Man City’s hot­shot Kevin De Bruyne

With his re­cent goalfest, Bel­gian Kevin De Bruyne is hav­ing a dream sea­son at Manch­ester City


HE’S been called many things. An enigma. Su­per-chilled. Down-toearth. Dif­fi­cult. Trou­ble­maker. And now Kevin De Bruyne seems to be adding an­other de­scrip­tion to the list: one of the greats. This sea­son the Manch­ester City mid­fielder has gone from be­ing en­ter­tain­ing to watch – along with his on-field tem­per tantrums – to sen­sa­tional to behold, thanks to a stel­lar up­swing in per­for­mance.

In the past nine games, the 26-year-old Bel­gium na­tional has scored an in­cred­i­ble 11 goals and made some great as­sists that helped his team­mates find the back of the net too. “De Bruyne’s rise has been re­mark­able and it’s fair to say he’s reached a dif­fer­ent level this sea­son,” Bel­gian foot­ball jour­nal­ist Kristof Ter­reur writes in The Guardian.

“His per­for­mances for City have stood out, the best player in the best team – and this week there was a flash of that anger, that stub­born­ness, that sets him apart.” He’s the “com­plete player”, ac­cord­ing to Man City boss Pep Guardi­ola – which doesn’t seem un­founded, given that De Bruyne scores did-that-just-hap­pen goals, has the stamina of a long-dis­tance ath­lete and does his share of de­fen­sive du­ties.

He seems to be on the fast track to be­com­ing a foot­ball su­per­star, with his man­ager dub­bing him “the best player in Europe bar one” (re­fer­ring to Barcelona le­gend Lionel Messi) – and his club could soon be cough­ing up to pay him ac­cord­ingly.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, De Bruyne’s wages at Manch­ester City could soon dou­ble.

His agent, Pa­trick De Koster, has con­firmed he’ll open talks with City over a new con­tract for his client – at whom French side Paris Saint-Ger­main have re­port­edly been mak­ing eyes.

De Bruyne is now earning £110 000 (R2,06 mil­lion) a week af­ter pen­ning a six-year deal with Man City two years ago, but ac­cord­ing to the Mir­ror, his salary could rocket to £220 000 (R4,11 mil­lion) a week un­der the terms of the new deal.

But De Koster seems to think De Bruyne de­serves to earn as much as Ney­mar – who rakes in a whop­ping £600 000 (R11,22 mil­lion) a week.

“His salary? I can­not say,” De Koster re­sponded to ques­tions about this lu­cra­tive new deal. Yet he hinted, “But if you think what Ney­mar and [ fel­low Man City star] Kylian Mbappé are be­ing paid, you can pic­ture it.”

THINGS didn’t al­ways look so bright for the young star.

De Bruyne was born in Ghent in north­west Bel­gium and started out in his home­town club, KVV Dron­gen, in 2003 be­fore join­ing Bel­gian club Genk and even­tu­ally mov­ing to their youth pro­gramme in 2005.

At Genk, the tal­ented young player’s tem­per flared. His youth coach, Frank De Leyn, re­calls a day when a young De Bruyne had been taken to task for not help­ing to clean up af­ter train­ing at a camp in Spain.

De Bruyne snapped, be­com­ing so en­raged he grabbed one of the posts and re­fused to let go. “Three of us tried to pull him away from it but we didn’t man­age. I stayed with him be­cause he was plan­ning to stay there all night.”

Even­tu­ally, De Leyn’s pa­tience paid off and he even­tu­ally per­suaded the hot-headed boy to let go. “We walked back to the ho­tel hand in hand.”

Still, the teenager’s skill couldn’t be

ig­nored and it wasn’t long be­fore Chelsea came knock­ing.

The Blues bought the then 20-yearold in a deal worth a re­ported £7 mil­lion (then R77 mil­lion) in 2012. But at the helm of the west Lon­don side was self-pro­claimed Spe­cial One, José Mour­inho – and De Bruyne failed to im­press him.

The Premier League new­bie played just three games for Mour­inho’s side be­fore the Por­tuguese coach off­loaded him to Werder Bre­men on loan.

