Ilkay Gundogan produced when it mattered most for Manchester City once more as the German’s double downed Manchester United 2-1 in the FA Cup final on Saturday in what could be fitting parting gift.
Gundogan will be central to City’s quest to complete the treble next weekend against Inter Milan in the Champions League final.
But his future beyond this season remains in doubt with the 32-year-old’s contract expiring at the end of the month.
After seven seasons in Manchester, Gundogan has reportedly been tempted by the change of scene and lifestyle offered by Barcelona.
But manager Pep Guardiola admitted he is still trying to convince the man who was his first signing for City back in 2016 to prolong his stay.
“He knows what I think (of him). There is no doubt,” said Guardiola.
“We are neighbours, we live on the same floor for many years, he is a close friend of mine but hopefully we can finish in a good way. (City sporting director) Txiki (Begiristain) is working.
“The season he has done is exceptional.”
Gundogan’s first stunning strike after just 12 seconds will live long in the memory and not just for becoming the fastest goal in FA Cup final history.
He then became the first player on record to score twice in a FA Cup final from outside the box as his volleyed winner caught out David De Gea six minutes into the second-half.
A brace took his tally for the season to 11, but he has a knack of producing when the pressure is cranked up towards the business end of the season.
Six of Gundogan’s goals this campaign have come in the last month as he also scored twice against Leeds and Everton to get Guardiola’s men over the line in the Premier League title race.
“He can do everything,” said Guardiola recently.
“He shows leadership every training session. Arriving on time, living the job 24 hours a day. He is a guy who handles the pressure really, really well.”
Despite his manager’s fulsome praise, Gundogan personifies Guardiola’s glorious reign as a star player who has not always been guaranteed a starting role.
He came off the bench to inspire a stunning comeback from 2-0 down to beat Aston Villa 3-2 on the final day of last season’s Premier League to snatch the title away from Liverpool.
“I don’t need these kind of days to feel appreciated and feel special in this club,” said Gundogan.
“I know that and that is why I have been here seven years.”
But he remained non-committal on his future, adding: “Nothing is decided yet.”
Instead, the City captain’s more pressing concern is ending the club’s wait to become European champions for the first time next weekend and his own personal quest to lift the Champions League.
Gundogan has experienced the heartbreak of losing finals at both Borussia Dortmund and City in the past.
“We have a chance to do something special and win the treble and we do not want to let this opportunity pass us by,” said Gundogan.
City have craved Champions League glory ever since an Abu Dhabi-backed takeover transformed the club’s fortunes 15 years ago.
Going out on such a high would be a fitting farewell for a player who has now won 11 major trophies at the Etihad.
But City will hope Istanbul is not the final stop on his journey with the club.
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