Man United transfers: Kevin De Bruyne saga runs and runs
Paul McNamara examines reports linking Kevin De Bruyne with a return to the Premier League amid Man City and Man United interest
Six days before the transfer window closes, and still the future of Kevin De Bruyne is unresolved.
The question of where the Belgian attacker will be playing his football come 1 September has provided the enduring saga of the summer, rivalled only by Chelsea’s pursuit of John Stones.
While Everton’s centre-half might have signalled the beginning of the end of that story, however, by informing his club of his wish to leave, the mystery of what happens next for De Bruyne becomes more clouded by the day.
The uncertainly surrounding the player was perhaps best epitomised when he was backed into a corner at the SportBild Awards in Germany, where the ceremony’s host coaxed the 24-year-old into saying on stage: “I, Kevin De Bruyne, will definitely be playing for Wolfsburg this season”.
Following that episode, which he called an “awkward” situation, De Bruyne’s agent, Patrick De Koster was quickly in damage limitation mode, voicing his fury at the manner in which his client had been coerced into making his statement
It is little wonder that De Koster wasted no time in setting the record straight. Manchester City’s interest in the former Genk man is no secret, while rumblings of interest from Manchester United and Bayern Munich are growing louder, as the trading deadline draws ever closer.
There is possibly a degree of bewilderment among the footballing public in this country as to why a player who didn’t make the grade with Chelsea, following his move to Stamford Bridge from his Belgian team in 2012, is in such demand among some of the continent’s elite clubs.
Indeed, De Bruyne hardly got off to the most auspicious of starts to life in west London, when the Blues’ then manager Andre Villas-Boas washed his hands of any responsibility for the signing of the young winger. The Portuguese boss described the acquisition of De Bruyne as “club policy for the future”.
As it transpired, when the 33-cap international was handed the chance to make an impression at Chelsea, his opportunity came under Villas-Boas’s countryman, Jose Mourinho, who ultimately wasn’t sufficiently persuaded by De Bruyne’s worth to offer any resistance when the player indicated that he wanted to quit the Bridge early in 2014.
Mourinho revealed last month that it was De Bruyne’s mental fragility, rather than the player’s actual ability, that left him unconvinced. It would be fair to surmise, though, that there was some mischievous intent behind Mourinho’s words, as he talked about his former charge’s need to feel “important”, and of De Bruyne’s private admission, when he was with the Londoners, that it is “not in his personality” to be competing for a position in the team.
This is precisely the scenario that Mourinho would have been envisaging De Bruyne encountering, should the Wolfsburg man return to England with Manchester City, a club that represent one of the greatest threats to Chelsea’s successful defence of their title.
Still, when, in January last year, De Bruyne eventually swapped London for the Bundesliga, where he had already enjoyed a prosperous twelve months playing for Werder Bremen on loan from the Blues in 2012/2013, not many observers were anticipating the Chelsea cast-off crossing our radars again – and definitely not so soon.
Nevertheless, after scoring 10 goals and providing a league record equalling 20 assists (although some sources credit him with 21) during his first-full season with Wolfsburg, and scooping the Bundesliga player-of-the-year prize, to boot, De Bruyne has catapulted himself into the position of being one of Europe’s most sought after footballers.
Regardless of De Koster’s displeasure in the wake of the BildSport debacle, the agent and his player have adopted a fairly laid-back stance amidst the ceaseless speculation concerning De Bruyne’s future; apparently content to wait for news from his current club and any interested parties.
Last week, though, Wolfsburg boss Dieter Hecking suggested that his star man was beginning to show signs of being wearied by all the off-field drama. It might be coincidence but, as things seem to be catching up with De Bruyne, Bayern Munich’s rumoured interest in capturing the services of one of their rivals’ key men has reportedly turned into something more concrete.
If they are to lose De Bruyne, then Wolfsburg might prefer to deal with their fellow Bundesliga outfit, given the likelihood that Bayern would probably allow the player to stay where he is for one more year, before adding him to their glittering roster next summer.
The appeal of a switch to the five-time European champions would be two-fold for De Bruyne. The Bundesliga obviously suits the forward, while sticking with Wolfsburg for now would enable him to regather his focus and remain the kingpin at his club for a further 12 months; shrugging off any lasting effects of this summer’s events in the process.
City, however, will be counting on De Bruyne harbouring a desire to prove a point on these shores. The imperious fashion in which Manuel Pellgerini’s men have opened their campaign has led to a deal of conjecture about where City’s prime target would fit into their side.
Given that The Etihad club don’t appear to have been scared off by Wolfsburg’s steadily increasing asking price, though, – £57m at the most recent estimate – Pellegrini surely has designs on getting the Belgian into his team immediately, probably at the expense of Jesus Navas.
City are plainly in the mood to make up any ground they lost when their spending power was restricted a year ago, after a Uefa punishment for breaching financial fair play rules capped Pellegrini’s permitted summer 2014 outlay at a net £49m.
United, meanwhile, are playing catch-up for different reasons, having fallen markedly off the pace following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. With the likes of Gareth Bale and Neymar out of United’s reach for now, it is no surprise that Louis van Gaal is believed to have identified De Bruyne as the man to complete his jigsaw, for now.
Analysing United’s stalemate against Newcastle United for Match of the Day last Saturday, Alan Shearer highlighted the absence of players in Van Gaal’s ranks who are prepared to run beyond their striker, the isolated Wayne Rooney.
De Bruyne’s speed across the ground and direct style would go some way to resolving this specific shortcoming, in turn enabling the Red Devils to make maximum capital on their new-found defensive solidity.
The man who Chelsea sold for £18m less than two years ago has obviously seen his stock rise beyond all expectations in the period since. But, when Kevin De Bruyne boards the plane home following his country’s forthcoming Euro 2016 qualifying matches, where will home be? We still don’t know and, neither, by all accounts, does he.
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