Kevin De Bruyne has become an international superstar at Manchester City, but it was in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg that he honed his craft.
bundesliga.com tells the story of De Bruyne, an unstoppable playmaker supreme with City, who was made in the Bundesliga…
De Bruyne’s evolution into one of the world's best players followed hot on the heels of a disappointing two-year stint at Chelsea, during which time he made just nine first-team appearances.
He made the switch to the London club from Genk in January 2012, aged 20, but remained in Belgium for the rest of the 2011-2012 campaign. The following season, Chelsea sent him out on loan to Bremen, where he registered 10 goals and nine assists to almost single handedly save the four-time Bundesliga champions from relegation.
Jürgen Klopp, who was in charge of Borussia Dortmund at the time, was desperate to sign De Bruyne at the end of his one-year loan at Bremen as a replacement for Mario Götze, who was moving to Bayern Munich. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho refused to let him go, though, insisting he rated the Belgian highly, but then denying him a regular starting berth.
A transfer request landed on his desk in the winter.
Watch: Kevin De Bruyne - Made in the Bundesliga!
The assist king
Wolfsburg stumped up a club-record €20 million to bring De Bruyne in from the London cold, and were handsomely rewarded.
After producing three goals and six assists during the second half of 2013/14, the Chelsea misfit established himself as one of the best players in the Bundesliga, setting a new single-season record (broken by Thomas Müller in 2019/20 ) with 19 assists - bettering a mark set by another Wolf – Zvjezdan Misimovic, when Wolfsburg won the title back in 2009.
He was later named Germany's Footballer of the Year, having led Wolfsburg to a DFB Cup glory as well as the club’s highest finish - runners-up - since their title win in 2009.
"To be named the best player in a foreign country – that's some going," said De Bruyne. "This is great recognition of my season."
More was to follow. His cross set up Nicklas Bendtner to equalise in the DFL Supercup against Bayern, before De Bruyne's penalty in the shootout proved to be a parting gift to the Wolves as they lifted another trophy, then recouped three times as much as what they had spent on him by selling him to City.
Despite various injury set-backs in his time in Manchester, De Bruyne's reputation has suffered no lasting damage.
A two-time Premier League winner and already the fastest player in the division’s history to reach 50 assists, De Bruyne has twice previously finished as the leading provider in England’s top tier and - top of the 2019/20 charts once - could yet break Thierry Henry’s 20 single-season provision record of 2002/03.
"What I’ve seen from Kevin is just incredible," said Man City teammate Sergio Aguero. "From nowhere he gives you a pass that you weren’t even expecting.
"I don’t know if you had the same players reaction with some players, perhaps at Barcelona? You’re just like, 'Oh, I have the ball!'"
Messi, Pele and De Bruyne
On top of his unrivaled creative gene, quick changes of direction, excellent close control combined with an outstanding reading of the game and positional awareness mean De Bruyne has everything in his locker to be named in the same breath as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – and that is now happening increasingly often.
Man City coach Guardiola knew what De Bruyne possessed, making a lethal weapon out of his quick thinking, accurate passing, bursts of pace and deadly finishing. So much so, he is being tipped to challenge the perennial contenders for the next Ballon D'Or.
"After Messi comes Kevin," said Guardiola, who got to know De Bruyne in their Bundesliga days - De Bruyne scored twice for Wolfsburg in a 4-1 defeat of Guardiola's Bayern in January 2015 - having also had the pleasure of working with the Argentinian magician at Barcelona.
Big words from one big former Bundesliga star to another, who is no stranger to such compliments. De Bruyne is known as 'the Belgian Pele' in his homeland, after all.
Legend has it De Bruyne strengthened his left foot to be as powerful and effective as his right when forced to play in a back yard with his weaker foot, with the expectation he could do less damage that way.
It would seem the move did more good than harm, though, with the Belgian becoming an ambidextrous threat – just ask any Bundesliga defender who was tasked with dealing him.