Wim Van Walle questions whether the winger's pending move to Manchester City will work out for either...
The problem at Chelsea was that De Bruyne had become used to being among the first names on the team sheet.
So, it’s nearly done. The biggest transfer saga of the summer seems to be coming to a close. After a season that saw him crowned best player in the Bundesliga, it was no surprise to see Wolfsburg’s Kevin De Bruyne linked with just about every big club in Europe.
Bayern Munich had a sniff, Real Madrid and Manchester United were mentioned. And with a certain sense of inevitability, Paris Saint-Germain were also suggested. Some will say it’s a sad state of affairs when even the Bundesliga’s cash-rich number two club doesn’t seem to stand a chance of holding on to its best players.
In the end, it looks like Manchester City will get the Belgian’s coveted signature, as he was said to be travelling to Manchester on Friday for a medical. The big question now - is De Bruyne worth the rumoured €74 million City will stump up?
The Mou factor
The answer to that question will depend largely on how City will use their record signing. When Jose Mourinho recently repeated that he was right to let De Bruyne go, many felt he was merely being a stubborn so-and-so refusing to admit a mistake now the price for his former player had gone up. In Belgium especially, where De Bruyne is immensely popular, forums and Facebook pages mocked Mourinho.
The problem is, Mourinho has a point. De Bruyne’s immense talent is beyond doubt, and the Chelsea manager has never said anything to suggest he had any doubts about his football ability. The psychological side, however, was a very different matter. The problem at Chelsea was that De Bruyne, from his time at KRC Genk, had become used to being among the first names on the team-sheet.
That was never going to happen in a Chelsea midfield boasting the talents of Willian, Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Oscar, Ramires, Nemanja Matic and Andre Schurrle. Several sources say De Bruyne himself told Mourinho that he wanted to play and didn’t want to fight for a place week in, week out. That, coupled with a penchant for sulking when things don’t go his way, was never going to work out at the London club.
Appetite for success
De Bruyne is ambitious. There is nothing wrong with that but when you’re new at a club with such a wealth of players, you need to allow yourself, your team-mates and your manager some time to get used to each other. And you need to accept that you have to establish yourself in this new squad. Manchester City must hope that De Bruyne has learned from his previous experience in England at Stamford Bridge.
With the enormous status he has built at Wolfsburg, not to mention his price tag, comes equally great expectations. From the fans and from his manager but also from De Bruyne himself.
If he wants to be the crowd’s hero like at Wolfsburg, he will have to prove himself worthy of that title all over again. If he can allow himself the time to really establish himself, Manuel Pellegrini's side may have a massive asset on their hands in their bid for glory in both England and in the Champions League.
Right now, Kevin De Bruyne owns Wolfsburg. Their whole game plan is built around their star player.
But many in Belgium seem to think that De Bruyne would be better off staying in Germany, for a number of reasons involving a number of people. First of all, De Bruyne himself. He just wants to play - and shine. At Wolfsburg, he has the status he needs to bring out the best in him. He deserves that status, he has earned it by amassing more assists than anybody else in any of the major leagues in Europe and leading his club to second spot in Germany.
Right now, De Bruyne owns Wolfsburg. When fit, he plays. And the team play for him. Wolfsburg’s whole game plan is built around their star player. It is hard to see why he would give up such a status. If Wolfsburg do well in the Champions League, he will get most of the plaudits. If they don’t, the argument will be that it’s only the second time they’ve ever been in the competition. Whereas if Manchester City fail in Europe with a player who has cost them close to €80m, it’s not hard to guess who will be under scrutiny.
Then there is Belgium’s national team. With Euro 2016 looming large, it’s more important than ever that their star players get as much football as possible and preferably do well and tank up on confidence going into the summer. The chances of that are better at Wolfsburg than at Manchester City. Again, the reasoning is simple: established star player versus new man with massive price tag and huge expectations.
Some fear that De Bruyne will not be able to achieve the same first-team status in his first season at the Etihad Stadium. Such a scenario would be disastrous for Belgium’s Red Devils, for whom he has been of enormous importance in their rise to second spot in the FIFA rankings. Coach Marc Wilmots has said that Belgium have to aim for the big prize. That can only happen with De Bruyne on top of his game.
To Wolfsburg then. With the money coming in from Volkswagen, they don’t need to sell, which is exactly why the price has gone up the way it has. If the deal goes through, they will have only a couple of days to find a replacement for a player they didn’t want to let go in the first place. A player who they may very well find impossible to replace at all, because he has become so much more than just a player.
He is their number one weapon, the player who they depend upon if they want to challenge for the Bundesliga title. In the first competitive game of the season, De Bruyne immediately displayed his importance, setting up Nicklas Bendtner for a late equaliser with a glorious rush and cross. Wolfsburg went on to beat Bayern Munich on penalties and claim their first trophy of the season with the German Supercup.
Coach Marc Wilmots has said that Belgium have to aim for the big prize - That can only happen with De Bruyne on top of his game.
There is no reason to believe that Kevin De Bruyne will not be a success in the blue half of Manchester. He is an amazing talent and, on his day, an unstoppable and glorious force. But it’s also easy to see why some say that, in this deal, De Bruyne’s agent might end up being the only happy party.