Kevin De Bruyne has become an international superstar at Manchester City, but it was with Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg that he honed his craft. bundesliga.com tells the story of the unstoppable Belgian playmaker 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, shortly after playing a key role - along with future Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois - in securing the 2010/11 Belgian league title. De Bruyne remained in Belgium for the rest of the 2011-2012 campaign but the following season Chelsea sent him out on loan to Bremen. In his first year in Germany the attacking midfielder 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. He needed a suitable 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!
Wolfsburg stumped up a then club-record fee - reportedly around €20 million - to bring De Bruyne in from the London cold. They 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. In 2014/15 he set a new single-season record with 19 assists - bettering a mark set by Zvjezdan Misimovic when Wolfsburg won the title back in 2009. The new bar was set very high, although Thomas Müller surpassed it in 2019/20.
De Bruyne was later named Germany's Footballer of the Year, having helped Wolfsburg to 2015 DFB Cup glory with a goal in the final against Klopp's Dortmund. The Wolves also enjoyed their highest finish - runners-up to Bayern - since becoming German champions.
"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. De Bruyne's cross set up Nicklas Bendtner to equalise in the DFL Supercup against Bayern in August 2015, before the Belgian's penalty in the shootout proved to be his parting gift to the Wolves. They lifted another trophy and then earned three times as much as what they had spent on their gifted midfielder by selling him to City.
De Bruyne's reputation has since sky-rocketed during his time in Manchester, and he is now widely regarded as one of the best players on the planet.
A five-time Premier League winner and the fastest player in the division’s history to reach 50 assists, De Bruyne has finished as the leading provider in England’s top tier on four occasions. In 2019/20, he equalled Thierry Henry’s single-season assist record (20), which was set in 2002/03.
"What I’ve seen from Kevin is just incredible," former Man City teammate Sergio Aguero once said. "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!'"
Ex-Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland is another to have thrived on the service that De Bruyne provides, and together they helped City win a league, FA Cup and Champions League treble in 2022/23.
Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola knows better than most what De Bruyne can bring to a game, and he can make a lethal weapon out of his quick thinking, accurate passing, bursts of pace and deadly finishing.
The former Bayern boss - who worked with Lionel Messi at Barcelona - is also well placed to judge where De Bruyne ranks in terms of modern-day greats of the game.
"After Messi comes Kevin," said Guardiola of the the man who scored twice for Wolfsburg in a 4-1 win over his Bayern side in January 2015.
Big words from one big former Bundesliga star to another, although the former Bremen and Wolfsburg midfield maestro 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 he was forced to play in a back yard with his weaker foot. The expectation was that he would do less damage to flowers in his neighbours' garden as a result.
It would seem the move paid off in the long-term for De Bruyne's career, as he has since become an unrivalled ambidextrous threat. Just ask anyone who saw him help Belgium to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals - or any Bundesliga defender who was tasked with trying to deal with him.