Why Jose Mourinho let Kevin De Bruyne go - and why that decision will haunt him now
Like a scorned child, Kevin De Bruyne is on a mission every time he steps on to a football field.
He may have claimed once more this week that he is not inspired by a desire to prove Jose Mourinho wrong after ushered him out the door at Chelsea and then publicly dismissed him as a character who lacked the fighting spirit to succeed in his team, yet his politeness can only be for show.
As De Bruyne fired the most significant goal of the Premier League season to hand Manchester City a vital victory over champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend, the fall out from his magnificent goal rippled all the way to the door of the manager now in charge of Manchester United.
This stand-off dates back to the back end of 2013, as Mourinho refused to grand De Bruyne his wish of a starting place in his Chelsea team, with his comments after he gave the green light to sell the player to Wolfsburg leaving a lasting stain on the reputation of the quietly spoken Belgian.
“With De Bruyne, if you have a player knocking on your door and crying every day he wants to leave, you have to make a decision,” declared Mourinho. “He was not ready to compete. He was an upset kid, his training very bad.”
It was a damning critique of a player who arrived at Chelsea boasting a big reputation after making his name at Genk and Werder Bremen, with De Bruyne’s view that he was a seasoned professional ready to step into Mourinho’s first team not shared by the only man that mattered at Stamford Bridge.
Everyone at Chelsea appreciated that this was a kid with wondrous potential, but Mourinho demands more from his footballers that just raw talent.
Why did Mourinho decide to discard De Bruyne? Well, history provides us with a very simple answer to a question that now seems more pressing than ever given the player’s status as one of the key figures in the Premier League title race.
Quite simply, Mourinho expects the players he takes into his inner circle to have more than talent and potential.
He wants warriors who will give their all to his cause. He insists upon having leaders across the pitch who he knows will win games on days when they are below their best. Mourinho goes in search of champions who will win at all costs and as so many have discovered down the years, he is ruthless with those who come up short of his demands.
Once he decided De Bruyne did not tick those boxes, there was no turning back.
Four years on from that fateful decision and the player has always insisted he has no lingering animosity towards Mourinho, even as appears to accept he was a little hasty in pushing his manager so hard in his desire for more regular first team action.
“You can’t compare me with the player I was at Chelsea,” De Bruyne told reporters. “It’s a different situation and I am a completely different person than I was then.
“I was nineteen when I signed and then worked with three managers and just didn’t play that much. I had come from Werder Bremen, where I played every second, so the difference was huge. I wasn’t even on the bench.
“I was probably a bit eager to play all the time at Chelsea and maybe should have taken it a little bit more slowly.”
Naturally, De Bruyne rejects the suggestion that he did not show enough in training to get into Mourinho’s team, with the player who was then 22 even asking for Mourinho to stage training sessions in front of the general public and media as he tried to dispel the theory that he was not ready for Premier League football, yet those pleas fell on deaf ears.
“When you have already played many years of first team football, it is hard to then be told you have to wait for a chance to show what you can do,” argues the player City paid nearly £55m in the summer of 2015.
“Okay, I was a young player, but I was experienced and felt I deserved a chance to show what I could do at Chelsea. Maybe they just didn’t think I was good enough. That’s their decision.”
With his goal against Chelsea last Saturday firing a dagger into the hearts of his former employers, now De Bruyne will focus his sights on United and that man Mourinho in a title race that could be decided by the player who topped the assists charts in the Premier League last season with 18 and is on fire at the start of this campaign.
Every Premier League manager would relish the chance to add the finished version of De Bruyne to their line-up…and we can belatedly include Mourinho on that list.