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Dec 19

We still need to talk about Kevin

Early in the 2011-2012 season, Racing Genk’s Dutch coach Mario Been warned Kevin De Bruyne about signing for a big club only to rot on the bench. De Bruyne should have been so lucky. Been’s prophecy has come true but the young midfielder has not even made the Chelsea bench in most games and he’s been rotting in the stands at grounds around England.

Training with the Belgian squad

Training with the Belgian squad

José Mourinho has hardly selected De Bruyne this season but he’s mentioned him favourably at a couple of press conferences. As for the young Belgian, he was hoping for more than tea and sympathy. No coach is obliged to select a player of course and Chelsea do have a surfeit of midfield players – central and wide – on their books. I did a recent headcount and stopped at 14, and that was before I reached Josh McEachran.

When De Bruyne was about to sign for Chelsea in January 2012, the then coach Andre Villas-Boas said it was not his idea. One wonders who exactly is pulling the strings at Stamford Bridge. Since De Bruyne signed on for Chelsea, the club has brought in Oscar, Andre Schurrle, Marco Van Ginkel, Eden Hazard and Willian; now they are on the brink of signing Inter’s midfielder Fredy Guarin. OK, there’s some deadwood in the first team but it’s hard to see any cohesive strategy.

But back to De Bruyne. Chelsea fans seem to be in two camps. In the first are those who admire the player and feel he’s not been given a fair chance; the rest say he was rubbish against Swindon and Sunderland and should be sent packing. It’s not just a Chelsea thing however; when Belgium recently lost two friendlies in Brussels, Marc Wilmots said his main problem was the number of players not getting regular matches. He probably had De Bruyne at the forefront of his mind.

The turning point of Belgium’s triumphant World Cup qualifying campaign was the 2-0 win in Serbia. Two players were instrumental in that victory: Thibaut Courtois and De Bruyne. The former has made a name for himself by avoiding Stamford Bridge while the latter returned to London in July – after success in the Bundesliga – to try and force his way into the team.

It’s not worked out and Chelsea fans have seen nothing of the player who scored 18 goals and had 23 assists in his last two seasons at Genk and Werder Bremen. When he was playing in youth football, De Bruyne was a number ‘10’ and he only started his professional career on the wing as Frankie Vercauteren didn’t want to disturb his central midfield. Nowadays the two-footed De Bruyne can function as a ‘6’, ’7’, ‘8’, ‘10’ or ‘11’ but that message has not reached the Chelsea staff.

Kevin De Bruyne and one of his chums (copyright John Chapman)

Kevin De Bruyne and one of his chums (copyright John Chapman)

The one incontrovertible fact is that De Bruyne is a determined fighter. At the age of eight, De Bruyne decided by himself to leave his local club and join Gent. Later, aged 14, he felt that a move to Racing Genk would improve his career chances. He didn’t make friends that way and he does have a reputation of being someone not afraid to speak his mind.

His move to Genk – living away from home – was tough but De Bruyne stuck it out and succeeded by breaking into the first team aged 17. He famously told Israeli international Elyaniv Barda to bring in the cones after one training session, feeling that the senior player was not pulling his weight. By his standards, therefore, De Bruyne has been remarkably restrained about his lack of opportunities at Chelsea. This is probably due to the influence of his agent – Patrick De Koster.

Certainly Wilmots wants De Bruyne to be playing regular football ahead of the World Cup. The Chelsea midfielder was arguably Belgium’s main outfield player in the qualifiers – with four goals and five assists. But it wasn’t just the statistics that spoke for him, De Bruyne’s enthusiasm and sheer love of the game typified the team’s fighting spirit.
In one sense it’s hard to blame Chelsea for De Bruyne’s plight. The Premier League is full of clubs aiming to buy success by signing on players regardless of the makeup of their current squads. Many players are happy to accept time on the bench – if they are lucky – but De Bruyne just wants to play football.

Mario Been warned him about rotting at a big club and De Bruyne didn’t heed those words. That was no doubt because he had the confidence to feel he could succeed; and self-belief is a key element of any successful career. One hopes that De Bruyne’s confidence will not have been too dented when he moves on – as seems highly likely – in the coming transfer window.



4 comments

  1. Paul

    Interesting stuff, I love the cones story. I wish KDB was at mufc, United are crying out for a midfielder and maybe Kevin could even get the best out of Fellaini! Will never happen of course, I hope he doesn’t leave the Prem though.

  2. Belgofoot

    I think he’ll return to the Bundesliga ASAP.

  3. Sooraj

    Jose always picks his team based on meritocracy, whoever trains, plays well get the nod, Kevin was brilliant in the start of the season, we all had great hopes on him, he was brilliant in the very first match and started the second, but was poor in subsequent matches, and was duly dropped, at a club like chelsea, you cannot doze off even for a second, even more so in kevin’s case as he’s up against top quality players in a position of abundance. I feared at that time, and jose also pointed out that kevin’s been training poorly, he need to get his head down and work hard, because the margin of error is very little, and kevin hasn’t impressed even in the tiniest manner off late. Time to work hard kevin. Hope you stay and is successful.

  4. Belgian Kompany

    The most frustrating thing is that he’s being pigeonholed as a winger. Everyone knows that Hazard, Mata, Oscar, Willian, and Schurrle are tough competition for a spot in any lineup. But their central midfield isn’t exactly world class with aging bones like Lampard/Essien/Mikel and Van Ginkel now injured. KDB would seem like a perfect complement in that area. Whether it’s an occasional start or a tactical change in a game where they need someone in CMF to hold the ball but also find good attacking opportunities. He’s showed his versatility as recently as last season in Bremen.

    Not that I’m trying to make sense of Mourinho’s logic because that could make my head explode

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