Thank You, City

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Dear City, 

When I first arrived here, I was a young man with no kids and a lot of dreams. It’s hard for me to even believe, but I am leaving seven years later as a father who has fulfilled every single dream that he ever had. 

Today is bittersweet. Goodbyes are never easy, but it’s even harder with this team. When I had to break the news to the boys that I was leaving in our group chat, I was very emotional. I will miss all of them, honestly. But I am happy to say that I’m leaving here as a champion, and I have nothing but love for the club in my heart. How many footballers can say goodbye as the captain of a treble team? 

It’s amazing what we achieved. Five Premier League titles in my seven years here. Two FA Cups. The Champions League. The treble. But those are just trophies. The thing that I will remember the most is the feeling inside the squad, especially this season. I’ve never experienced something like it in football. 

Today is bittersweet. Goodbyes are never easy, but it’s even harder with this team.

İlkay Gündoğan

I am usually a pretty reserved person. It takes a while to get me to open up. But the great thing about this team is that we all just felt comfortable making jokes with one another no matter how much pressure we were under. We’d be playing 5-v-2 in the box in training, and my favourite thing was to joke around with Rúben Dias. I guess because I am usually such a simple player, the guys thought it was really funny to call me “Zidane” when I showed a bit of technique. 

Whenever I had a good session, Rúben would go around calling me “Zidane.” 

And I’d say, “No, no, today I was Pirlo. Tomorrow, I’ll be back to Zizou.” 

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Every day, we were laughing, and that’s rare in football. I really have to credit our wives and partners for bringing us a lot closer together this season. They organised a lot of barbecues in their group chat, and it made a big difference. This has been the closest team I’ve ever been a part of, and I think that’s part of why we were able to finally lift the Champions League trophy. 

For me, the Champions League has been a bit of an obsession for the last 10 years. Well, not a bit, actually. It’s been an obsession, truly. When my Dortmund team lost the Final to Bayern in 2013, I was crushed. There is no feeling like losing a final. It seriously haunted me for 10 years. Every decision I made in my career since then has been about lifting that trophy. That’s why I came to City. So when we lost the Final against Chelsea two years ago, it was terrible. Then last season, I was left on the bench for the semifinal against Madrid at the Etihad, and that was maybe even harder for me. After Pep announced the team, I went to my room to be alone and yeah … I was simply devastated. I just wanted it so badly, you know? 

This season, something clicked. I just knew we were going to do it. I don’t even mean just the Champions League. The Premier League, the FA Cup — everything. Week after week, I just felt everything lining up perfectly. Even when we were 10 points behind Arsenal, I knew we would win the league. We already had such a strong foundation for so many years with guys like Kevin, Kyle, John, Phil, Bernardo and Ederson, but then you add in characters like Erling and Jack, and it gave us another edge. 

I just want to say that Jack Grealish is so misunderstood by some of the media. He is one of the nicest guys I’ve met in football. He’s so much fun to be around and so humble and pure. I felt so happy for his success this season, because I know what it’s like to come to a big club for a lot of money, with all that pressure. He worked so hard to get to another level this season, and he was fantastic for us. 

Then you have Erling Haaland. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when he came here. You see the goals and all the attention that he was getting at Dortmund, and you wonder if he’s going to fit with the group. But when I got to know him, I was so surprised how someone could be that talented and still have the will to be even better every single day. He’s never satisfied. I feel like there are no limits for him. Messi and Ronaldo are the only comparison for the level he could reach. 

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Another guy who made a huge difference in my life on a personal level was Stefan Ortega, our second keeper. As Germans, we had a lot in common, and just having our espresso together every day for the last year helped me to open up a lot more. If he wasn’t here, I don’t think I would have had the same season. In football, you need those anchors, and Stefan was that for me. I also got a lot closer to Kevin De Bruyne this season. I felt like I could talk to him about anything, and it really makes a big difference when you know you can trust your teammates as more than just colleagues. 

With the characters we had in the dressing room, I just had so much confidence that we could win every time we walked onto the pitch. When you really trust your teammates, you can play simply — without any fear, or without overthinking anything — and then magic just seems to happen. Maybe that’s why I was able to score so many key goals this season. 

(And to those who are wondering — yes, I did mean to do that flick against Everton. I’ve got a bit of technique. You can ask Rúben!)

This whole season felt like a movie. But I don’t think I could have dreamed of a better ending than having the Final in Istanbul. It was a bit of a homecoming for me, and for my family. I just remember the plane coming in for the landing over the city, and looking out the window realising that I was going to be the captain for City in a Champions League Final in my grandfather’s homeland. 

When we got on the bus over to the hotel, I was sitting near Scott Carson, and obviously he had been a part of that Liverpool team that came back from 3–0 down against AC Milan in 2005. 

He said, “Don’t worry, boys. Every time I come to Istanbul, I leave with a Champions League trophy.” 

Hahahah. With Scott in the squad, we couldn’t lose, I suppose. 

