Ilkay Gundogan And The Premier League Icons Who Have Gone Continental

Gundogan has left Manchester City after seven years
10:00, 25 Jun 2023

Ilkay Gundogan might have been born in Gelsenkirchen, but after seven years in the north west of England he might as well have revealed his Stone Roses tattoo in Istanbul to go along with his sky blue bucket hat. The lovable German became an adopted Manc, even if his girlfriend didn’t like the food offerings the city had for her. 

The long relationship between the city and Gundogan has made his exit more difficult to stomach for the Citizens. He was the man who completed the final-day turnaround against Aston Villa. His double won them the FA Cup against their fiercest rivals. He’s been their big-game player on so many occasions. But as we’ve seen with so many of our Premier League stars, the lure of Barcelona or Real Madrid has once again proved too strong to resist. 

Perhaps it's the paella that was the deciding factor. But how have other long-serving Premier League stars fared when heading to the continent?


Thierry Henry

One of, if not the greatest player the Premier League has ever seen. After eight years at Arsenal and with a statue on the way outside the new Emirates Stadium, Thierry Henry chose to leave the club when Barca came calling. Pep Guardiola got hold of him, played him as a left forward with a young Lionel Messi as a false nine, and the rest is history. 

He was there for three seasons, winning two La Liga titles and the Champions League in 2009, as Barcelona won an unprecedented six trophies in one season under Guardiola. Henry’s move was a total success, and he got his hands on the European Cup he couldn’t win at Arsenal. Then, like every good superhero, he came back to north London for a final farewell.

Sergio Aguero 

Knock knock. Barca calling again. After a decade at Manchester City, 184 Premier League goals and five league titles, Aguero left for Spain. Guardiola famously cried and said “we cannot replace him, we cannot”, yet Erling Haaland is doing a pretty good job after just 12 months in Manchester. 

Meanwhile, Aguero’s Barca stint didn’t work out as he would have hoped. Just a couple of months in, he experienced chest pain during a match and was diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia. After three months away from football, and on medical advice, he retired at the age of 33. 


Gareth Bale

One of Tottenham Hotspur’s finest and this time a player who didn’t go to Barca. Instead Real Madrid agreed to pay a world record fee of £85m to bring Bale to the Bernabeu and he spent an incredible nine seasons at the club, winning five Champions League titles. 

He had some amazing moments. His overhead kick against Liverpool in 2018 is arguably the greatest goal ever scored in a European Cup final and his Copa del Rey solo goal v Barca endeared him to the Madrid faithful. But their relationship was not a solid one. Bale, despite his big goals, was often seen as the scapegoat for Los Blancos. His relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo was visibly strained at times and the press was full of negative stories about him. Madrid fans thought he hadn’t bothered to learn Spanish (he had), thought he prioritised golf (he did) and were in general pretty dismissive of a player who had given them so much. 

With Wales, Bale was far happier, and he didn’t mind rubbing it in every now and again. Remember the ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid’ banner? His time at Madrid came to an end in 2022 and retirement followed soon after, at 33. One of the finest players of his generation fell out of love with the game in Spain and is now honing his golf swing on the best courses the planet has to offer. 

Philippe Coutinho

Liverpool picked up a gem when they paid £8.5m for Coutinho from Inter Milan in 2013 and he had four-and-a-half relatively successful seasons at the club in a time of transition. He was so often the jewel in the crown but really started to produce when Jurgen Klopp came to the club. 

He eventually joined Barcelona in January 2018 for a fee that could have risen to £142m, and things didn’t truly work out. He was in and out of the starting XI and never had the impact Barca hoped he would as their finances began to unravel behind the scenes. Two seasons later he was loaned to Bayern Munich, where he flourished, winning the treble, and Barcelona eventually sold him to Aston Villa for £17m, four years after he arrived for nearly eight times that fee. A shocking deal. 

Cristiano Ronaldo

Whatever happened to him after he left Manchester United in 2009?

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