Wednesday 18 September 2019

John Giles: Kevin De Bruyne's emergence as a midfield general down to the vision of Pep Guardiola

UEFA Champions League, Manchester City versus Napoli; Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City warms up for the game (Photo by Conor Molloy/Action Plus via Getty Images)
UEFA Champions League, Manchester City versus Napoli; Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City warms up for the game (Photo by Conor Molloy/Action Plus via Getty Images)

John Giles

I must admit, I never saw Kevin de Bruyne as a man who could be a midfield general and control football matches in the way he has been doing for Manchester City.

In his first incarnation in the Premier League at Chelsea, I saw a raw-boned winger with pace, a good physical presence but I didn’t mark him as exceptional in any way.

I thought he was immature and far from ready to be the kind of player we are seeing now. He needed time to develop but he didn’t get it at Stamford Bridge.

He was bought when Rafa Benitez was in the hot seat, sent on loan for a season to Werder Bremem and returned to Chelsea for the start of the 2013/2014 season.

By then, Jose Mourinho was back for his second attempt to tame Roman Abramovich and six months after he packed Romelu Lukaku off on loan to Everton, de Bruyne was sold to Wolfsburg.

Based on their last transfers, that’s over £200m worth of talent which Mourinho waved goodbye to and I understand completely why he did it.


Mourinho is not a manager who believes in development from within at a club because he never stays for long enough.

He wants the finished article and even if he saw potential in the two Belgian lads, he had no interest in being a nursemaid.

Pep Guardiola is no different. He went to Manchester City because of the endless supply of cash and the players he bought this summer were for the here and now and not three or four years down the line.

De Bruyne is 26 now and there is clearly more going on behind his boyish face than meets the eye.

On the face of it, Guardiola had no part to play in bringing de Bruyne to Manchester but if you look at the timing of the £55m move, I think it is reasonable to assume that he was involved.

The Premier League ploughed on without de Bruyne after he made a permanent move to Wolfsburg but Guardiola was the Bayern Munich manager at the time and would have seen the lad improve and mature while our minds were focused elsewhere.

De Bruyne signed for City in August 2015 and six months later, the club announced that Guardiola would be their new manager. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

So if de Bruyne is now revealing the skills and characteristics needed to be a midfield general, it can also be assumed that his manager has played a big role in the unveiling.

I can’t underline enough how important Guardiola is in de Bruyne’s blossoming.

If I dig into my own library, I remember seeing Johnny Haynes turn football on its head in a match between City and Fulham at Maine Road when he broke free from the orthodoxy of the day to go looking for the ball so that he could dictate the game.


I tried to do the same at Old Trafford but I was too young and I wasn’t ready for it. I had a nightmare in the 1962 FA Cup semi-final defeat and Matt Busby gave up on me after that.

I had two years watching Bobby Collins at Leeds until I was 25 and ready both mentally and physically to take over from him.

It looks like that is what is happening with de Bruyne. Time and the support and encouragement of a top class manager have worked their magic. At the moment, de Bruyne is showing the same attributes and attitude which made Xavi the player he was at Barcelona and that’s high praise indeed.

But I wouldn’t go as far as Ian Wright who described him as world class. Only time will tell us that.


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