İlkay Gündogan decided not to extend his contract at Borussia Dortmund which was set to expire in 2016. The German club doesn't want a repeat of the “Lewandowski case”: last year they lost their Polish striker to rivals Bayern Munich under similar circumstances contract-wise, with one year left on the player’s contract. Although Lewandowski was only willing to go to Bayern, the Bavarian Club didn’t want to pay a fee and waited one year to sign him as a free agent. With Gündogan, BVB wants to sell the player to earn some money, but this time even the player wants to move a year ahead of his contract termination. So Gündogan is on the transfer market, with many clubs interested. It’s said that FC Barcelona are one of them and Gündogan would be happy to join what is widely reported as his favorite team, but given the transfer ban and Gündogan’s mediocre season, it’s uncertain if the German international would be a good fit for the treble winners.

Gündogan was one of the revelations of Dortmund’s impressive 2012/13 campaign, where the Black and Yellows made it to the Champions League final, just to narrowly lose to Bayern Munich, 1-2. It was the game of İlkay Gündogan though: He bossed the midfield, stepped up and converted a penalty to tie the game and overall looked like the leader of a great and hungry BVB side. Gündogan ruled the midfield in a way Xavi used to do for Barcelona. The whole world saw the talent of the German of Turkish descent. But afterwards, a complicated back injury forced him to sit out an entire season. He sprained his spine in mid-August 2013 and returned in October 2014.

Gündogan even said at times he couldn’t move – sadly but truly, after his comeback, one could see he became somehow rusty. In Dortmund’s horrible 2014/15 campaign, the midfielder was one of the many players who couldn’t perform at the level they used to. Gündogan’s passing ability, confidence, ideas, dominance and leadership seemed to have declined. He made mistakes, lacked ideas, couldn’t inspire his teammates as he did before his injury. He looked like one of the many who got somehow lost in the shuffle. BVB looked like a fairly regular team and finished seventh – with Gündogan no longer the leader on the pitch and the outstanding performer anymore. Gündogan played average in an average team. Not a couple of games, but an entire season.

In 2013, Gündogan looked like the next big thing in midfield, now, it’s not so sure he could get back to his best form again. Maybe it was just the bad season at BVB and a change of scenery would help him to find his A-game, but maybe – and sadly, this is not that unlikely – his back injury changed him to a different player and he won’t ever get back to where he was in that Champions League final at Wembley.

For Barcelona, this means buying Gündogan is a gamble. Yes, he was once outstanding, but is he that good anymore or can he be that good again? Judging Gündogan only after last season, it’s safe to say that in that shape, he won’t necessarily be a reinforcement for Luis Enrique’s team. On the other hand, it’s clear that Barça need a successor for Xavi, and Gündogan indicated he could be that guy. He had it all.

Given the transfer ban in that will last this summer, it’s even trickier to buy the German International – do BVB want to wait until winter break to sell him? Surely not, they want to make money this time, and six months before his contract ends, they won’t make an amount they are comfortable with. But neither do they want to lose the next squad asset to rivals Bayern, so they are in a difficult situation, too. Barça could spend, let’s say €25 million on the midfielder, but since they won’t be able to use him until January, why would they pay that amount when six months later he’s a free agent? That delicate situation makes it tough for all parties involved: Barcelona, Dortmund and Gündogan. So Manchester United is looking like a probable destination for the midfielder, since reports indicate his wage demands were too high for Bayern. Even the Bavarians are not sure about his physical condition or if he could be as good as he once was.

If the German record champions are skeptical, so should Barça, more so because Gündogan would have to adapt to a new country, language, playing style – things that would complicate his acclimatization at the Catalan club. Buying him is tough and poses quite a risk – maybe it’s worth it. The past says yes, the present, well, not so much.

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Alex is a writer at German Magazine Kicker, you can follow him on twitter: @kicker_atr

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