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.