Ilkay Gundogan ended his trophy-laden seven-year stay with Manchester City by agreeing to join Barcelona on a free transfer on Monday.
The Germany midfielder’s last act as a City player — and as the team’s captain — was to lift the Champions League trophy, which completed a treble of major titles for the English club.
Now, he is heading to Spain on a two-year contract for a new experience, even though Pep Guardiola wanted to keep the 32-year-old Gundogan — the first signing of the City manager’s era from 2016.
Having missed out on securing the return of Lionel Messi, Barcelona made the signing of Gundogan a priority to add some experience to a midfield already containing youngsters Pedri González and Gavi PAez, two of its pillars going forward, but no longer including veteran leader Sergi Busquets, who is leaving the club.
Frenkie de Jong also played an important role last season for Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez, despite efforts by the club to sell him in the offseason of 2022.
Gundogan’s arrival comes while debt-ridden Barcelona is still struggling to meet the Spanish league’s financial rules. Only recently was it able to find a way to officially register Gavi as a first-team player.
It is widely expected that the club will need to sell players to reduce its expenses, and the addition of Gundogan will only add to that burden unless compensated by exits.
While Barcelona sold off part of its future television revenues and other assets to have the cash necessary to sign Robert Lewandowski and other players last year, its financial problems have increasingly forced the club to find free agents who want to come to Spain.
Last year, the team picked up current players Andreas Christensen, Marcos Alonso and Franck Kessie on free transfers, while other free agents like Memphis Depay have come and gone in recent years.
City was reportedly only offering Gundogan a one-year deal, whereas he wanted a longer contract for some security for his family.
He will go down as a City great, not just for being the team’s captain in its greatest ever season but because of some of the crucial goals he scored and performances he delivered in the midfield, where he could play box-to-box, as an anchorman or — in his favored role — as a player supporting the striker.
No goals were more important than the two he scored to complete City’s late comeback from 2-0 down to Aston Villa on the final day of the 2021-22 season, winning the team another league title.
After joining from Borussia Dortmund, where he was a Bundesliga champion in 2012, Gundogan won five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, four English League Cups and the Champions League with City.
He now arrives at a club that won the Spanish League title last season but failed for a second straight campaign to move past the group phase of the Champions League.
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