Wednesday was shakedown day. Crunch time. It began with reports that Bayern Munich had offered €50 million for Kevin de Bruyne, with two players going the other way and the Belgian midfielder loaned back to his club Wolfsburg for the current season. It has reportedly ended with Manchester City finally agreeing on a fee with Wolfsburg for the midfielder: €74 million, rising to €80 million with bonuses for success.
The Wolves deserve credit for sticking to their guns, or at least, waiting until the last week of the transfer window, when desperation increases along with prices. Wolfsburg is owned by Volkswagen and does not need to sell; that's why it could afford to ignore the €50 million offer via intermediaries that was mooted at the start of the summer. Two (not particularly great) Bundesliga games later, and the 24-year-old’s value has gone up by another 50%.
In the space of three-and-a-half years, then, De Bruyne has gone from an €8 million player signed by Chelsea from Genk to the most expensive Belgian in history whose salary has nearly quadrupled in a few months.
He earned €5 million last season at Wolfsburg, increased it to €10 million with a new contract and will reportedly earn €16.2 million at City, with another €3 million possible in bonuses.
De Bruyne has handled himself well during this saga, with sources close to the player suggesting he was as happy to stay in Lower Saxony as to move. He trained Wednesday with no fuss, just like normal. There was also interest from Paris Saint-Germain, who, according to his agent Patrick de Koster, wanted him more than Angel di Maria.
“Their priority was Kevin De Bruyne and not Angel Di Maria,” he told Sport/Foot magazine. “But the transfer of Kevin, if it happened, would have cost more than that of Di Maria [he cost €63 million].”
So what type of player has City now signed to join Raheem Sterling and David Silva in a frightening trident playing behind Sergio Aguero? Let’s not forget that City did not especially need offensive reinforcements this summer, considering it scored more EPL goals than any other side last season: 83, more than champion Chelsea (73), Arsenal (71) and Manchester United (62). City has now spent over €150 million on two new forward players, though it has reduced the average age of the team. It also signed a new center back, Nicolas Otamendi.
According to his former coach at Genk, Hans Vanhaezebrouck, De Bruyne is a better player than his compatriot Eden Hazard.
“Everyone knew that De Bruyne was a great talent but he is a more complete player than Hazard,” he told Belgian TV show Extra Time in 2013. “He has a better understanding of the game. He can play on the left or right, wide or inside. He can dribble, play the ball inside or shoot from distance. He can even play left, right or in the hole or as a second midfielder alongside a holding player.”
Jose Mourinho may not agree.
The Chelsea coach said that De Bruyne did not want to fight for his place in West London.
“He needed a team where he knows he can play all the games. I told him this was Chelsea, he was young… and that I could not promise him that,” Mourinho said.
De Bruyne had a different view. “Being at Chelsea is like being in a different world,” he told Sport Bild in February. “Mourinho didn't explain to me why I was not playing. Maybe things would have been different if Chelsea had paid €45 million for me, rather than €8 million. A higher transfer fee maybe would have afforded me greater consideration.”
The assumption from De Bruyne was that the high fee would guarantees playing time. Would he get that at City, where Jesus Navas has said he would fight for his place, and Samir Nasri scored an impressive goal as a substitute at the weekend? Then there is his position: last season he was the main man at Wolfsburg, where he scored 15 goals and assisted on 21. Crucially he played in a central position, just behind either Ivica Olic or Bas Dost.
At City, he is likely to play on the right side of Sterling and Silva. He may have to bite his tongue on the fact that playing centrally is where he is happiest.
“The eternal debate about my best position has been going for the six years I’ve been a pro,” he told Sport/Foot last year. “I can play in five different positions and I think that's an advantage: the four attacking positions and even deep-lying playmaker. But my main contribution is attacking and the further back I play, the less I can help out with my job: to provide assists and score.”
The deal certainly cements City, who has already beaten Chelsea 3-0 in round two of the season, as Premier League favorite. It may also encourage Chelsea to bring in some big names of their own before the window closes next week. And it makes the wait for City’s trip to Chelsea in mid-April, for matchday 34, all the more enticing.
“Kevin is clear that there is no feeling of revenge against Chelsea and Mourinho,” De Koster added. “If he had to face Chelsea tomorrow, he would be the first to shake Mourinho’s hand.”
Considering his career trajectory since leaving Stamford Bridge, maybe he should give his former boss a hug.