The Kanes In Waiting
Harry Kane has been a soaraway success this season but who else is there waiting in the wings to replicate his incredible year? We trawl the world for the finest young breakthrough talent to match Harry.
KEVIN DE BRUYNE, 23
Attacking midfielder, Wolfsburg
It’s September 2013, and Jose Mourinho really doesn’t want to talk about Kevin. Exasperated by questions regarding his decision to leave Belgian attacker Kevin de Bruyne out of Chelsea’s matchday squad to face Steaua Bucharest, the Special One stiffens in his seat. “I didn’t like the match he played against Swindon in the Capital One Cup, and I didn’t like the way he was training,” he snarls. Four months later, De Bruyne had been sold to Wolfsburg for $30m. It seemed a masterstroke – an $20m profit on a player who had amassed just three Premier League appearances for the Blues. “After the press conference in Bucharest I started training harder, even on my days off,” said De Bruyne. “I lost three kilos and two per cent fat, but my situation never changed. That’s why I asked him, in a friendly way: ‘Please let me go.’” The move has reinvigorated the 23-year-old. Playing every week in an exciting side that should finish the campaign as Bundesliga runners-up, the De Bruyne of 2015 is a much more consistent and fearsome beast than that which left West London in January 2014. The bare 2014/15 statistics alone – 14 goals and 24 assists in his first 38 games of the season – are testament to the stellar year De Bruyne has had. The choirboy looks of his Chelsea days have evolved into a more robust physique, even if those cherubic cheeks remain as rosy red as ever. As a player, too, De Bruyne has changed. Deployed primarily as a wide attacker at Stamford Bridge – one capable of playing on either wing – the Belgian has featured mostly as an inverted No.10 for Wolfsburg, occupying a central starting position and drifting naturally wide to overload opposition full-backs. If he pulls wide to the right, his more natural side, a low cross between the centre-back and the goalkeeper is inevitable; to the left, and he’ll cut inside and shoot. One weapon in De Bruyne’s armoury hasn’t changed. Some players saunter or potter around the pitch; others piston-run, arms and legs akimbo like a seven-year-old released into the summer sun; but only a select few glide with such ease as De Bruyne. There’s no discernable difference in his top speed with the ball or without it.
His man-of-the-match display in January’s 4-1 destruction of Bayern Munich was a case in point. De Bruyne created the opener before scoring the third and fourth – the former a trademark surge from deep past Jerome Boateng, the latter a savage left-foot shot past Germany’s No.1, Manuel Neuer. His barely comprehensible right-foot volley against Lille in the Europa League group stage was a strike so spectacular it would leave Zlatan Ibrahimovic gawping. “You really have to say that Kevin de Bruyne is the best player in the Bundesliga, and not only because of his stats,” said team-mate Marcel Schafer earlier this season. “He has already experienced not getting so much time on the field at Chelsea. That is why I think the best thing for him would be to stay for a minimum of one more year at Wolfsburg.” And herein lies the problem for the Bundesliga upstarts. So good are De Bruyne’s displays, Europe’s scavengers have got a sniff of young blood – even if their coach Dieter Hecking insists “there are only eight clubs in Europe that are a step up from Wolfsburg”. Rumour has it that De Bruyne’s compatriot Vincent Kompany has sounded out Manchester City about his signing, while in news about as surprising as bears defecating in woods, Bayern Munich are also keen. “I am a fighter,” De Bruyne insists. “I learned it from my very first days at Genk.” A fighter, with a score to settle, who could well come to haunt his former boss as his biggest mistake. The next time Jose talks about Kevin, there may be a crack of fear in his voice.
Full-back, Porto (joining Real Madrid)
“If I work really hard, I’ll get to Maicon’s level,” a young Danilo promised upon his arrival at Santos in 2010, two years before joining Porto. He was finally presented with the opportunity to meet his idol when the pair were both selected in Brazil’s first squad following last summer’s humiliating World Cup defeat. That was until Maicon returned to the team hotel late after a night out, and was promptly given the boot by Dunga. Suddenly, the Porto man was his country’s first choice right-back. He’ll soon be Madrid’s first-choice right-back, too, as they’ve agreed to make him their priciest defensive signing for $40m. Danilo offers versatility on top of attacking prowess – some of his best performances for Santos came in central midfield – and he’s no stranger to big games, scoring the winning goal in the 2011 Copa Libertadores Final.
JOSE MARIA GIMENEZ, 20
Centre-back, Atletico Madrid
This time last year, the Uruguayan had made just one outing for the Mattress Makers, but the 20-year-old has since shone at the World Cup – impressing in the defeat of England – and forced his way onto Manchester United’s radar. Gimenez’s aerial prowess stands out a mile in a league of intricate tap-dancer forwards. He can play, too – his stunning volley at Elche in December is testament to that. And he’s pretty fond of being a footballer. “When I came off the bench for the second half,” he recalled of his professional debut, for the modest Danubio in Uruguay, “my heart nearly separated.” Sounds painful. Finally, the bull-like Gimenez’s head is made of weapons-grade granite. Against Getafe in March, he blocked a shot by diving headfirst at the feet of midfielder Fredy Hinestroza. His boss, Diego Simeone, would have been proud.
GUSTAVO BOU, 25
Striker, Racing (on loan from River Plate)
Bou is so popular, he’s even had a catchy Latin ditty written in his honour ( Bailando con Bou, or ‘Dancing with Bou’) – but the Argentine has spent a great deal of his career to date doing... well, not very much. One goal in 13 games on loan at Gimnasia La Plata was the sum total of his efforts in 2013/14, in a career mostly spent loitering around on the fringes at River Plate. Then, suddenly, everything changed. Gustavo went from ‘booo’ to ‘Bou!’, exploding onto the scene during a loan spell at Racing, scoring goal after goal. Bou is the 2015 Copa Libertadores’ deadliest marksman, already outdoing the top scorers in the entire 2014 tournament. His strike partnership with former Inter Milan Champions League winner Diego Milito has been a joy to behold.