Wolfsburg - With only days to go until the resumption of action after the winter break, the German Bundesliga added another impressive name to its international employee role-call as Kevin De Bruyne swapped top English Premier League outfit Chelsea FC for VfL Wolfsburg.
Hecking: 'Brings us something we don't have'
The 22-year-old Belgian attacking midfielder put pen to paper on a contract valid through to 2019 and told the VfL website he was “very happy” to do so after several weeks of “tough talks” between the two clubs. Head coach Dieter Hecking and sporting director Klaus Allofs were similarly well satisfied at bringing on board a player they had tried to sign last summer. “We thought it might work out then, but as you probably know by now, Klaus and myself are persistent,” Hecking said at De Bruyne's official unveiling, adding they had “never lost sight of Kevin” and that Allofs had “kept the channels of communication open.”
The effort paid off, as they eventually got their man in the biggest coup of the Bundesliga winter transfer window – with the knock-on effect that Bundesliga rivals 1. FSV Mainz 05 got theirs as well, South Korea national team captain Ja-Cheol Koo being given the green light to take his leave of the Wolves and join Thomas Tuchel's troops on a four-and-a-half year deal.
So what have Wolfsburg got for their not inconsiderable investment in one of the most promising of a golden generation of Belgian talents? “Obviously he brings us more quality,” said Hecking, while at pains to stress that De Bruyne would be a “fresh cornerstone” in a “team who are already functioning very well.” More specifically, the coach added, “He brings us something we don't have in quite that form in terms of his pace, directness and ability to resolve one-on-one situations.” For his part, Allofs explained that “we've changed a few things over the past few months at Wolfsburg and believe we've taken a lot of small steps in the right direction. Signing Kevin is the latest one in that process.”
The ongoing Wolfsburg project certainly holds enough promise to have won over a player other top clubs in Germany – Borussia Dortmund foremost among them – and elsewhere would gladly have welcomed into their own ranks. While confessing to not knowing much more about VfL than most of the other Bundesliga teams he got acquainted with while on loan at Werder Bremen in 2012/13, De Bruyne says the general improvement at the club has been palpable in the year-and-a-bit since Allofs ended his own long tenure at Werder to take on a fresh challenge in Lower Saxony.
Stress-free man in the middle
Hecking arrived as head coach a matter of weeks later and in the intervening twelve months, the duo have already put together a “good all-round team definitely capable of holding its own in Europe,” as their new No14 asserted. With him on board, Wolfsburg expect to become even better. By the age of 18, De Bruyne was a first-team regular for KRC Genk in Belgium's Jupiler Pro League and he was 20 when Chelsea came calling, in the middle of the 2011/12 campaign. The west London club, heading for a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over FC Bayern in the UEFA Champions League final in Munich that self-same season, left him at Genk until the summer before farming him out to Bremen for a year.
When that loan agreement came to an end, new Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho made clear to all interested parties that the Belgian talent was not for sale but, unable to break into the team on a regular basis, De Bruyne pushed for a move after all. Now he has got it, complete with the burden of external expectation he acknowledges is “normal with a transfer like this.” As far as that goes, he phlegmatically commented that “stress isn't really something I feel, so it doesn't matter.”
Hecking, for one, will certainly not be piling it on, saying his new midfielder will be given as much time as he needs to adjust, although neither anticipates an overly long settling-in period. At Bremen, De Bruyne pointed out, “I was in the team straight away. The first couple of games were tough, but there I was coming straight from the Belgian league.” He went on to have an outstanding season at an individual level and was pivotal down the final straight as Werder successfully staved off the threat of relegation. Wolfsburg have set the bar rather higher albeit, Hecking stresses, “over the medium term.” The coach is in no doubt, either, that his new signing has a major role to play in the process, summarising, “I know more or less how he plays – and he's a very good fit for us.”