'Heavyweight' Gundogan can guide Barca youngsters, says Blaugrana great Stoichkov

By Sports Desk July 24, 2023

Ilkay Gundogan is a midfield "heavyweight" and his arrival at Barcelona will raise the level of team-mates including Frenkie de Jong, Pedri and Gavi.

That is the view of Barca great Hristo Stoichkov, who is excited by the prospect of the former Manchester City captain slotting into Xavi's title-winning side.

Barca won LaLiga for the first time since Lionel Messi's 2021 departure last season, with a young Blaugrana team finishing 10 points clear of rivals Real Madrid.

Gundogan joined Barca on a free transfer in June after helping City become just the second side to win a Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble, and Stoichkov hopes his experience will benefit younger team-mates. 

"I think it's fantastic because he's a great player," Stoichkov told Stats Perform. "I have always liked Gundogan as a player since he did it in Dortmund, then at City and also with his national team. 

"He is a great professional and I think he will help a lot with his experience because Barcelona have a young team. 

"Frenkie De Jong, Pedri, Gavi, [Alejandro] Balde, [Ronald] Araujo and Ansu Fati are young and having a heavyweight in the squad can help them grow."

Gundogan will have to wait for his Camp Nou debut, with Barca due to play their home games at the Estadi Olimpic while their famous home is renovated next season.

President Joan Laporta pledged to create "the best stadium in the world" as the project began in May, and Stoichkov says the work – which will include the construction of a new roof – is overdue.

"For me Camp Nou is a myth and not only from my time, but since it was built in 1957," he said. "The greatest players, coaches and presidents in history have passed through that stadium. 

"It is a symbol and a temple of world football. When I arrived at Barcelona in 1990 and left at such a huge moment and with 120,000 people shouting my name, it will always remain in my memory. 

"But it is obvious that after so many years a remodelling is necessary, and Camp Nou needed something new. 

"Thank God, Laporta in his second stage as president has managed to rebuild Camp Nou and do something new. Barcelona needed it, Catalonia needed it, FC Barcelona needed it. 

"I will always have good memories. I recently sent some friends to collect a piece of the grass, a stone and a seat so that I can put them in my museum because it was very important in my career. 

"I will always remember my first goal for Barcelona at Camp Nou against Valencia, when we won 3-1. When I saw 120,000 people shouting my name, I realised Camp Nou was a temple."

Stoichkov – who won five league titles and the 1991-92 European Cup during his time with Barca – hopes the modernisation helps the club return to the top of the continental game.

"We must recognise it is the modern era," he added. "I played in very old stadiums in England, Germany, France, Italy and Spain and today there are new cycles, new presidents, new players and everyone wanted something new. 

"Obviously when you have a first-level stadium, you like to enjoy it. This is a time when Barcelona are building a new field and a new team so that in a few years, they can win the Champions League again, which is a great wish I have."

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