On 31 January 2012, Chelsea announced the signing of a little-known 20-year-old midfielder named Kevin De Bruyne from Belgian club Genk on a five-and-a-half year contract. The fee was rumoured to be around the £7 million mark, but then-manager Andre Villas-Boas, while admittedly not a personal choice of his, mentioned during a press conference that he was more of a buy for the long term.
De Bruyne went on to finish the season at Genk as part of the agreement reached with the West London club, only linking up with them after the end of the 2011-12 season. Quoted saying that the move for him was like “a dream come true”, he also recognised the amount hard work up ahead that he would have to do to break into a Chelsea first team – a line-up that also hosted compatriot Eden Hazard.
After the London outfit decided his best chance of playing first-team football would be better suited elsewhere, a deal was announced on 2nd August 2012 that the young Belgian would be joining German side Werder Bremen on a season-long loan deal.
This loan spell proved to be quite fruitful and it appeared that Chelsea had bagged a bargain for an absolute snip, with the on-loan playmaker racking up an impressive tally of ten goals and nine assists in 34 appearances for the relegation-threatened side. But no good performances go unnoticed, with interest soon surfacing from other Bundesliga clubs, such as Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen.
The offers made by the two sides though, were very different. Dortmund were pushing for a permanent transfer, with then-manager Jurgen Klopp taking notice of his talents. On the other hand, however, was the idea of another season-long loan with Leverkusen – a deal that Chelsea were hoping to use as a makeweight for the signing of German international Andre Schurrle.
All of this, however, would be offset by yet another incoming manager through the revolving doors of Stamford Bridge in the shape of José Mourinho, now returning for his second spell as Chelsea boss. With speculation rife regarding the departure of De Bruyne during the summer 2013 transfer window, it was in fact the Leverkusen general manager Michael Reschke who revealed to the media when asked that Mourinho saw the Belgian as part of the club’s plans going forward.
With the chance for him to now make his mark on the Premier League after 18 months away on loan since signing for the Blues, De Bruyne wasted no time in trying to impress the manager, scoring a goal during a pre-season friendly against the Malaysia XI which Chelsea won 4-1.
The stage was then set as the Belgian was named in the starting XI to face Hull City on the opening day of the Premier League 2013/14 season. This match saw the playmaker put in an impressive performance. Claiming an assist as his side won 2-0, he was named Man of the Match.
The Rise of Kevin De Bruyne
After this display he fell out of the first-team picture, only starting on four other occasions, one of which was in the Premier League. This fuelled speculation that, once again, De Bruyne could be on his way out of Stamford Bridge – although this time, on a more permanent basis. With his final outing for the club being the only one in which he played the full 90 minutes – a Capital One cup tie with Sunderland – De Bruyne left for Wolfsburg during the winter transfer window on a permanent transfer for a fee believed to be €20 million (£16.7 million).
This move raised a lot of questions, with suggestions being made that he didn’t fit Mourinho’s tactical mould, or that his sale was just a way of procuring funds to offset the re-signing of Serbian international Nemanja Matic. De Bruyne had no qualms with setting the record straight, saying that he felt as though he had “lost his joy” as a Chelsea player.
He subsequently then went on to finish the second half of that amassing three goals and six assists in 16 league appearances for the 2009 Bundesliga champions. The following season, however, would be a defining one.
The skilled attacked made huge strides during the 2014/15 season, establishing himself as one of Europe’s hottest properties in what could be described only as a breakout season for the Belgian star. Finishing the league season with a tally of ten goals and a league record-high of 21 assists, he was instrumental in helping Wolfsburg qualify for the Champions League the following season, having finished as runners-up to Bayern Munich. This wasn’t all; he ended the season with a trophy, scoring in a 3-1 win in the German Cup final against rivals Borussia Dortmund.
The transfer window that followed was a telling one. Speculation mounted of increasing interest from Premier League big-spenders Manchester City, who, following a £55 million transfer, tied the then-24-year-old Belgian down to a six-year contract. That season, De Bruyne would be on to play a significant part in Manchester City’s Champions League campaign – one that saw them reach the semi-finals for the first time in the club’s history.
With instrumental performances which saw him score an injury-time winner against Sevilla during the group stage as well as the winning goal against Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-final, De Bruyne had cemented his status as one of the leading lights of the Citizens’ squad, one that shone brightly in an ultimately underwhelming season under Manuel Pellegrini.
This season, the Belgian magician has continued to go from strength to strength, most recently during the Manchester derby in which he was named Man of the Match, scored, and assisted in a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford one of his very own detractors in none other than José Mourinho. Further praise was then heaped on him by his current manager, Pep Guardiola, with the ex-Barcelona manager referring to him as “a special, outstanding player” and even going so far as to suggest that in football, he is second only to Lionel Messi.
For whatever reason, it didn’t work out at Chelsea for him, but it seems as though that at even £55 million, Manchester City got themselves a bargain – the very same that the West Londoners had obtained for only £7 million just a few short years ago. It could be argued that the De Bruyne went the long way around before finally being able to hit the heights that were hoped for him in 2013, but under Pep Guardiola in a revitalised Manchester City team, it may be a while yet before he goes anywhere else.