Kevin De Bruyne embarks on mission rejuvenation with backing of appreciative Wolfsburg
From that moment, Kevin De Bruyne knew it was over. Jose Mourinho had become disgruntled with Kevin De Bruyne during a press conference to preview Chelsea’s away Champions League voyage to Steaua Bucharest in early October of last year, interrogated as to why the Belgian had been omitted from his match day squad.
Earlier in the week, Chelsea had eased beyond the attentions of League One Swindon Town in the third round of the Capital One Cup. It was not an encounter that would live long in the memory, advancing courtesy of goals from Fernando Torres and the typically bucaneering Ramires. For 78 minutes at the County Ground, De Bruyne had failed to make his mark, seize his opportunity to force his way back into Mourinho’s plans, having starred in his maiden Premier League fixture since his return to Stamford Bridge, a comfortable victory over Hull City in early August of last year. There were glimpses of his talent, inconsistent spurts of pace and flamboyant turns, but for the most part, the Belgian was inactive. So inactive, in fact, that Mourinho took offence to it. “With Kevin, I didn’t like the match he played against Swindon (in the Capital One Cup) and I didn’t like the way he was training,” he put it. Bold and unequivocal.
The young Belgian, though, would not give up without a fight. The months following the media briefing in Bucharest, as he phrased it, led him to ‘lose his joy’. He bid laboriously to impress Mourinho, though seeming his manager’s perception of the attacking midfielder as incompatible in the ethos he strived to promote in his team was irreversible.
De Bruyne’s frustrations
De Bruyne describes how he responded in such vengeful manner, with the sole intent of inducing Mourinho. The Belgium international recalls the intense training and diet regime which prompted him to lose three kilos and two percent fat, even though he could get ‘everything’ at the club, naming coke and chocolate as examples.
Ultimately, with the World Cup in Brazil fast approaching, De Bruyne had grown exasperated, fearing for his chances of making Marc Wilmots’s 23-man squad.
What was surprising, though, was that it had all started out so well. The 23-year-old will herald his competitive Chelsea debut, Mourinho’s maiden Premier League encounter upon his return to Stamford Bridge, as his finest moments resplendent in the blue of Chelsea. He will recall, with more than a hint of pride, his sumptuous assist to conjure up Oscar’s opener, his nimble creativity and sagacious movement which earned him the Man of the Match accolade, shining in the No. 10 role.
Then it had begun to deteriorate. His participation declined since his debut on the opening day of the 2013-14 season, reduced to featuring in the Cup competitions. One, in particular, caught the eye.
It was the one at League One Swindon Town in the Third Round of the Capital One Cup at the County Ground. De Bruyne’s contribution had been limited, failing to impose his talent. After 78 minutes, Mourinho had seen enough.
Perhaps it was the turning point, certainly partly culpable for Mourinho’s outburst in Bucharest. By the time the January transfer window had come around, De Bruyne had managed a mere two appearances in the Premier League, one start and a solitary cameo act from the bench.
For the Gent academy graduate, there was simply too much at stake. Wilmots had publicly vowed only to select Belgians who were first-team regulars for their club sides. No ifs, no buts.
A search for regular first-team football
De Bruyne, inevitably, was on the move.
A player of his mercurial talent would, inevitably, be in demand. Atletico Madrid, the reigning Spanish Primera Division champions, enquired of his availability, though the Belgian worried that his playing time would be severely limited at the Vicente Calderon. The Belgian had flirted with a move to Madrid, his agent Patrick De Koster meeting with Atletico representatives in the Spanish capital, but he feared the inevitably of struggling to acclimatise in Spain would jeopardise his World Cup hopes.
Wolfsburg, though, represented the ideal destination. There would be no great struggle in settling into the Bundesliga, having impressed whilst on loan in the German top-flight with Werder Bremen. The club guaranteed regular first-team football, a pledge Atletico could not commit to.
Duly, Wolfsburg stuck to their deal. De Bruyne is thriving with the sense of appreciation running through his veins at long last. Those who have doubted his potential will have watched his starring role in Wolfsburg’s 4-1 demolition of Bundesliga champions and leaders Bayern Munich with more than a hint of sheepishness, the Belgian scoring a brace to reignite what was a previously faded Bundesliga title race.