Ilkay Gündogan walks across the pitch at the Max-Morlock Stadion, hands covering his face. He has just missed a close-range header, leaving fans who were confidently shouting “Goal” in disbelief. Soon after, Gündogan is visibly frustrated as his pass to Jamal Musiala goes out of play, marking another miscommunication between the two that evening.

Nuremberg, 10 days ago: Germany’s friendly against Ukraine ends in a 0-0 draw. Despite the scoreline, the home team’s performance was commendable. Gündogan, however, struggled to make an impact, but Julian Nagelsmann praised him: “Illy played well,” the head coach stated, defending his midfielder.

Gündogan is highly sought after by top European clubs. A year ago, he captained Manchester City to a treble; now, he orchestrates play for Barcelona. With endorsements from Pep Guardiola, Xavi Hernández, Jürgen Klopp, and Thomas Tuchel, Gündogan’s talent is undeniable, and he was recently named in La Liga’s team of the season.

However, his international career with Germany has been less successful. Jokes circulate online about Gündogan sending a twin to play for the national team, highlighting how his quality often goes unnoticed. Unlike his club career, he hasn’t yet played a key role for Germany in a major tournament, largely due to injuries during the team’s peak years.

Promoted to captain by Hansi Flick before his dismissal, Gündogan retains the role under Nagelsmann. At 33, this might be his last chance to achieve something significant with Germany.

Yet, not everyone is convinced. Former captain Lothar Matthäus and the influential tabloid Bild suggest he should be benched. Guardiola, however, praises him: “I love intelligent players. Ilkay understands and implements instructions immediately,” he told Stern magazine.

The debate over Gündogan’s role highlights how he’s often questioned in Germany, where more aggressive players like Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger have traditionally been valued. Gündogan himself admits, “I’m not a player for highlights. My strength lies in making teammates better and ensuring smooth ball circulation.”

His ability to bring order and balance to the team is not always evident. A pivotal moment came in the 2022 World Cup when Flick replaced Gündogan with Leon Goretzka against Japan. Germany, leading 1-0, lost 2-1, a defeat that led to their group-stage exit.

Nagelsmann aims to avoid such mistakes but is challenging Gündogan’s strategic skills with team reorganization. Toni Kroos’s return to the midfield has shifted Gündogan’s role, affecting his influence on the game. Data shows fewer passes received from Kroos, highlighting the adjustment difficulties.

Gündogan’s new, more offensive position complicates his control over the game, often clashing with Florian Wirtz and Musiala’s movements. This has made Germany’s attack more predictable and congested. The team’s performance improved when Gündogan was substituted in recent matches, raising questions about his place in the starting XI.

As Gündogan leads Germany against Scotland on Friday, it’s uncertain if he will maintain his starting spot or if his contributions will be fully recognized. Only Kroos has been credited with the team’s recent improvements.

The crucial question remains: Can Germany and Gündogan finally click? The answer could significantly impact the hosts’ chances at the European Championship.