The only problem was that the final didn’t kick off until 10 p.m. local time, so we had the whole day in the hotel to just sit there and think. I remember shutting my phone off because I didn’t even want to read the text messages. I couldn’t even take a nap. Couldn’t watch TV. I was so nervous. I played the match about 500 times in my head in the hotel room. I just wanted it so badly. Maybe too badly, honestly. 

The struggle is always worth something.

İlkay Gündoğan

One thing that I will never forget is Pep pulling me aside in the dressing room after the warmups and telling me to save some time for Kyle Walker to speak to the boys. I think that says so much about our group, and the special feeling we had, because Kyle was not going to start the match.

I just remember Kyle saying how much he loved us all, and he said, “This has always been my dream. Go out and make my dream come true.”

I can’t say much about the match. It’s still a blur. We didn’t play our best, I have to admit. I think we were all a bit hesitant. But we found a way to win, like all champions do. 

The thing that I remember most is when the referee blew his whistle. I just collapsed by our goal. It was too much. I put my head in the grass. I was trying to process everything. When I got up, the first thing I saw was all the Inter players sitting around me in tears. I knew that exact feeling so well, and so I went up to them and told them that they should be proud of their season, and to keep fighting. It helped to put everything in perspective for me. The margins are so thin during a final. It could have easily gone the other way. 

The struggle is always worth something. 

The years of failure is what made the victory so overwhelming, and so sweet. 

I remember walking down to the boys at the other end of the pitch, and Stefan was the first person I saw. We hugged each other for a long time, and that’s when the moment really hit me. I started crying. He started crying. It was such an intense feeling of happiness and most of all relief.

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All Pep could say was, “We did it. We did it. We did it.”

I went over to my wife and my family in the crowd, and they said, “You did it. You did it. You did it.”

But no. It was exactly like Pep said. We did it. 

There is a family behind every dream, and they are just as important as the player. My parents worked so hard to give us a good life. My father was a truck driver for a beer company. My mother was a cook in a swimming-hall cafe. My grandfather first came to Germany to work in the mines. For me to be standing there in front of the entire world as a champion, as a Gündoğan, it was a huge emotion. 

I have to say, none of this would have been possible without Pep. There are times when he is so demanding of how we play and so intense that it can be a bit difficult, mentally. But once everyone gets on the same page and we are in harmony on the pitch, his system is so efficient that it almost feels effortless. 

I have always felt a close bond with Pep. 

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He once told me, “I wish that I could play with 11 midfielders. You guys can all see the game five steps ahead.”

One of the hardest calls I had to make was to Pep, telling him that I was going to leave. All I could do was to say thank you. Not just for this season, or for all the trophies, but for bringing me here in the first place. I will never forget when I hurt my knee at the end of the season with Dortmund and I had to get surgery, I was so worried that City would pull out of the deal for me. But Pep called me on the phone and said, “Don’t worry, it doesn’t change anything. We want you here. We will wait for you no matter how long it takes.”

I can only imagine what the fans thought when this quiet guy with the funny name arrived here in Manchester for a lot of money and he was limping around on crutches at the unveiling. 

Well, all I can say is.... 

I came here limping on one foot, but I leave here feeling like I am flying in the clouds. 

After the treble, and after the spectacular parade in the Manchester rain, I thought to myself: How could it ever have worked out better than this? What more could you have achieved? How could you write something more perfect?

And the answer was, You couldn’t. 

I think maybe Pep was hoping that we would come here to City together and leave together, but I know that he understands my decision. I am sure it helps that I’m going to his boyhood club. Hopefully we’ll have a reunion soon in a Champions League Final. 

If I was going to move, there is only one club in the world that made sense. It was Barcelona or nothing. Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of wearing that shirt some day. I am confident that I have a few more years left at the highest level, and I just want to help bring Barcelona back to where they deserve to be. It will be a reunion with my old friend Lewa, and I’m excited to play under another manager who I have admired for a long time. When Xavi and I talked about the project, it just seemed so natural. I see so many similarities between us as characters and in the way we see the game.

Yes, the football was sensational at times. But the people were even better. 

İlkay Gündoğan

I know there’s going to be a lot of pressure at Barcelona. But I love pressure. I love to get out of my comfort zone. I was not looking for an easy landing. I was looking for a new challenge. That’s what this next chapter is all about. 

I can’t wait to play in the Barcelona shirt. But first, I want to say a final word about Manchester City. I want to speak directly to all my teammates, and to the staff, and especially to the fans….

I just want you to know that I will always be City. Nothing can break that bond. It is a love on the highest level possible. 

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All I can say is thank you. 

I lived these dreams because of the coaches who pushed me (sometimes very hard!) to new levels, the teammates who sacrificed everything they had to play such beautiful football, the fans who traveled thousands of miles to support us, the club who gave me a chance to be a part of this ambitious project, and all the doctors and physios who did such an incredible job keeping us healthy.

I’m sure most people will probably remember the goals and the assists and the finals from this incredible era. But I will cherish something a bit different.

Yes, the football was sensational at times. 

But the people were even better. 

I will remember you all for the rest of my life.

Thank you for everything.