Manchester City captain Ilkay Gundogan has left the club on a free transfer to join Barcelona after opting not to sign a contract extension, closing the curtain on a remarkable seven years.

The German's contract was due to expire at the end of June and, despite a late plea from manager Pep Guardiola, the 32-year-old will pursue pastures new by joining the Spanish giants. He has signed a two-year deal with Xavi's side which includes a £342M release clause.

The first signing of the Guardiola era, Man City's relentless dominance would not have been possible without their silky virtuoso.

After being appointed captain at the beginning of the 2022/23 campaign, Gundogan led his side to a historic Treble, ingraining his name into City folklore, enhancing his already elite status in the pantheon of the club's greats.

Dubbed 'Captain Fantastic', he spearheaded the most successful period in the club's history. He racked up 304 appearances, 60 goals, 40 assists, 12 major trophies including five Premier Leagues, the Champions League, four League Cups and two FA Cups.

Gundogan led City to their first Champions League (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
Gundogan led City to their first Champions League (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

Speaking in his annual end-of-season interview last week, Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: 

"Ilkay has been tremendous, absolutely tremendous. To be the captain of this club in this historic Treble lifting the Premier League first and then the FA Cup and then the Champions League, he will go down in the folklore of Manchester City forever.

"The first signing of Pep to Manchester City. I remember him when he came in, always [thinking] he's a captain, he’s a captain and he's a representation of this club in terms of hard work, commitment always, humbleness, winning mentality and when you need him, when you need him in the big games, he's always there.” 

Gundogan is the ultimate big-game player, always coming up clutch when his side needs it most. While he is not primarily tasked with carrying the goal-scoring burden - with pulling the strings in the middle of the park and acting as commander-in-chief his key role - he morphs into 'Prime Zidane' at the business end of the season, turning into a prolific goal-getter.

"I've seen a few tweets and been joking with Gundo that he turns into prime Zidane in the last few months [of the season]. Sometimes you have to shine, and he does it at the business end of the season," said teammate Kyle Walker.

He scored six goals in his final seven games to ensure City overtook Arsenal in first place after they suffered a stuttering start to the season. Braces against Leeds and Everton helped to restore City into the ascendancy, with an acrobatic swivelling volley against the Toffees the pick of the bunch.

The dynamic midfielder hammered two devastating volleys against Manchester United in the FA Cup Final, opening the scoring after 12 seconds to make his strike the quickest Final goal in the history of the competition.

"It’s incredible the way he hits a ball. It went in perfectly. You can’t train on a lot of these things – the ball came in front of him and he smashed it. He’s been incredible [in] the seven years he’s been here anyway, but in the big moments he steps up, he isn’t afraid and he scores great goals," said Kevin De Bruyne speaking about Gundogan's performance against their arch-rivals.

Gundogan celebrating after volleying City ahead against Man United in the FA Cup Final (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)
Gundogan celebrating after volleying City ahead against Man United in the FA Cup Final (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

He has quite the knack of stepping up to the plate when the chips are down. When City trailed Aston Villa 2-0 on the final day of the 2021/22 season, Gundogan's heroic quick-fire double flipped the script as Guardiola's side went on to triumph 3-2, securing back-to-back league titles.

The season prior, he notched 13 league goals, 10 of those coming in the second half of the season, to propel City to the title.

"I said I had the feeling that without him we couldn’t win the Premier League. He’s so intelligent Gundo, so clever and competitive. Under pressure he handles it without a problem. He’s one of the best players I ever trained in my career in terms of the whole package. He’s top, top class", said Guardiola.

In response to his departure, City are set to announce the signing of Mateo Kovacic and are expected to bid for West Ham's Declan Rice. But no matter who they sign, Gundogan, Captain fantastic, will never truly be replaced.

  • What was said?

Reflecting on an illustrious seven years, Gundogan said:

"For me it has been a total privilege and pleasure to be part of Manchester City for the last seven years.

“Manchester has been my home and I have felt part of a very special family at City.

“I have been lucky to have experienced so many unforgettable moments in my time here and to have been captain for this extra special season has been the greatest experience of my career.

"This club made me realise all my dreams and I will forever be thankful for this opportunity.

“I will carry City always in my heart. Once a blue, always a blue.”

Speaking on his invaluable contributions to the club, Director of Football Txiki Begiristain said:

"Ilkay has been a wonderful servant for Manchester City, and he leaves our club on a very special high having captained us to a historic Treble.

“He has played a huge part in the successes we have enjoyed in recent seasons and Ilkay’s intelligence, leadership and commitment to the Club - both on and off the field - has been an inspiration to everyone.

“Ilkay has truly cemented his place in the history of Manchester City and we all wish him well in the next chapter of his career.

“And he leaves us knowing that he will always be welcomed at this football club."

: <strong><a  data-cke-saved-href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2023/04/02/manchester-city/1142604-jack-grealish-starting-to-purr-having-earned-guardiolas-trust.html' href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2023/04/02/manchester-city/1142604-jack-grealish-starting-to-purr-having-earned-guardiolas-trust.html'>Manchester City</a></strong> captain Ilkay Gundogan lifts the Premier League trophy after the Premier League match between <strong><a  data-cke-saved-href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2023/04/02/manchester-city/1142604-jack-grealish-starting-to-purr-having-earned-guardiolas-trust.html' href='https://www.vavel.com/en/football/2023/04/02/manchester-city/1142604-jack-grealish-starting-to-purr-having-earned-guardiolas-trust.html'>Manchester City</a></strong> and Chelsea FC (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
: Manchester City captain Ilkay Gundogan lifts the Premier League trophy after the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea FC (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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