When it was clear that Kevin De Bruyne was joining Manchester City in a £54 million deal, many watchers of the Premier League raised their eyebrows. The Belgian had not set the world alight in his stint at Chelsea and was flogged to Wolfsburg by then manager Jose Mourinho for a fee of £18 million.
There were a fair few sceptics, but those who watched and studied his body of work in Germany were aware that this was a player who could be instrumental in City’s future, and he has proved to be just that this season.
From his very first start with the club, De Bruyne looked totally at home – controlling the play and orchestrating attacks from all areas on the pitch. He marked his full debut with a goal in a narrow loss to West Ham, and though City have disappointed for large parts of the season, he has been a shining light.
Astoundingly, he has been directly involved in 26 goals in his 33 appearances for the Blues; an outstanding feat in his debut campaign. But this is just evidence of his obvious qualities and his value to this City side. It’s no coincidence that the team struggled in his absence when he was hit by a knee injury in January. And there’s a direct correlation between him coming back in the side and City’s performances massively improving – with a thumping Premier League win over Bournemouth followed up by a positive result in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain.
The 24-year-old scored with two clinical strikes in each of those games and brought new ideas and invention to the City attack – something they have lacked while he was sidelined, notably drawing blanks against Norwich, Dynamo Kiev and Manchester United.
And frighteningly, we may have still not seen the best of De Bruyne in a City shirt. He has spent a good chunk of his City career to date playing on the right and it’s not a role he is best-suited for. Clearly he is capable of filling in on the flank but playing him in a central role is best for all parties. It’s through the middle that he thrives – finding pockets of space and constructing attacks. David Silva is widely recognised as an elite level number 10 but he hasn’t been able to affect the game a great deal in recent times, whereas De Bruyne has slotted straight back in and helped City get back on track.
It has been a timely, much-needed boost for City when things looked rather bleak. ‘KDB’ has brought invention to a City frontline that was on the verge of going stale. And there’s no denying that when Guardiola takes the reins in the summer, the Belgian attacker will be one of a select few of players who will be in his plans. After all, the Spaniard wanted to bring the former Genk man to Bayern. It’s scary to think what a deadly combination Pep and De Bruyne could be. He is in the perfect age category for Guardiola to take him to new heights and with the traits he possesses, he should be at the centre of this City rebuild.
Even with his current job at Bayern Munich, Guardiola still has one eye on his work at City and will be planning for next season – transfer targets appear to have already been identified. But he should also be aware that De Bruyne is already City’s key playmaker. Pep has been collaborated with some of the finest midfielders around: Iniesta, Fabregas, Thiago and Vidal to name a few. Now comfortable and settled at City, De Bruyne is not far away from reaching those heights and if anyone is capable of progressing him even further, it’s Pep Guardiola.
The Spaniard will likely only stick around for a handful of seasons, but in that time De Bruyne will be a prized asset.