“He wasn’t ready to com­pete,” said Mour­inho af­ter sell­ing De Bruyne. “He was an up­set kid train­ing very bad. He needs mo­ti­va­tion to train well by play­ing ev­ery game. If you have a player knock­ing on your door and cry­ing ev­ery day and he wants to leave, you have to make a de­ci­sion.”

It’s not sur­pris­ing De Bruyne wanted out of Chelsea. In 2013 one of his team­mates, Thibaut Cour­tois had an af­fair with De Bruyne’s girl­friend of three years, Caro­line Li­j­nen, leav­ing the mid­fielder dev­as­tated.

But Chelsea’s loss was VfL Wolfs­burg’s gain. The Ger­man sports club signed De Bruyne in a deal worth £18 mil­lion (now R288 mil­lion). In his break­out sea­son, the Bel­gian proved his worth to Wolfs­burg with 16 goals and 27 as­sists, earning him­self the 2015 Foot­baller of the Year award in Ger­many.

But his time in Ger­many wasn’t with­out in­ci­dent. De Bruyne found him­self in the eye of a me­dia storm af­ter lash­ing out at a ball-boy, scream­ing: “Give me the ball, you moth­erf****r.” He apol­o­gised amid the furore that fol­lowed and sent the shell-shocked youth a signed shirt.

“Most of these erup­tions hap­pen with­out mal­ice,” coun­try­man Ter­reur in­sists. “It’s the win­ner in him tak­ing con­trol.”

His youth coach would tend to agree. “He was stub­born as hell, like a mule,” De Leyn reck­ons. “But I also think it’s that stub­born­ness, that char­ac­ter trait, that’s made him the player he is now.”

The in­ci­dent did noth­ing to dis­suade Man City, who had been lurk­ing at the doors of Volk­swa­gen Arena for some time. They made the hot­headed star, who was 24 at the time, an of­fer he couldn’t refuse: a sixyear con­tract and a re­ported club record fee of £55 mil­lion (R880 mil­lion).

This made him the sec­ond most ex­pen­sive trans­fer in Bri­tish foot­ball his­tory at the time (be­hind Án­gel Di María’s £59,7 mil­lion – then R835,8 mil­lion – move to Manch­ester United in 2014).

And De Bruyne would soon have a fam­ily to pro­vide for. His new la­dylove, Michèle Lacroix, from Genk in Bel­gium, an­nounced she was preg­nant with their first child a few weeks af­ter their move to the UK. She gave birth to a son, Ma­son Mil­ian De Bruyne, in March 2016. The pair tied the knot in June this year, af­ter he’d popped the ques­tion atop the Eif­fel Tower in Paris the pre­vi­ous De­cem­ber.

PER­HAPS fa­ther­hood has quelled De Bruyne’s tem­per. Per­haps he’s sim­ply thriv­ing un­der Guardi­ola’s lead­er­ship. What­ever the case is, it’s clear the mid­fielder is the man to watch this sea­son.

Jonathan Liew, chief sports writer for The In­de­pen­dent, mar­vel­ling at one of De Bruyne’s re­cent bril­liant as­sists, seems to think so. He de­voted a lengthy col­umn to just how De Bruyne man­aged the per­fectly timed pass to Leroy Sane, which lead to a goal by Ra­heem Ster­ling against Stoke on 14 Oc­to­ber.

“[He] slips the ball into Sane’s path with­out once look­ing up. With one pass, De Bruyne has taken five Stoke de­fend­ers out of the game,” he writes. He un­cov­ers no an­swers, in­stead con­clud­ing: “What if De Bruyne is sim­ply a next di­men­sion, off-the-wall, freak-of-neu­ro­log­i­cal-science, bona fide ge­nius?”

Kevin De Bruyne has been marked as one of the Premier League play­ers to watch this sea­son.

LEFT: De Bruyne takes charge dur­ing the Carabao Cup fourth-round match be­tween Manch­ester City and Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers at Eti­had Sta­dium on 24 Oc­to­ber. RIGHT: Man City man­ager Pep Guardi­ola.

ABOVE: De Bruyne and Michèle Lacroix got mar­ried in June. RIGHT: They wel­comed their first child, son Ma­son, into the world in March last year.

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