In five quite epic, extraordinary minutes back in May, Ilkay Gundogan left an indelible mark in Manchester City’s history.
For a player who suffered an injury-riddled start at the club in 2016, leaving some supporters to later question his worth, fate determined his heroic contribution would provide the perfect riposte to any critic.
At 2-0 down at home to Aston Villa in the final game of last season with 14 minutes left and the Premier League title heading to Liverpool, substitute Gundogan made an unforgettable impact.
The midfielder’s two goals in the 76th and 81st minutes came either side of a 78th-minute Rodri strike and clinched City’s fourth championship in the past five seasons.
The gut-wrenching drama evoked memories of Sergio Aguero’s injury-time goal that saw City claim the title a decade ago with a 3-2 victory over QPR at the Etihad.
But Gundogan, who then replaced Fernandinho as captain in August, says: “Even though I lived my two goals, I think no-one can ever reach that Aguero moment, I really don’t think so…it was crazy.
“I had no connection to the club back then when it happened, but seeing that goal, even today, was unbelievable.
“But the way it happened last season, 2-0 down and coming back to turn things around in those few minutes, I’m not sure if it will ever happen again in such a dramatic way.
“It’s nice for me to be remembered for this. I also feel it’s destiny when things like this happen.
“Sooner or later you will be regarded for the good you are doing, not just in football, also in life.
“I remember Raheem Sterling, he probably was in a similar situation last season, maybe didn’t feel as appreciated from his environment.
“And I remember after scoring the second goal, he said to me, ‘look if you are patient, keep working hard and keep doing stuff in the best possible way then you will get rewarded’.
“He said it right after the third goal we scored. There’s much truth in that and I really appreciated him saying this because it meant something to me and I also saw it meant something to him too. It shows a lot of people are in the same situation, we are all human you know.
“That makes it so memorable. It will stay forever, not just for myself, but the team, my family and friends – a special day.
“Only winning the World Cup could maybe beat that…it could.”
As German international Gundogan now turns his attention to the World Cup in Qatar with City second in the English Premier League, his club future remains uncertain beyond this season.
Out of contract next summer, the 32-year-old will be sought-after should he depart, with links already to Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Galatasaray and his former club Borussia Dortmund.
A major factor in his decision, though, will be whether manager Pep Guardiola extends his own deal with the club.
Gundogan was the first player Guardiola signed for City when he took charge six years ago, despite still being sidelined with a cruciate ligament injury while still at Dortmund.
“Yes there’s a bond with Pep,” Gundogan tells Arab News exclusively. “It’s not a coincidence I was one of the first players he wanted to sign for the club.
“He knew me already when he was at Barcelona, a younger version of myself, and we were opponents in Germany when he was at Bayern Munich.
“There’s a lot of appreciation from his side and the appreciation from my side is maybe even higher so there’s a special bond, a special connection – we have lived so many things together.
“It’s quite normal to have rumours when you’re in this situation with your contract expiring.
“But I’m quite calm, confident with my situation and happy where I am – I don’t feel there is a decision to take right now.
“Also, the manager’s contract is expiring in the summer too so I don’t really know what’s going to happen with him – no-one really knows.
“If you look back to my career then you will see everywhere I was, it was because of the manager that was there.
“Even though I’m 32 I don’t think I would change it because at the end of the day, I want to be appreciated by the person that is the boss there and I want to enjoy the type of football we play.”
And having managed his fitness after that difficult first campaign, he added: “I feel ready to do this for a few more years.
“Thank God, I was healthy the last few years and been doing a lot to maintain that level, not to pick up injuries.
“I want to stay healthy and want to play as long as possible at the highest level. I’m a competitor, I have been since I was 18/19 and have played at the highest level for more than a decade and want to continue this.
“I feel confident, I feel strong and feel I have at least a few more years at that high level.”