When we think of the attacking midfielder, the term ‘maverick’ often comes to mind.
Mavericks are generally free-spirited and very unorthodox, but are often accused of not having the capacity to work as part of a team. So what happens when you mix all the positive traits of our independent individual with the tunnel vision mentality of a serial winner?
You get Kevin de Bruyne.
No one has broken the mold of an attacking midfielder like De Bruyne. The Belgian superstar has redefined how we judge this role, becoming the perfect all-rounder for the Manchester City squad.
What usually makes great attacking midfielders so memorable is their ability to almost slow down play for a fraction of a second in order to stave off the timeless divisive pass from defense.
That’s all well and good, but when you run into a team well-trained enough to deny you that extra moment in possession, our creators start to take off.
This is what makes De Bruyne so special and propels him into this world class category.
He refuses to slow down the pace of the game, and he doesn’t need an extra touch or another millisecond to pick a teammate. He plays the role of orchestrator on a rock and roll tempo.
“What makes Kevin unique is that he performs even faster. He can play in position # 10, wrong 9, right wing, left wing, can even play in # 6. He excels in all of those roles because he doesn’t live in a system. ”
– Roberto Martinez on De Bruyne
He is the ideal attacking midfielder for this Man City team. He has the agility and nimble feet of your playmaker, but the pace, power and running ability of a box-to-box midfielder. In fact, De Bruyne averaged 12.29 km every 90 minutes in the Citizens’ 2018/19 ‘quadruple’ season, embodying Pep Guardiola’s motto of ‘running like the most humble team in the world’ .
In 2019/20 we saw the best relentless and devastating the Belgian star has to offer. He has posted the best career numbers, scoring 13 goals and adding a record 20 assists this season, a feat that had not been achieved since Thierry Henry in 2002/03. A lot of company, then.
In truth, we have been fortunate enough to witness this form since 2016, given that he has recorded 64 assists in four and a half years. Now, for a player to maintain those standards over the course of a season is extremely good. But to preserve these peaks for almost half a decade? It is world class.
“When you score it’s a great feeling, but giving a great pass means it’s something special for me. It’s very underestimated what we do. ”
– Kevin de bruyne
But how is it possible for him to achieve 20 assists in a season, when the closest midfielder for the goals created was his teammate David Silva with just 10? Well, De Bruyne doesn’t just operate in the spaces you usually associate with attacking midfielders. He works the channels, picks up the ball deep and makes himself impossible to score, floating and producing whipped deliveries with either foot of both flanks.
He is the ultimate footballer.
His deadly precision and unmatched accuracy with both feet allow him to run deep into retreating defenses and break through that corridor of uncertainty almost on demand – one that most players only manage to locate once. every other game or so.
He can swing his weaker left foot on a ball more gently than most other footballers could dream of succeeding with their stronger kicker. Perhaps the most famous proof of his ambidextrous nature came in the form of a left-footed rocket against Chelsea in 2017, as Man City marched to their first Premier League title with the Belgian in midfield .
What about assists? Well, there is perhaps no better example than in Man City’s 7-2 demolition of Stoke City in 2017, when the playmaker tore the Potters member apart.
He first cut the defense into ribbons with a reverse pass to Leroy Sane, and the German caught up with Raheem Sterling to double the lead. De Bruyne really changed the style in the second half, producing two nearly identical cutting passes from the right flank, which flashed tantalizingly in the face of the goal, each reaching their destination at the far post. It was sublime.
The truth is, this was just one of a thousand examples we could choose to demonstrate his skills. He’s done it time and time again in the toughest division in world football, scored a winner over Brazil in the World Cup quarter-finals and trained the club and country to previously unattainable levels.
It’s not just his ability with his feet that makes him invaluable to this side of Man City. Without him, the team seems a much less complete unit when he’s not dictating the game.
His influence is also growing on and off the pitch. De Bruyne has now taken on the role of vice-captain, regularly donning the armband in Fernandinho’s absence. He’s the man Guardiola now turns to in their hour of need, and has become the official penalty shooter after a string of bad duds from his teammates.
In moments of clutch, like a Champions League knockout game against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Belgian will stand up and be counted. He is a leader, both by example on the pitch and with his words in the locker room.
“There is something unique about it. He can run, the vision he has…. Personality right now. Right now he’s the best. ”
– Pep Guardiola on De Bruyne (July 2020)
And he’s able to take on all that responsibility because he’s always had the mentality of a team player – with or without the armband, as he once explained in an interview with The Telegraph.
“Sometimes it’s instinctive,” he says. “Sometimes you know what people are going to do.
“What I’m trying to master as a player is trying to figure out what my teammates like and how they want the ball. You are a partnership and you know what my typical passes are and what I can play.
“As a midfielder you have to know. Some players like it in front of them. It’s hard to say. You’re just trying to see the game, what’s going to happen, before it even happens. “
And that’s De Bruyne in a nutshell. As supporters in the stadium slowly rise from their seats in anticipation, the Belgian has already foreseen what the immediate future holds, as he is its creator and executioner.