The Belgian “golden generation” has not yet achieved much success. Thanks to Kevin De Bruyne, that will change in Qatar.Image: www.imago-images.de
He is one of the favorite players of the coaching genius Pep Guardiola and is regarded as the best player in the history of his country. But Belgium’s “golden generation” is running out of time – and only one person can stop it: Kevin De Bruyne. Our series on the key players of the World Cup favourites.
11/10/2022, 2:26 p.m11/11/2022, 11:55
Kevin De Bruyne lobs a struggling opponent with the outside of his first touch, then immediately moves him between three defenders, leaving Thorgan Hazard to push through only standing. The goal in last year’s EURO group game against Denmark is emblematic of De Bruyne’s vision. The Belgian sees the passes of few other players. This earned him the nickname “Assist King”.
The fact that De Bruyne later scored the 2-1 winner shows that he can not only score goals, but score them himself. In the history of the Belgian national team, with 25 goals and 46 assists, he is second in terms of scoring points – just behind record scorer Romelu Lukaku (68 goals). When it comes to assists, De Bruyne is second to none.
He is also the main reason why Belgium is once again among the extended circle of favourites. Since 2014, the “Red Devils” have been named secret favorites in every World Cup and European Championship tournament. There is always talk of a “golden generation”. But the time of this previously “ungilded generation” is slowly coming to an end. Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel, Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany and Dries Mertens have either resigned or are beyond the zenith.
The timid leader of an entire generation
Even Lukaku is no longer as reliable as he was at European Championship 2021, when he scored four goals in five matches. He has played just one 27-minute match with the national team in the last twelve months. Otherwise, injuries and a drop in form prevented the 29-year-old player from being nominated. After all, he recently returned from a long-term injury at Inter Milan.
Still chasing his best form: Romelu Lukaku.Image: keystone
De Bruyne, on the other hand, remains one of the best footballers in the world. When the 2022 Ballon d’Or was awarded, he was the first ever Belgian to be selected in the top 3. The 31-year-old is the last chance for this generation of Belgium. A few years ago, it seemed almost unthinkable that he would one day be the leader of a team, or even an entire generation. De Bruyne has always been a quiet and reserved person, as he once wrote in The Players’ Tribune. He introduced the lyrics by admitting, “Talking about myself is the hardest thing I can imagine.”
Big disappointment as a ride
He was a little hot-tempered on the football field, “but I was very introverted outside of that.” This wasn’t always to his advantage – but it was also what made him so successful. When he played for Genk as a youngster, he lived with a host family for a year because his home was two hours away. After the school year, she said goodbye to him saying, “I’ll see you after the holidays.” But when he returned home, his mother tearfully explained that the host family did not want to take him back. “They don’t want you anymore because you are who you are. They said you were too quiet. They can’t communicate with you and you’re too difficult.”
“I’m not coming home a loser.
Kevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne took it personally and it didn’t help his career either because he wasn’t a star and the club now thought he was problematic, he writes. The words stuck and he said to himself that day, “Everything will be fine, I’ll be playing with the pros soon. Come what may, I will not come home a failure.”
Kevin De Bruyne aged 18 in training at KRC Genk. Image: sports photography service imago
He used the fact that he was rejected, that he was no longer wanted, as an incentive. In the first game after returning to Genk, he scored five goals for the second team – in one half. Soon after, he was among the pros, just as he intended to be. But it was not the only time he was rejected.
Mourinho’s false promise
He made his professional debut shortly before his 18th birthday and quickly established himself there. In 2012, he moved to Chelsea FC, after which he was loaned directly to Bremen. There he pleased the fans with ten goals and nine assists in 33 games. “The season has been great,” says De Bruyne. Subsequently, Borussia Dortmund, among others, wanted to sign him, but Chelsea boss José Mourinho spoke out against the move and assured him that he would be part of the team. He just didn’t get many chances. After three appearances at the beginning of the season, he was dropped from the squad and sold in the winter.
“You can be one of the five best footballers in the world.”
Pep Guardiola to De Bruyne
That was in the winter of 2014. Since then, the meteoric rise was yet to begin. In a year and a half at VfL Wolfsburg, he conquered the league in no time. He was rewarded with a move to Manchester City, where he also impressed from the start. He really blossomed under coach Pep Guardiola, who joined the Citizens in 2016. He has led the list of top aid providers several times – sometimes by a wide margin. He was voted Premier League Player of the Season twice. De Bruyne shares the mentality with which the coach approaches the sport. “Football is my obsession,” says De Bruyne.
The pursuit of perfection brings them together: Kevin De Bruyne and Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola.Image: www.imago-images.de
This is probably one of the reasons why De Bruyne is one of Guardiola’s all-time favourites. In the first interview together, the Spaniard said: “You can easily be one of the five best players in the world.” But this talent binds. Guardiola said he wanted more from De Bruyne after the win against Brighton on October 22, in which the Belgian scored an important goal. “He could be better, he is not playing at his highest level.
A week later, the criticism was forgotten. Manchester City owed their victory against Leicester to a fantastic free-kick from the midfielder. “I want this Kevin and we need this Kevin,” said Guardiola. He can score goals and provide assists blindly. “But he has to impact the game beyond that, and he did.
So they should also take a breather in Belgium. Because without Kevin De Bruyne in absolute top form, Roberto Martinez’s side will have nothing to do with the title – and the era of the ‘golden generation’ will continue towards its uncrowned end.
November 23, 20:00: Belgium-Canada
27 November 14:00: Belgium – Morocco
1 December 16:00: Croatia – Belgium
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