- Lifestyle & Sports
- 21 May 22
Well, after Mo Salah, that is! But the imperious rise and rise of the Belgian maestro – just crowned Premier League 'Player of the Season' – is truly remarkable when you remember that he was considered a waste of space at Chelsea not so long ago...
You’d never think it by looking at him. Which is proof you should never judge a book by its cover, right?
The tall, pale, innocent-looking bloke seems as if he wouldn’t hurt a fly. With eyes that quietly say he loves sitting on the couch sharing crumpets and helping elderly women cross the street equally, it just doesn’t seem possible this dainty-hearted, Bambi-lookin’ fella could be the best player in the Premiership of late.
And that admission takes a lot coming from me. I’m a Reds fan. Moooooooooo Salah until I die. But you can’t argue with the sheer, almost inhuman brilliance of the man who has just been named Premier League 'Player of the Season', Kevin De Bruyne. This Belgian quasi-robot seemingly came from nowhere to change the world of football as we know it.
Sure, we had Hazard before he lost his form at Real Madrid, Bale before he lost his form at Real Madrid, and Sneijder who, er, also lost his form at Real Madrid — yikes, what are they doing over there in the Spanish capital?
Too many Tapas? Or trips to Ibiza perhaps….
There were loads of people who’d have been considered way ahead of De Bruyne in the battle to become the ‘next big thing’. We had midfield maestros cutting through systems with their radar vision; strikers who could place the ball perfectly in the top bins from 30 yards out; and headers of the ball (we’re looking at you, Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo) who could generate as much power with their noggins as your average sledgehammer.
So, how did this unassuming, sandy-haired bloke start his rise to the very top of the game? If I told you he was a total flop at Chelsea, would you believe me?
Well, you should. It seems insane now – like when we all thought cars were going to fly by 2020 – but this midfield genius in-the-making was shunted out on loan during his time at Chelsea. To Werder-Bremen. And then transferred, to that palace of dreams, VfL Wolfsburg.
It was Rafael Benitez – during his brief caretaker stint at Stamford Bridge – who first allowed Kevin to go out on loan. For some footballers, a loan deal, having played only about 60 minutes with your dream team, could be the end of your high-level career as you know it.
As an athlete, if you put yourself out there and sign for a top team, and you don’t get the chance to showcase your skills — or you are deemed to be out of your depth — this can irreparably change the trajectory of your career. One mistake, one bad game, one dip in confidence, one injury — all of these instances, some of them split-second, can take you from being a player whose name they are chanting in the stands to an almost has-been in no time.
How did he bounce back? By dipping into some of his chocolate-loving and waffle-eating Belgian resilience and having a great loan spell at Werder Bremen. Sure, Werder Bremen are no Chelsea, but he was getting game time and showing José Mourinho, who returned to Chelsea in 2013, what he had lost out on. Surely the only way from here was up, no?
Well, upon his arrival back to Chelsea, Mourinho was firm in his anti-KDB stance. Like Italians love coffee and a cigarette for breakfast, Mourinho loved placing De Bruyne firmly on the bench and getting on with his day.
Some might be disheartened by this kind of treatment. Others get angry. Others again become disillusioned. But KDB had no time for negativity — he took these frustrations on board, and went to Wolfsburg from 2013 to 2016. And he killed it.
As an aside, Mourinho – the Portuguese Stalin – can be accused of hampering the creativity and confidence of two of the biggest stars in the PL today, Mo Salah (our Egyptian King) and KDB. Now, that is some achievement!
In 2016, Kevin De Bruyne signed for Man City and slowly but surely became the person – and the player – we know today. Of course, he had talent all along. He has obviously improved his skills, stamina, knowledge and technique, training with high-level teams and maturing smoothly – but the potential was always there. It just took the right manager and playing style, to instil the confidence and sense of belief needed to bring it out.
Today, we see De Bruyne crafting immaculate passes through six opposing players, arrowing perfect crosses behind the defence but away from the keeper, striking shots beautifully with his left and right foot, and taking players on 1v1. There is nothing this guy can’t do. Except maybe keep his girlfriend, one of whom left him for his teammate, Thibaut Courtois (which is understandable — he IS a “keeper”).
And you know what? Even that couldn’t derail him! I mean, he wasn’t playing for Chelsea, his partner left him for a teammate and he continued pushing on. Now, he is married to Michele Lacroix and has three orangey-blonde-haired, adorable Belgian children. So who’s having the last laugh?
In Manchester City's recent games, De Bruyne’s class has shone through brilliantly and irresistibly, including bagging an astonishing FOUR goals in a 5-1 away win vs. Wolverhampton on May 11. This is not only a story of resilience and hard work then, but one that tells us something irrefutable about retaining a positive attitude during tough times: it can make all the difference. That, above all, is what has made KDB into one of the very best footballers of his generation – and why Manchester City go into the final round of the Premier League in pole position. I may be praying for a slip-up, and a Liverpool win against Wolves – but if City beat Aston Villa tomorrow, the title is theirs.
As a midfielder who tries (and fails) to wield the same kind of influence on the pitch as Kevin De Bruyne does, I can tell you that he is on a different plane to almost everyone else. But Mo Salah of Liverpool is still the best. Let's see how tomorrow pans out. YNWA!
Emma Starr is from Philadelphia in the USA. She completed an internship at the Manchester International Football Academy having graduated from George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2016. She has played football in the UK, the US, Ireland, Denmark and Austria. She joined Galway WFC in 2018 to play professional football, and played for a season with the west-siders. She subsequently signed for FFC Vorderland in Austria and played for a season there, making 17 first-team appearances. She returned to Galway last year, becoming one of the team’s most influential players. She has signed again for the 2022 season. Emma is a journalist and writer as well as a strength and conditioning coach.
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