Chelsea are blessed with an inordinate amount of ultra-talented young Belgians, 8 at the last count, of whom 4 are on loan. All of them have had generally excellent seasons, and it is Kevin De Bruyne that I’m looking at today.
Kevin De Bruyne was signed by Chelsea for £6.7m on deadline day of January 2012, but was loaned straight back to Genk for the rest of the season. Despite some impressive showings for Chelsea in pre-season, there was fierce competition for the attacking midfield roles at Chelsea, and the club decided that it was best for his development that he joined Werder Bremen on loan.
To be honest, they were probably right. Kevin De Bruyne went straight into the Werder first team, and has easily been their best player this season. He’s started every single game for Bremen, and no wonder, for he’s been truly outstanding wherever he’s been played. Thomas Schaaf has experimented quite a bit, using de Bruyne on both wings, number 10, central midfield and even as a false nine on occasions. It’s safe to say he wouldn’t have got anywhere near as many minutes at Chelsea, given that he was originally behind Marko Marin in the pecking order!
He’s repaid Bremen very well; 7 goals and 9 assists in 27 games from midfield is excellent by anyone’s standards, and for a 21 year old in his first season of top-level football in an otherwise weak Bremen team it’s incredible. He’s also got a goal and two assists in two and a half games for Belgium.
So KDB can dribble, shoot, pass and cross way above average. I think it’s fair to say that his crossing is his greatest asset; he’s averaged 2.2 accurate crosses per game with a crossing accuracy of 31% this season, which is absolutely ridiculous. In perspective, Eden Hazard has 14% accuracy, Victor Moses has 6%. KDB has an average of 3.2 successful dribbles per game this season. Mata, Hazard and Moses combined have 3.1. Oh, and he’s also well-practised in the art of telekinesis, always a useful skill to have:
Absurd stats for dribbling and crossing point towards De Bruyne being an elite old-fashioned winger in the mould of David Beckham. And is certainly fair to say there are similarities between Kevin De Bruyne and a young Beckham. They share excellent vision and accurate passing, pinpoint crossing and dead-eye free kicks, relying on skill and technique rather than blistering pace. They don’t play the same position though; Beckham was a right winger whilst De Bruyne plays more of a central attacking role, sometimes drifting out to the left. That’s been made possible by the evolution of football, 15 years ago there was no such thing as trequartistas in the Premier League, but now they’re all over the place. If Beckham had been born 15 years later, I’m sure he’d have been a creative Mata-esque attacking midfielder.
Beckham has spent most of his career on the right wing, and it’s only in the last couple of years that he’s switched to regista. This is a very plausible career path for De Bruyne. With such intense competition for the number 10 role at Chelsea, it’s likely that KDB will have to play on the wing initially. I don’t think he’ll be thrown straight into the pivot, and certainly not false nine. He always played as an inverted left winger for Genk (the role that Hazard usually plays for Chelsea) and he did it very well. When KDB loses the speed and stamina required for the wing, he could adapt to regista quite easily in the twilight of his career, just like Beckham.
If De Bruyne works hard on the training ground on his tackling and strength, I see no reason why he couldn’t make the switch to the pivot earlier in his career. The speed, dribbling, passing, creativity and eye for goal are already there, so a little more defensive solidity could transform Kevin De Bruyne into a world-class box-to-box midfielder. The best example of this is Bastian Schweinsteiger, who started his career on the right flank and was generally excellent, with accurate passing and crossing rather than burning pace being his finest attributes, much like KDB. With some tutoring from Mikel, De Bruyne could be just as good as the Bayern superstar, and probably a more complete player.
But if the hard work in training is on his speed, stamina and physique, we could end up with a truly terrifying attacker on our hands. Hard work on the track and in the weights room can only do so much for your speed, especially if you’re already an elite athlete like De Bruyne. But KDB is already reasonably fast, and an extra yard of pace would lead to the perfect winger in many ways; speed, skill, crossing, passing, finishing, set-pieces, creativity, flair, everything. If KDB was locked in the gym for a few weeks, you might get something along the lines of a much more creative, two-footed Gareth Bale with more accurate passing and crossing. Or possibly a Cristiano Ronaldo with better vision and passing. Granted, you can’t just transform someone into natural athlete like Bale or Ronaldo overnight. What can be done is take someone who is already quite quick and get them up to roughly Victor Moses levels of pace and power. If that is done to KDB, his technical ability would make him totally unplayable. Strength and stamina can be improved massively; speed is much more difficult, but possible. Forget about signing Gareth Bale, because Kevin De Bruyne can and should be miles better than Bale.
If you’d prefer it if De Bruyne sticks to what he already knows how to do and tries to make the very most of his technical qualities, we could have a similarly outstanding player on our hands. With the vision, creativity and technique that he has, Kevin De Bruyne could be as good as any attacking midfielder that has ever been seen. I’m talking about Kaka, Zinedine Zidane and Andres Iniesta. De Bruyne’s potential is so limitless that I’d be honestly surprised if he isn’t being mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned legendary attacking midfielders within the next five years. Andres Iniesta is probably the best comparison to De Bruyne, if Lucas Piazon and Oscar are the new Kaka and Zidane respectively.
When De Bruyne returns next season, it will be very interesting to see exactly how Chelsea will use him. With the obvious lack of, and need for, a regista at Chelsea, KDB’s ability with long passes makes it very possible that he may end up playing a Xavi-esque role for Chelsea. This role doesn’t require much more than outstanding short and long passing ability, and De Bruyne certainly has that. KDB doesn’t really dictate the tempo of the game – that’s not his responsibility – but I’m sure he could. Josh McEachran is problem more naturally suited to this sort of position, but that doesn’t mean that De Bruyne or even Oscar couldn’t do it very effectively.
So there we are. Beckham, Schweinsteiger, Bale, Iniesta and Xavi all rolled into one. That is Kevin De Bruyne.