Kevin De Bruyne 21 MidfielderChelsea (on loan to Werder Bremen)
As journalist for the Times (and all round good egg) Rory Smith took to Twitter to say at the start of the season, if you want to get ahead in the Premier League you need to buy Belgian.
Cast a quick gaze over the starting line-ups of any given set of fixtures and you can expect to see the names Mignolet, Kompany, Vertonghen, Vermaelen, Fellaini, Dembélé, Mirallas, Benteke, Hazard and Lukaku all involved in Premier League life, and that’s before we start running through the hoards of Belgium’s youngsters hovered up by the youth systems (Manchester United have 4, Manchester City 2, Chelsea 4 – we could go on…).
It’s official, the EPL hearts Belgium, S.W.A.L.K. and I.D.S.T.
From the above one club stand out – Chelsea - who are placing a lot of stock in Belgian youngsters for the future. We all know about Eden Hazard’s dynamic role in the new, improved, double the excitement Stamford Bridge we’re seeing this season, but also on the books are Romelu Lukaku whose loan to West Brom is already benefiting all parties, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who is in his second year on loan at Atlético Madrid and universally expected to take over from Petr Cech, and add to that list Kevin De Bruyne - £7m worth of flying winger currently getting first team experience with Werder Bremen.
Now Chelsea aren’t loaning out their youngsters without a plan here. Courtois is still making regular trips back to his contracted club and working with their coaches and staff, Lukaku demanded a move to play football and Chelsea know given their striking ‘issues’ (we’re being kind to Fernando Torres here aren’t we…) a year in the Premier League with West Brom could give them a player ready made to slot in to the match-day squad. The thinking behind De Bruyne’s loan is similar, this is an exciting prospect who is still pretty raw, let another club take some of the rough edges off and have him back when they feel he’s ready.
There’s already a problem with that idea though and it has much to do with the direction the club decides to take in the future. You see much of De Bruyne’s best work comes as what we’d class as a ‘true’ winger, he loves taking his man on, not shy of trying a trick and has a million of them (head to YouTube for a greatest hits if you’ve not seen one immediately) and his crossing is also excellent for someone so young. The player himself has said he wants a more central role but a bit like a chap you probably don’t remember called David Beckham at Manchester United, his natural talent in a wider position may see him never get his wish at Stamford Bridge.
Bremen are giving him a more central role and he is playing well, but at Chelsea is he ever going to nudge any of the inventive and interchangeable Oscar, Juan Mata or Eden Hazard out of the way? Beyond them he has Lucas Piazón to get past and we’re aware you may have to take us at our word for the minute here, but he is a very, very special talent waiting in the wings.
He was signed last January as the winger who was ripping apart full-backs in the Pro League for Genk (and loaned back there for the rest of the season as part of the deal), with his parent club now all but abandoning the traditional wide-man you wonder what role he’s destined to play for them, if any?
He could become a very valuable deputy for any of Chelsea’s three behind the striker, but you feel he would have to find the form of a lifetime week in and week out to become a regular starter, particularly under Rafa. He could also become a very useful plan B for those moments where something more traditional is called for in the shape of two strikers fed by two wingers, but again it would take a monumental burst of form from himself and those around him to shift that to becoming a viable plan A. Either way one thing is clear, his future in London may revolve around accepting a squad place rather than occupying the front line, and that may not prove enough for a player possessing as much talent as De Bruyne.
His time in Germany has seen him play well but also cause a bit of a storm by giving one of those only found in football ‘it was in my own language so anything in the least bit controversial must have been poorly translated’ interviews. Those charged with converting the text apparently got various facts wrong including that he said the German’s were stiff, their mentality was ‘not for him’, the Bremen ‘family’ at the club only seemed to be for people from the area, he didn’t speak to his manager at all, he stopped doing German lessons as there was no point as he would never live there in the future, and he missed the atmosphere and warmth from his time with Genk. Presumably he actually said “I really like it here and everything’s super”, bloody Google translate.
So De Bruyne is a bit of a conundrum for the future. He has a big money move but to a club where he may prove to be a square peg in an inverted-winger shaped hole. He has masses of ability and we’ve barely touched on the fact he also has a very handy eye for goal with what we can only describe as the full Alan Partridge when it comes to right feet like traction engines, and is enjoying his time with the national side immensely having nailed down a starting place and scored his first international goal in October.
In conclusion we can only say this - he is an amazing prospect with a potentially difficult future ahead. It may that a central role is to be the defining position of his career, whether or not that ever comes at Chelsea is a different matter all together.
“Yet another Belgian winding up at the Champions League winners, De Bruyne was sent back to the club that made him for the rest of 11/12, taking games by the scruff of the neck. This year sees him at Werder Bremen and he's already become a vital player for them, with his trickery and vision in midfield. Despite irking the locals with his comments about not caring about being there, his on-field play has made him a standout in the Bundesliga. Whether he can force his way in at Chelsea is another matter.” – Chris Mayer (The Belgian Waffle)
C+ All the talent in the world, someone please make sure he gets the chance to use it in the longer term