Anele Ngcongca vividly recalls the day Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne burst into the world football scene.
It was May 17 in 2011, when De Bruyne announced his arrival on the world stage.
His boyhood club KRC Genk, home to the Mamelodi Sundowns defender for eight years, desperately needed a point against rivals Standard Liège to win their third Jupiler League title.
The venue was Genk’s fortress, the Luminus Arena, located in Limburg, the easternmost of the five Dutch-speaking provinces.
Featuring in that crunch tie was a little-known 19-year-old (De Bruyne), donning the No.14 jersey, “looking somewhat nervous”.
Over the next 90 minutes of football, the nervy looking teenage playmaker destroyed Standard Liège.
He put up a five-star performance to help Genk come from behind to force a 1-1 draw, a result that was enough to secure them the third of their four League titles in history.
“Oh man!” Ngcongca exclaims in apparent adoration, “the boy was such a menace to defenders”.
From that very moment, Ngcongca adds, he knew “a world beater had been born because the boy just hated losing”.
He believes that outstanding performance changed everything. “I remember, after that game, telling a teammate that the boy would go far in his career and he has proven me right over the years,” Ngcongca tells FARPost.
A few months later, albeit after protracted negotiations, De Bruyne signed a five-and-a-half-year deal worth £9 million (R207 million) with Chelsea. However, life at the Blues was not all rosy as he was used sparingly and later shipped to Werder Bremen on loan.
“I never doubted his abilities even after Chelsea let him go. I knew he would bounce back and perhaps win the Ballon d’Or one day,” Ngcongca says.
Wolfsburg then signed him for £18 million (R413 million) in 2014 and in 2015, he was named Footballer of the Year in Germany. Later that year, he joined Manchester City for a club record £54 million (R1.2 billion).
“It’s no surprise he has been named Manchester City Player of the Year, twice in 2016 and 2018,” says Ngcongca, who left Belgium in 2015.
The 28-year-old has been one of City’s standout stars in the last couple of years, racking up over 200 appearances across all competitions for City, scoring 50 goals, while establishing himself as one of the finest playmakers in Europe.
And the Citizens have won seven major trophies with De Bruyne pulling the strings in midfield, including two Premier League titles. The veteran fullback has witnessed the Belgian’s game evolve over the years.
“He was such a skillful player and would pull a shibobo (nutmeg) in every game. I don’t recall a practice session that ended without him passing the ball between an opponent’s legs.
“What he’s doing now is nothing, I guess he has matured and is no longer fascinated by that.”
The former Bafana Bafana star believes the City midfielder will one day get his hands on football’s biggest individual prize – the Ballon d’Or.
“He’s not too far from winning it. I actually think we’ve yet to see his best judging by what I witnessed when he joined the senior team at Genk.”
But the right back has not forgotten De Bruyne’s favourite alcoholic beverage, vodka.
He also remembers a normal teenager starting to explore the fairer sex while giving grown men a hard time on the pitch. “He would drink vodka when it was time to relax, until today he still drinks vodka.”
The Sundowns defender promises that the next time he links up with his former teammate, now married to Michèle Lacroix and a father of two boys, a glass of vodka is on him to celebrate what has been an admirable career.
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By Mthokozisi Dube