Ilkay Gundogan rose from the bench to fire Manchester City to the league title on Sunday. City were in dire straits and needed a saviour. No, this was not in the script. City were close to the mountaintop before the game kicked off. But the club's faithful were quickly descending into the abyss of disappointment.
The fans were dumbfounded, as was the football world, when Aston Villa took a shocking two-goal lead.
Guardiola had no other option than to look to his bench for solutions. First, he threw on Oleksandr Zinchenko at halftime. When that wasn’t working, in came Raheem Sterling. And then finally Gundogan was the last roll of the dice.
At a time when the team needed a strong character to lead the rescue mission, who else but the captain on the pitch to lead the way? The German came on to make the difference with two quickfire goals. He ended up having one of his best games in a City shirt.
In the process he wrote his name in the annals of the club’s history as one of its true legends. His winning goal ranks up there with Sergio Aguero’s wonder strike in 2012.
The occasion was perfectly set for Gundogan, as if to make a statement.
It’s not long ago that the media was awash with stories of how Manchester City did not want the midfielder anymore. It was claimed that the club had told the player to look for a new team.
For a player that is so important to the club, captain, leader and an inspiration in the dressing room. How could the club suddenly want him to leave, especially when Fernandinho was retiring at the end of the campaign?
With the exit of the Brazilian, Gundogan is the next in line as the captain. City will certainly not lose both captains at the same time. There was no reason to do so, especially considering that his leadership will be needed in the dressing room to keep the team performing at the top of its game.
Besides, Pep Guardiola loves Ilkay Gundogan. Gundogan loves life at Manchester City. The Manchester City hierarchy love Pep and would not act against his wishes. It is said that whatever the Catalan boss wants, he gets. Well, if indeed that's the case, it's for a good reason. He gets results.
So it was rather ridiculous to think that the club’s executives will suddenly wake up one morning and tell such an important player to leave before the expiration of his contract.
In fact, maybe one of Guardiola's mistakes in the Champions League against Real Madrid was the failure to play Gundogan. The German was not considered for selection at all in the first leg and could only enter the fray from the 72nd minute of the second leg.
With so many chances begging for conversion in the first leg, the game could have been finished then. The Spanish side was given a second chance and took full advantage.
But if there’s anything Gundogan has made clear in his title winning performance against Aston Villa, it’s that he will be key to Man City’s success next season.