Kevin deBruyne (Drongen, Ghent, Belgium, June 28, 1991) was left lying on the ground in Porto. Embarrassed. Antonio Rudiger, the burly central defender of Chelsea, put his shoulder and the Belgian midfielder, in the heat of the comeback race, did not know how to avoid it. Not just the hit. Not just facial fractures. Also tears and despair. A year ago was De Bruyne’s first Champions League final, and he was unable to help Manchester City on the biggest day in the club’s history. He didn’t complain. He did not ask referee Mateu Lahoz for explanations. He accepted Rüdiger’s apologies. And he assumed, again, that the soccer player’s torment must be lived in silence.
When he was a 14-year-old boy and vented his frustrations by hitting balls against a fence, De Bruyne understood that the lonely, the quiet, always have it more difficult. He went to live with a foster family to start his career at the Genk academy, a two-hour drive from his home. But when he finished his first year, that same family said they didn’t want him there. That they did not feel comfortable with someone with so many difficulties to relate. Without understanding that De Bruyne, in reality, only knew how to express himself with the ball as an interpreter. The same feeling that Leo Messi gave off in his early years at La Masia.
“When I play soccer everything disappears. Everything is good. Maybe it’s my obsession, my life (…). I don’t have many close friends. I have a hard time opening up to people,” he admitted to The Players’ Tribune.
The chosen ones tend to find their way. That same family that had rejected him wanted to welcome him back when De Bruyne, in his furious return to the Genk academy, scored five goals in one half. His introversion no longer mattered so much, but his unusual qualities. De Bruyne no longer wanted to know anything.
Interpreting their silences fell on the figure of the coach on duty. Jose Mourinho he did not know how to do it at Chelsea when the London club signed him at the age of 20. Instead, he showed her a piece of paper in which, despite his lack of presence on the team, he indicated that he was behind his teammates in terms of goals and assists. The growth came in the Bundesliga, at Werder Bremen and above all at Wolfsburg, the launching pad for his landing in 2015 at City, who won the fight for his transfer to Bayern and PSG.
“You are going to be one of the five best footballers in the world,” was the first thing he told him Pep Guardiola when the coach arrived in his second season as citizen. “He is unique,” she praised him afterwards. The former Barcelona coach became obsessed with helping him. Just as he had done with Messi, Guardiola offered De Bruyne freedom to unleash his talent. But he also fabricated the context he needed. “The better you know where your teammates and opponents are, the more options you have. In training I recognize situations as quickly as possible », explained the Belgian in the difficult task of explaining the development of his talent.
No one argues with him in England. Only Cristiano earns more than De Bruyne in the Premier. Few midfielders on the continent show determination in driving, assisting and shooting. “He is the best midfielder in the world,” Xavi Hernández said of him when he was still training in Qatar.
Tonight, at the Santiago Bernabéu, De Bruyne will have a new opportunity to show that he is a footballer of the time. And to fight with modricwith whom he will meet again at the World Cup in Qatar in the last dance of the best Belgian generation in history.
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