Ilkay Gundogan Reveals What It's Like To Play For Pep Guardiola And Jurgen Klopp
"They're both bad," says Ilkay Gundogan, pursing his lips as SPORTbible asks him to compare dressing-room dressing-downs from his current manager, Pep Guardiola and his former boss, Jurgen Klopp.
"Very loud and direct. I wouldn't want to let either of them down. They're both very demanding and intense."
The Manchester City midfielder is one of only four players to have played for both, along with Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Xherdan Shaqiri, and as the rivalry between heavy metal football and shape-shifting tiki-taka builds, fans and pundits alike want to feast on anecdotes from the respective regimes.
Tucked inside a hidden event space in east London at the launch of the new adidas Predator 20 Mutator, Gundogan is happy to provide SPORTbible with the desired insight. From their shared personality traits to the unique quirks, City's passing metronome explains the experience of living with two of football's great obsessives.
Guardiola vs Klopp - a shootout that started in Germany and continued in the Premier League. Whereas most teams try to nullify the threat of Guardiola's rigorously-drilled passing machine, Klopp's Liverpool aim to nuke them with fast and furious football. Last season City still had the edge.
They won their second successive title, beating the Merseysiders by a single point on the final day, in one of the most thrilling title races in years. A 2-1 win over their rivals in January proved crucial. Did Gundogan, who played under Klopp for five years at Borussia Dortmund, give Pep the blueprint to Jurgen's suffocating gegenpress?
"Maybe the first year when we faced them, but I don't have to do that anymore, they know each other very well now," he chuckles. "It's obvious what Liverpool are about and Pep knows how to handle these kinds of situations."
Looking at the stats, he still needs some more help. They've faced off 10 times in England, with Klopp winning six and Guardiola just two. But there's a kicker. In that same period City have won the Premier League twice, the FA Cup once and the League Cup twice. This year Liverpool have finally started to reap the rewards of Klopp's work, winning the Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup, but to establish generational greatness they need consistency over a number of seasons.
That's eight major honours, with both sides playing with zip, intensity and panache. Most players would struggle to adapt to one of the demanding systems set out by Premier League's top two managers, but Gundogan has excelled under both, either as a holding midfielder or a deep-lying playmaker.
The 29-year-old's football IQ, technical ability and workrate have enabled him to adjust to the different tactical requirements - a challenge he has relished and one that has whet the appetite for a career in the dugout."Pep is very demanding," he says without hesitation. "Probably one of the most demanding managers I ever had along with Jurgen Klopp, but that's what great managers are about.
"I feel privileged to have played for them. I've learned so much that there might be a career in management for me once I stop playing."
Pep's in-your-face intensity yields historic results - 100 points during the 2017-18 season, 98 last season - both resulting in winners' medals. For all the success, the relentlessness must be draining - constantly playing at full throttle to meet the expectations of a manager in pursuit of perfection. But for Gundogan, Guardiola's force of personality is a necessary evil - it's what drives those marginal gains.
"Pep has such big charisma that you automatically try your best when you're out on the training field," he says."When you're not 100 per cent he's able to wake you up very quickly."
This season City have played a variety of systems, including a 4-3-3, a 3-4-3 and a goodness-knows-what when they destroyed Aston Villa 6-1. Like a whirring sky blue carousel Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling took it in turns to play up front as false nines and wingers.
For the casual viewer watching at home it feels like Guardiola has a tome of football tactics that he indoctrinates into his players, but as Gundogan explains, the genius is in the clarity and simplicity of the plan.
"At City we have three maybe four types of formations that we can play, but every single time we know exactly what to do," he says. "Sometimes the players change, but the way we play never really changes. We are just able to play different variations because we go over them in training.
"We see how our rivals want to play against us and then we try to adapt the best possible way."
Klopp is often typecast as a maniacal chest-thumper that relies on his ability to work the players and crowd into a frenzy. Gundogan endorses the Liverpool manager's emotional intelligence and how he can rouse the dressing room with a stirring speech, but he's also quick to praise his tactical nous.
The gegenpress sounds simple in theory - run the opposition into the ground - but in practice it's a complex pattern of synchronised movements.
"Maybe Pep is a little bit more into tactics than Jurgen, but Jurgen is more into emotions, into trying to get the team with his speeches than Pep," he admits.
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"But Jurgen is also very tactical. At Dortmund we would watch a lot of video and then spend time on the training ground rehearsing the movements.
"We had to press in unison, trying to win the ball back high up the pitch. We laid traps to force the opposition into areas of the pitch we wanted them to go. If one player didn't press, it all fell apart."
This system has been perfectly integrated into the way Liverpool play, driven forward by an almost mythological home crowd that empower their players and shrink the opposition.
"It's so tough to play there because it's not just the team, it's the crowd," he admits. "That's the main thing Jurgen has done really well. The players are connected to the crowd and that's what teams fear when they go to Anfield."
With the manager, players and fans all hurtling forwards like one destructive vortex, Liverpool find themselves 16 points clear at the top Premier League and on course to win their first title in 30 years. This has framed the current narrative arc with Klopp's Liverpool in the ascendancy and Guardiola's City stuttering towards the end of their current life cycle.
2009 :arrow_right: 2019
Crazy, how time flies!
Happy New Year to you all :pray: #NewDecade #FCN #ManCity pic.twitter.com/JkYkzaisDq
- Ilkay Gündogan (@IlkayGuendogan) December 31, 2019
While Gundogan concedes the Premier League title is almost certainly heading to Merseyside, he insists the season isn't over for City."Catching Liverpool doesn't look likely, to be honest," he says.
"They would have to slip up several times and that doesn't look realistic because they're so consistent. "We just have to be prepared. If there's a failure from Liverpool's side, we need to be ready to take it."
And let's not forget City are still competing for three trophies. They lead Manchester United 3-1 in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup, they host Fulham in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday and next month they take on Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16. Bringing 16½ pounds of Ol' Big Ears back from Turkey to the City of Manchester Stadium would take pride of place in the trophy cabinet and in Gundogan's heart.
"It's the dream of every footballer and the fact it's so tough to win makes it priceless," he says. "To go to another final after losing the first one with Dortmund under Klopp in 2013 would mean so much. "The fact the final is in Istanbul, where my family is from, would mean even more."