Kevin De Bruyne simultaneously has the energy of Rafael Nadal and the class of Roger Federer.
He has all the attributes of a traditional box-to-box midfielder – the engine, the lungs and the legs – enabling him to maraud forward so menacingly. But he also has the guile, the attention to detail and the finesse to tellingly impact the game in the final third.
And he can’t half strike a ball, can he?
De Bruyne made his professional debut as a 17-year-old for Genk in his native Belgium. He impressed enough to earn a £7m move to Stamford Bridge in 2012, where Chelsea spotted him as a potential natural replacement for Frank Lampard.
However, his first taste of Premier League football did not go to plan. De Bruyne spent the first season out on loan at Werder Bremen, impressing and catching the eye of Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund. Jose Mourinho persuaded him to stay at the Bridge with the promise of first team football, but by January 2014, De Bruyne had made just three Premier League appearances and was agreeing an £18m switch to Wolfsburg.
During De Bruyne’s first full season with Wolfsburg, he set a new Bundesliga assist record by providing 19 goals for his teammates. Wolfsburg finished second – their highest league finish since 2009.
After just one full season in the Bundesliga, Manchester City parted with £55m to bring the midfielder to the Etihad. It has proved to be money very well spent. Since moving to the Premier League in 2015, he has emerged as one of the finest midfielders in the division, and since pairing up with Pep Guardiola in 2016, he has emerged as one of the finest footballers in the world.
Guardiola and De Bruyne are the perfect fit. The City boss demands his teams execute a high tempo passing game with a fluid, dynamic system. Players are flitting in and out of pockets of space as the ball is patiently recycled, requiring intelligent footballers capable of thinking and seeing multiple moves ahead. It’s speed chess.
De Bruyne is a fiercely intelligent player, with the technical ability to match. He can not only see the pass, but – be it the simple or the outrageous – he can pull it off time after time. De Bruyne sees the run in behind that no one else sees – seemingly without actually looking up – and he matches this vision with a pin point, perfectly weighted pass.
In Pep Guardiola’s maddeningly, intense, high maintenance system, De Bruyne is the calmness and the stillness who connects all the dots and makes sense of it all.
And we haven’t even talked about how he strikes a football. Is there anyone in world football who can strike a ball sweeter than Kevin De Bruyne? And this is not just saved for when he’s letting fly from 25 yards out. He can strike a stationary, curling cross with such a ferocity.
When he turns on the style, he is uncontainable. In October 2017, the 28-year-old single handedly turned over Stoke….which is actually more impressive than it sounds. City ran out 7-2 winners and De Bruyne ran the show from start to finish. He set up goals for Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane with incredible, low, cross field, diagonal, defence splitting passes that were almost incomprehensible and yet De Bruyne made look completely effortless.
The Belgian international doesn’t just save his big displays for Stoke City. He turned in a display to savour against Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16.
Despite playing in an unnatural false nine position, De Bruyne produced a moment of quality that typified why he is one of the greatest box-to-box midfielders of his generation.
He made a marauding run into the Madrid penalty area, demonstrating his athleticism and drive – the Rafael Nadal – before having the intelligence, imagination and composure to pick out the head of Jesus with a disguised cross, when the cut back to Raheem Sterling looked to be the only option – the Roger Federer.
Five minutes later, the midfielder had his calm head on to cooly bury his spot kick, when the pressure was on, in front of a partizan crowd, to earn City a famous victory.
That is De Bruyne in a nutshell. He can finely balance the all action, blood rushing, heart thumping, Rafael Nadal side of his game with the intricate, shrewd, beautiful Roger Federer side in order to make the perfect box-to-box midfielder.