In a stats-obsessed sports culture — particularly one that hasn’t been raised to love and appreciate soccer — it can be difficult for the casual observer to know the difference between a decent midfielder, a good one, and a great one.
I’m still learning a lot about the sport myself, and from what I can tell, midfielders are the playmakers on the pitch. Not exactly like a quarterback, but not exactly like a point guard, either. Or maybe they are exactly one of those, but without eye-popping stats for assists or touchdown passes, who knows?
Consider the case of Ilkay Gundogan, the 24-year-old midfielder for Borussia Dortmund of Germany’s Bundesliga league. This season Gundogan, a Muslim born in Germany to Turkish parents, scored three goals and had five assists in 30 appearances for the club. Pedestrian numbers, it would appear, but on this summer’s international transfer/free agency market Gundogan is a highly sought-after talent. His standout skills — passing, ball control, defense, poise under pressure — don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. But seeing as Gundogan is reportedly drawing interest from powerhouse clubs like Bayern Munich, Manchester United and FC Barcelona, clearly he is an elite performer at his position. Here are some of his recent highlights: