Nuremberg is usually known for its speciality local Nuernberger bratwurst sausages, Lebkuchen (gingerbread biscuits) and being both the symbolic home of the huge Nazi rallies and the trials which saw their downfall. Nowadays, the crowds flock to see a good type of dictator in the form of 1.FC Nuernberg’s cultered Turkish-German playmaker Ilkay Guendogan, who is an example of the more multicultural and tolerant modern-day Germany. The 20 year old is attracting admirers from Germany and beyond to the Frankenstadion (a.k.a. Easy Credit Stadion), with serious transfer bids being turned down in the summer from Hamburg, Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen. After a great start to the season, Guendogan’s 4 goals and an assist in 14 games have fired the perennial yo-yo club from northern Bavaria to their best start in the German top flight in two decades, and this has lead to rumoured interest from Manchester United amongst others in the central midfielder.
People may wonder why this youngster at an unfancied club is filling column inches in the German press, but if you see him in action, you can see why he is being credited with the “next Mesut Ozil” moniker, which goes beyond the fact that both are of German-Turkish descent and could have played for both nations. They were even born and raised in the same part of Gelsenkirchen in the industrial Ruhr Valley, with Ilkay coming into the world on 24 October 1990.
What does the boy Guendogan have to offer? He is a technically very sound midfielder, measuring 180cm (5ft 11ins) and weighing in at 78kg (12st 4lbs). He can operate in the central midfield areas from behind the strikers to in front of the defence, and although he is quick and capable of arriving late in the area to strike crosses and loose balls at goal, he lacks the explosive pace and acceleration to play out wide. Predominantly right-footed, he possesses a good shot, albeit not of netbusting strength, and he can also step up to take free kicks. What is striking about der Club’s star youngster is his willingness to receive the ball in any area of the pitch and play his way around the opposition with short, sharp passes and nimble footwork, yet he also has a vision and awareness of teammates and space that belies his tender years. His defensive play is also surprisingly good and better than Ozil’s, even though he gets more practice in a team that doesn’t dominate games with attacking talent.
Guendogan would appear to possess all of the fundamentals drilled into the latest crop of young German players, and after representing Germany from Under 18 level upwards, it appears that Germany are the favourites to win the tug of war with Turkey for his international allegiance. Indeed, he has spent all of his footballing and domestic life in the Federal Republic, including a year at local club Schalke in 1998/99. Then he played for amateur sides until his spell at VfL Bochum from 2005-2009. Nuernberg paid 50,000 euros to take him from Bochum to his current club, where his talents would finally be appreciated and allowed to develop. He made his top flight debut at the start of the 2009/10 season, scoring his first goal against Bayern Munich in a 1-1 draw, but an even more important one in the two-legged relegation play-off victory against 2nd division 3rd place finishers FC Augsburg, which secured Nuernberg’s top flight status for this season.
Guendogan has started this season brilliantly and it is unclear whether coach Dieter Hecking will be able to hold on to his prized asset much longer, even though the player himself is happy to stay for the time being and his contract still runs to summer 2012. He will command a fee of over 7 million euros now, which represents a major profit, but this could rise yet higher, especially if a bidding war ensues. If Sir Alex Ferguson is looking for a player to replace Paul Scholes, then he will not get it as Guendogan doesn’t have the pinpoint long-range passing or thunderous shot of the ginger magician, and Scholes is one of the finest players of his generation, so it would be unfair to pile such expectation on the youngster. After missing out on Ozil, Ferguson will be keeping a keen eye on the goal-scoring schemer. Guendogan, however, may well be better off staying put until the season’s end before making a move, and then if he moves, he needs to be tested at a club competing in the Europa League or Champions League level as the next stage of his development, in much the same way as Ozil has done. In any case, keep your eyes on Ilkay Guendogan.