Kevin De Bruyne: Not cool but bloody sensational

Sarah Winterburn

Here’s Johnny…with another ode to a well-loved football bod…


Who’s this then?
Kevin De Bruyne is a 5′ 11″ 29-year-old midfielder from Drongen, Ghent, Belgium who currently plays for Manchester City. He’s just won the PFA Player of the Year and is generally thought to be the best man playing in his position in world football as well as the best player at his club and as such, absolutely crucial to any success they have.

A multi-linguist, he can speak Dutch, French German and English, the smarty pants. His career began at Genk, signing professional forms whilst 17 in 2008. Across four years he played 113 games, scoring 17 times. He won a league title, the Belgian Cup and Super Cup.

This caught the attention of Chelsea, who bought him in 2012 for £7 million. But having only played a couple of pre-season games he was farmed out on loan to Werder Bremen where he enjoyed a good season scoring 10 times in 34 games. He won the 2012-13 Bundesliga Young Player of the Year. There was a pattern emerging here.

At the end of the season, new Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho assured our Kev that he had a Chelsea future. This wasn’t true because in January, after three league appearances and nine in total, he was sold to Wolfsburg for £18million. How do you like them apples, Kevin?

So off he went and naturally, being brilliant, he stuck it right up his former manager’s ridiculous bracket. In his first full season, his 21 assists was a new Bundesliga record. He scored 16 times in total and made 28 assists in all competitions. He won Player of the Year and drove Die Wölfe to second place in the league. He also won DFB-Pokal and the Super Cup with them. Yeah, how do you like them apples, Jose?

At which point, seeing he was one of the most exciting midfielders in world football, Manchester City couldn’t get £55million out of their pocket quick enough and snaffled him at the end of the 2015 transfer window. He hit the ground running, was better than anyone else in the team, so good that he won City Player of the Year for 2015-16. Of course. This is KDB we’re talking about.

Ever since he has been the lynchpin in City’s success, and his absences through injury help to explain some of their failures. His manager has praised him for his work-rate both on and off the ball, his fight, his vision and his ability to take control of a game all on his own. He’s already played 222 games for the Sky Blues and scored 57 goals, many of them stunning strikes from the edge of the box, or from impressive dead ball kicks.

Meanwhile he’s 10 years into his international career, now with 75 caps and 19 goals under his belt. Playing for City, he’s now accrued four League Cups, an FA Cup and two league titles in his trophy cabinet. He won both City’s Player of the Year and the PFA award last season (the first City player to win it) having been overlooked by the Football Writers Association in favour of Jordan Henderson because all football writers are quite obviously biased against the club we used to call Citeh.


Why the love?
Interestingly, KDB isn’t one of those players who are embraced for being a bit of a rogue, for a raggle-taggle haircut, for swaying hips and a louche lifestyle. He’s not loved for on-pitch flamboyance or off-pitch lifestyle. No. He’s loved for the opposite of all those things. In a team of poets, he is very much the high-performing maths student. Proof, if it were needed, that plain boys can be winners too. You don’t have to be a sex god with a daft haircut or an essay tattooed onto your arm to ascend even the snowiest peaks in your profession. He is a red-hot example of the truism that the really cool people are the people who are not really cool.

We could be forgiven for thinking KDB was actually a cyborg from the future. He has no obvious weaknesses to his game, is able to not just see impossible passes but is able to make them possible, and if he gets angry, he’ll take on an entire defence by himself and lash one into the top corner from 25 metres, thank you very much, mate, and I’ll be taking my ball home now. And he’ll do it while puce in the face and without even breaking into the hint of a smile.

While he’s notionally a midfielder, he can be found at pretty much any point on the pitch. Would certainly be able to play as a supporting striker, but be equally at home doing defensive shielding in the middle of the park. But while he does score brilliant goals, it is his passing which makes us gasp in awe, not just his ability to drop it on the metaphorical and pre-decimal sixpence, but to be able to see impossible passes in the first place.

This against Stoke isn’t a one-off, far from it, but serves to illustrate the whole genre of ‘how the hell has our Kev done that?’ passes.

He whips in the best cross from the right since David Beckham (his delivery style is quite similar too) but he can do it from the left as well. But I especially love his vertical passes – easily the hardest to do – which go over the top of defenders or bisect them, and land in the attacking player’s stride. That’s just showing off.

His era is one of superfit athletes with many players looking more suited to being on an athletics track than a football pitch. But Kevin is an exception to this. Not that he’s a pork barrel grunter, but every bit of the considerable effort he puts into his game shows in the sweat on his brow and the ever-intensifying pinkness of his face. Easy to imagine he has a microchip in his eyes which measures and perfectly judges the distance and angle of pass to under a millimetre. Peel back his skin and you’d find sparking electrodes and flashing lights and fluorescent sockets. Even his ginger-with-dark-eyes combo gives him the look of someone who could happily never blink.


What the people love
My post bag was not bulging today, possibly because some City fans prefer to think every website is biased against them. Which is a shame, but by contrast, the joy of football which KDB embodies, has not gone unnoticed by many others. I also think he especially appeals to those of us who enjoy a footballer who is not concerned with the ephemera of the modern game and just throws himself 100% into his art.

‘The best ginger player? I reckon so.’

‘The man is an exhilarating player blessed with glorious vision and sees things normal mortals wouldn’t.’

‘Genuinely don’t think I have seen a better passer in the Premier League.’

‘Really rather good.’

‘Just an all around lovely guy, on and off the field, naturally gutted he left Chelsea but it was the making of him and I don’t think any Chelsea fan dislikes him, which is rare for a player of a direct rival.’

‘Is the spitting image of a young Prince Harry. Peter Gulacsi is Prince William. That’s why they could never play for the same club.’

‘Such a gentleman. That thing he does where he crosses it into the path of a striker: he only makes it look special so that our glory boys don’t feel too bad that they can’t do it.’


Four great moments

Hellish 25-metre lashage of the first water.

Like a hot knife through butter

Very hard free-kicks made easy a speciality

For fans of Passing Porn, this is the hardcore stuff.


What now?
A timeless 29 years old, he somehow looks of indeterminate age and could be anything from 18 to 45.

Right now he must be the most valuable player in the world in his position and given his stable temperament, he must be likely to see his current contract out to 2023, by which time he’ll be 32. Perhaps he’ll take a two-year extension at some point to take him to 34 years of age and then return to Gent for a last hurrah. That would be very sensible and thus very KDB.

The fact he doesn’t seem to have an ounce of flash about him and clearly sees hard graft as the minimum needed, will management with its requirement to deal with players who are not half as good or as committed have any appeal to him? He doesn’t seem to have an ego that needs flattering by the media’s punditry sofa. All of his talent seems innate rather than coached, so has he got anything useful to pass on to the mortal non-cyborg footballers as a coach?

He will not want for money, given he is earning around a minimum of £1.5 million per month at the moment. It is far easier to imagine him retiring and entirely disappearing from view, retaking his place in Belgian society and in 15 years’ time, no-one will even recognise him.

That’s the really great thing about him. While others of exceptional talent preen themselves in public, only too happy to be worshipped, KDB wants none of that. His autobiography – written at the ludicrously young age of 23 – was called Keep It Simple. It seems unlikely he won’t follow his own advice in the future after a few more years giving us all the football horn with his passing porn. Cheers, KDB.

John Nicholson