Sometimes, even the ‘Special One’ gets it wrong.
Jose Mourinho may not admit it, but it happens. There can no doubting the man’s record, featuring two Champions League triumphs and seven league titles spread across four countries, but when it comes to Kevin De Bruyne, the über-confident Portuguese boss may have to sit back at some point in the not-too-distant future and admit he may have let one slip by him.
De Bruyne is currently taking the Bundesliga by storm as his Wolfsburg side look to provide a challenge to the all-conquering Bayern Munich. Arguably the best player in Hinrunde, the 23-year-old has continued that form into the Rückrunde and is surely on course to be voted ‘Player of the Season’.
It’s all quite a turnaround for the former Chelsea player discarded by Mourinho, who criticised his attitude and threw doubt on his ability to succeed at the top level.
Signed by Chelsea in the 2012 January transfer window for £7 million, the attacking midfielder was seen as a fantastic investment for the future and yet another of Belgium’s new ‘Golden Generation’. Initially loaned back to Genk for the remainder of the season, his arrival at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2012 looked like a prime opportunity for the youngster.
After just couple of appearances on the club’s pre-season tour in America, however, De Bruyne was sent on loan to Werder Bremen. The north Germans struggled with relegation that season, but De Bruyne was a bright light in that dismal campaign and could almost be said to have single-handedly saved Werder from relegation with his offensive prowess, scoring ten and providing nine assists.
It came as no surprise that Borussia Dortmund wanted to sign him as a replacement for the Bayern-bound Mario Götze, while Bayer Leverkusen had similar plans regarding their loss of Andre Schürrle.
De Bruyne instead returned to London and was handed a place in the starting XI for the season opener against Hull as well as in the trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United. Five minutes against Everton as a late sub completed the Belgian’s sum total at Chelsea with things quickly turning sour.
Quizzed by the press ahead of a Champions League tie, Mourinho was clearly irked by questions about De Bruyne’s absence and lost his patience divulging his true thoughts about the youngster.
“It was my decision. Only eleven can play, and 18 to be selected. I did not like the last match he played against Swindon and I didn’t like the way he was training.”
Wham! Mourinho at his brutal best.
Speaking to Het Laatste Nieuws, the player revealed his bafflement at Mourinho’s change of attitude towards him. “I still don’t know why I lost my place after the game against Manchester United. I’ve also never asked Mourinho. He has never told me: ‘Kevin, you don’t train well.’
“It’s a pity he told a press conference that I wasn’t doing well on the training pitch. That’s not me. I’m always a player who gives the full 100 per cent in training. Those remarks created a wrong image.
“At the end of December I had a chat with Mourinho. He told me things about competition and he also told me he wasn’t keen to let me go, even on loan, saying: ‘You’re a good player.’ But what could I do more?
“After the press conference in Bucharest I even started training harder, even on my days off. I lost three kilos and two per cent fat. My situation has never changed. That’s why I asked him in a friendly way to please let me go.”
And let him go Mourinho did, with VfL Wolfsburg the benefactor. Slotting back into the Bundesliga with ease, De Bruyne made 16 appearances last season as die Wölfe finished fifth.
Given the backing of coach Dieter Hecking and deployed in his favoured attacking role, the Belgian has moved to another level with Wolfsburg this season. In 20 appearances, he has provided eleven assists and chipped in with eight goals, stats which put him among the most-potent attacking midfielders in Europe.
A quick statistical comparison with both Oscar and Eden Hazard at Chelsea proves more than satisfactory reading for De Bruyne. He has played 20 games (the same as Oscar), while Hazard has appeared 24 times. Between them the Chelsea duo have twelve assists.
De Bruyne has eleven . . . all by himself.
Oscar has created 30 chances, while De Bruyne (63) and Hazard (64) outperform him. Goals-wise, De Bruyne has eight and Hazard nine, whereas Oscar has scored just six.
His display against Bayern Munich in the Rückrunde opener was simply outstanding, having provided two goals and an assist in the remarkable 4-1 win. From hero to zero, and then back to hero again, it’s been quite a turnaround for De Bruyne.
Maybe we will never know why Mourinho didn’t rate the young Belgian, but one thing is for sure: Chelsea’s loss is Wolfsburg and the Bundesliga’s gain.
Football has a nasty habit of coming back to bite you where it hurts and should Wolfsburg qualify for next season’s Champions League, I know one young Belgian who would dearly love a trip to Stamford Bridge to show the ‘Special One’ he got it wrong.
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