It was only in January 2012 that Chelsea announced the permanent signing of Kevin De Bruyne from KRC Genk. The Belgian arrived on a fee in the region of £7 million, but was loaned back to Genk for the remainder of the season.
For many Chelsea supporters, De Bruyne was a signing they had never heard off, even when the Belgium had played against Chelsea in the Champions League (although his performances in those games were arguably muted). For those who do follow the Belgium league, De Bruyne would be readily recognised as one of the top talents to ever come out of the country. He was an instrumental cog in Genk’s side since being promoted to the first team in 2008 and he became a league winner at the young age of 21.
De Bruyne’s arrival at Chelsea was an inspired move. Chelsea had secured one of the best young talents from Belgium who could inject flair and creativity into the side’s then ageing midfield. However, his step up to the Chelsea first team would have to wait after the Stamford Bridge club announced a loan move for the youngster to German club Werder Bremen for this season.
While many might argue that a loan move was unnecessary, it was the right one as De Bruyne would have found it hard to break into the first team flooded with big marquee signings like Oscar and Eden Hazard. It was also that loan move that saw him flourish for the German side Werder Breman.
De Bruyne has already chalked up 6 goals and 8 assists in 28 games for the club. This is impressive considering that the Belgian has only begun to establish himself into the first team. While statistics only tell one side of the story, it is the passing and creativity that really shines through on the pitch.
Since making a debut for the Genk side, many believed that De Bruyne was meant to be a star in central midfield. This was due to his superb passing range and vision which saw him create many chances for strikers. While he primarily played as a left winger for Genk, his style of play mirrored that of David Silva and Juan Mata, who have devastated defences with pinpoint passes after cutting in from the wings. De Bruyne also has a unique flair for dribbling, pace to burn and packed a killer long shot which has seen him score sensational goals from distance (YouTube him when you can).
This season, De Bruyne showed the Bundesliga all the qualities that endeared him to fans worldwide. Arguably, the most important move was the Belgian’s successful transition into a centre of midfield, where a majority of his goals, assist and key performances have come from.
However, like other players, De Bruyne is not perfect. The defensive aspects of the game leaves a lot to be desired and he is poor at finishing moves inside the box. While finishing may not be the most important trait for him to master, the defensive aspect of the game could be make or break him, especially in an ever changing football landscape. As central midfielders now are expected to perform both attacking and defensive aspects of the game well, De Bruyne’s weakness could be the reason why Chelsea might offload him in the next transfer window.
As many might have noticed, rumours have been flying around of an impending exit. The Belgian is reportedly being used as a makeweight to bring Bayer Leverkusen striker/left winger André Schürrle to the club. The German has fared better in the Bundesliga this term, with 11 goals and 6 assist coming in from the left winger position.
Schürrle is a striker who is known for his high work rate, stamina and versatility, playing in an area of the attacking midfield. He has pace to burn and an eye for goal which could help alleviate Chelsea’s striking woes. Furthermore, he can also provide back up to any of the three midfield attacking positions behind the striker which are currently dominated by Mata, Hazard, Oscar and Victor Moses. His addition will bring new dimensions to the Chelsea attack, although the unfortunate displacement of Oscar or Moses from the first team will be a likely result.
Nevertheless, it is without question that André Schürrle would represent a great buy for the club, but is losing De Bruyne in the process a big mistake?
As it stands, Chelsea lacks alternatives in the centre of midfield. In most games, the pair of Ramires and Mikel have been a regular feature. While Frank Lampard deputises capably for them at times, a lack of capable substitutes, especially with Oriol Romeu injured, has exposed the weaknesses of the Chelsea dual midfield pivot.
For example, Mikel, while strong in defence, lacks the passing ability to release Chelsea’s attacking midfielders. As many would agree, Torres flourishes in a system where he runs on to through balls. Mikel’s preference to lay the ball off to Chelsea’s ball playing trio of Hazard, Mata and Oscar leaves the Spaniard with little running space. Ramires on the other hand, is full of drive and running, but also lacks the eye for a pass. This is where De Bruyne can potentially flourish.
It is obvious that a Genk version of De Bruyne playing on the left wing would hardly get a chance in this competitive Chelsea side. To play, he would have to displace Hazard, arguably Chelsea’s best player. In midfield however, the time is right for De Bruyne to make his mark. While his defensive skills have been questionable, more game time and tutelage under his peers can improve his all round play. His passing however is something that could bring tremendous leverage to Chelsea’s attacking play.
Be it short or long pass, De Bruyne can do it all. In a way, he reminds many of Xabi Alonso in his passing play style. In a duo with either Mikel or Ramires holding, Chelsea could finally have the perfect link between defence and attack. Furthermore, his knack for long shots will also take pressure of David Luiz, whose forays forward are masked with more unpredictability than effectiveness.
In conclusion, it would be a bad move for Chelsea to let De Bruyne go. Last year they acquired a rough gem that looked uncertain of success. However, thanks to astute loan moves, Kevin De Bruyne has shown that he can flourish in the centre of midfield. It is up to the club whether they would afford him the opportunity to play or not.
On a side note, if both André Schürrle and Kevin De Bruyne are both at the club it would be the best outcome.