. "We had a really nice conversation, and after that, it was not difficult for me to choose Man City.

"He's a very nice guy and an incredible manager, who's very focused and detailed. He loves to improve the players and make them better day by day and to have an impact on them. I enjoy playing for him."

Getting back to work under Pep Guardiola is a big aim for Gundogan.
Getting back to work under Pep Guardiola is a big aim for Gundogan.Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Keeping himself out of the physio room and playing again is the big aim for Gundogan, and provided he has a clear run to full fitness and Guardiola executes his plans in the summer, City can take aim at Chelsea and the Champions League. For a player who has had such a catalogue of injuries, few would deny him a clean shot at life in the Premier League.

Manchester City will face Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur on July 20 (Venue TBC), July 26 (Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles) and July 29 (Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee) respectively in this summer's ICC.

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