Kevin De Bruyne was rightly delighted after putting pen to paper on a contract extension at Manchester City just over a week ago.
“Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of it and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”
City, coincidentally, of course, announced the news just as Manchester United unveiled their new signing, Alexis Sanchez. The young Belgian international’s deal now runs until June 2023, showing just how highly De Bruyne is thought of by Guardiola.
A born winner
Ever since rising through the ranks with Genk in Belgium, Kevin De Bruyne has had to adjust to the fact that all eyes are on him when he takes to the pitch. Even nowadays, in a team boasting the likes of Aguero, Silva, Sterling, and Sane, much of the knowledgeable football fan’s focus will be on the baby-faced midfielder.
There is plenty of YouTube coverage of De Bruyne as a kid, winning trophy after trophy in his native Belgium. Yes, even at age 11 you will be able to identify the strides of the young athlete as he brushes off challenges before putting the ball low into the corner of the net or straight into the path of a better-positioned teammate.
More often than not, with winners such as De Bruyne, there is a strength of character underpinning all the talent they possess. An obsessiveness or almost inconceivable single-mindedness is regularly evident in such stars. De Bruyne is no different. He bears a stubbornness that has driven him past every obstacle he has encountered in his relatively short career this far.
He’s also known for his frankness when it comes to the game he loves. De Bruyne is said to have admonished a prominent team member at Genk when he felt the older, established player was not pushing himself hard enough in training. In 2012, he gave a TV interview at half-time in a match claiming to be “ashamed” of some of his Genk colleagues and urging those who were not 100% committed to the club to leave – not quite the shrinking violet.
Living up to the hype
“The complete midfielder” is a label that has been used regarding De Bruyne in recent times. Many superlatives can be thrown around without much real thought – it seems everyone is a “legend” these days – but in this case, De Bruyne’s displays over the last two years suggest this to be one time that the adulation has not been misplaced.
When watching De Bruyne in action, it’s hard to find a fault in his game. Among the skills in his drawer, he has fantastic strength, eye-boggling control, and incredible composure. It often appears like De Bruyne is moving in slow-motion, though he covers huge patches of ground with his runs while the ball never seems to leave his boot. He always has time, as well. At least, that’s how he makes it appear. Of course, with his ability to read the game and anticipate the play he’s always a step ahead of most others on the field. Add to that his vision, spatial awareness, and unerring first-time passes to give yourself a general idea of the standard of player De Bruyne really is. The weight of his through balls is almost always impeccable. On Wednesday night, he created the opening goal for City against West Brom with the 88th assist of his career.
In 2014/15, he scored 10 league goals and created 20 to win the Bundesliga Player of the Year title at Wolfsburg. This was all after a failed move to Chelsea had left his career at a crossroads. Deciding he had no realistic chance of making it in a Mourinho team, De Bruyne returned to the Bundesliga where he had enjoyed a loan spell at Werder Bremen shortly after registering with Chelsea. For the record, De Bruyne was awarded the Bundesliga Young Player of the Year trophy for that season at Bremen. It was at Wolfsburg that De Bruyne really caught the eye of the then-Manchester City manager, Manuel Pellegrini. He signed for City in August 2015 and it’s fair to say he hasn’t looked back since.
Another positive trait is De Bruyne’s two-footedness. He is naturally right-footed but learned to play with his left as a child and now can strike a rocket with either peg. As of Wednesday night, De Bruyne has 7 goals this season and 5 were scored with his left foot, including that thumper in the win at Chelsea. He is leading the assists chart in the Premier League this season with 11.
Brawn and brain
Standing at 5 feet 11 inches and weighing a little under 11 stone, De Bruyne has plenty of strength and stature to use on the ball. But his most valuable asset on the pitch is his brain. He displays an acumen not seen in many top-flight players today. Take his recent free-kick goal against Cardiff City in the FA Cup; what a fantastic strike that was. It’s moments like these that make players such as Kevin De Bruyne such a rarity. Some players might have such a thought, and many might have the technique to pull off such a manoeuvre, but very few have both the presence of mind and the craft, together. Depending on the defensive wall to jump, De Bruyne calmly rolled the ball under their feet as they hung in mid-air. He placed his shot right in the corner, a real thing of beauty.
What the future holds
De Bruyne may be in the Premier League for another five years or more. Who knows what his thoughts are about a spell in La Liga? But for now, he’s loving his football under Pep Guardiola and is developing before our eyes on a weekly basis. The possibility of watching De Bruyne in action when he hits his prime in another couple of years is a mouth-watering prospect.
On the international front, De Bruyne is a part of the golden generation of players Belgium has had at its disposal for the last five or six years. Having qualified for Russia 2018 under Roberto Martinez, De Bruyne will be hoping to add some international success to an almost-guaranteed Premier League winner’s medal next summer.
And who would back against him?