Wolfsburg - Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi - and Kevin De Bruyne. VfL Wolfsburg's young playmaker is finding himself mentioned in the same breath as some pretty elevated company these days, and with good reason.
Staking a claim for Player of the Season
A fringe player at Chelsea FC prior to his move to Lower Saxony in January 2014, the 23-year-old Belgium international is now pulling the strings for the one side giving FC Bayern München a run for their money on the domestic front and over the course off the past year, he has elevated himself to the status of a veritable Bundesliga superstar.
“There are no words to describe Kevin at the moment. He's the player who's making the difference,” Wolfsburg head coach Dieter Hecking said recently, in the wake of two more stellar performances inside the space of a few days from the man in the number 14 shirt. For starters, he set up Naldo for the leveller before going on to bag a brace himself as the Wolves came from behind to secure a 3-1 home win in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 meeting with FC Internazionale Milano. Three days later, De Bruyne had a direct hand in all the goals in a 3-0 victory at SC Freiburg.
With eight games to go, he is out on his own as the Bundesliga's top assist provider on 16, which reads even more impressively in combination with a nine-goal tally that many a centre-forward would be more than content with. Vying claims from the likes of Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller at Bayern notwithstanding, De Bruyne is widely regarded as the best player right now in the league of world champions. Asked, inevitably, about the potential lure of a big-name club elsewhere for the provincial outfit's star player, sporting director Klaus Allofs countered with a grin, “We're talking about 2019 here, that feels further away than Qatar.”
Primed for Europe's top table
The midfielder's contract runs until then and as far as Allofs is concerned, “We don't want to get rid of him, and he doesn't want to leave. I'm not asking him to take an oath of loyalty through to 2019.” Adding that De Bruyne was one of the very best players he had ever worked with, Allofs said, “I know what makes Kevin tick and I know how he rates the way things are going here. We don't have to be worrying ourselves unnecessarily.”
Just to be on the doubly safe side, the club have already initiated preliminary talks, well ahead of schedule, on a possible further contract extension. For his part De Bruyne seems well content with how things are progressing at the moment, not least after having failed to nail down a regular first-team berth at Chelsea. Their loss is unquestionably Wolfsburg's gain and given that they are currently second in the table with seven points to spare, their gifted playmaker looks fair set for a chance to test himself against the very best - Ronaldo, Messi et al - next season, in the UEFA Champions League.