In the De Bruyne household, discretion is a prized family value. It is a character trait that fits in well with their home village of Drongen, which features a medieval monastery.
It was in this suburb of Ghent, located in East Flanders, in a bedroom plastered with posters of his sporting idols, that Chelsea attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne first aspired to become a football star. 16 years after dribbling his way onto KVV Drongen’s youth team, the Belgian international is on course to achieve that childhood dream.
Now one of the first names on the teamsheet of Les Diables Rouges, the quiet 22-year-old has already managed to persuade Jose Mourinho of his potential. Following a convincing one-season loan spell with Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, De Bruyne is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead in 2013 with confidence and modesty.
The attack-minded Belgian has four months to win over the Stamford Bridge faithful and propel his country to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. While this two-pronged mission appears substantial on paper, the former Genk player does not seem unduly concerned. “I’ve always approached things in a very relaxed manner – I’m not the kind of person who gets stressed,” he told FIFA.com.
“My personality has gradually developed throughout my life. I left my parents’ home to join Genk’s youth academy when I was very young, and living on my own really helped me to become mentally strong. There were difficult times, because there was a lot of pressure put on my shoulders quite early on, but it never unsettled me,” continued the Blues’ midfield man.
De Bruyne is hopeful of establishing himself in the London heavyweights’ first team, after enjoying a successful loan period in Germany. “I know that the squad is packed with quality and that competition for places is intense, but I also know that I can do it,” he said.
“I’m a very confident person. During pre-season training, I was able to show what I could bring to the team – that was important. My versatility should play in my favour, and the fact that Jose Mourinho has been speaking to me regularly has made things a bit easier. I’ve improved since last season; my time at Werder Bremen was really beneficial.”
Called up for the first time to the Belgian senior set-up by Georges Leekens in 2010, the ex-youth and U-21 international has already notched three goals since the beginning of the qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014, the most recent of which came against Serbia in June’s 2-1 win in Brussels.
Highly regarded by current national coach Marc Wilmots, who has accorded him the same status usually reserved for veterans, De Bruyne is reaping the benefits of previous achievements. Saddled with a reputation of ‘future star’ from the age of 17, the time appears ripe for him – two years after inspiring Genk to the Belgian Pro League title – to take his career onto a new level.
“I could already feel that I was making huge progress in my last season with Genk, especially from a physical point of view. I’d ended the play-offs in really good form,” recalled the gifted playmaker.
“Following that, I had the best season of my career in Bremen, where I remained injury-free. I played the whole year, which helped me to get my bearings and feel more comfortable. The Bundesliga was just the right league for me at that point, and I had a great time at Werder. I earned the respect of the football community and became better known internationally. Now it’s time to build on that and establish myself at Chelsea.”
De Bruyne suffered an injury during the club’s tour of Asia at the end of July, but his initial fears eventually proved unfounded. “I just remember scoring a goal, tripping and falling to the ground. I felt a pain in my ankle and I couldn’t move my knee,” he said.
Rushed back to London, the star of the 2011 Belgian Super Cup quickly recovered and returned to training, joining his team-mates in the USA for a series of warm-up games. Now anxious for the 2013-14 English Premier League campaign to get under way, he is also likely to be involved in his nation’s friendly encounter with France on 14 August.
Just like at Chelsea, he will be ably supported by Belgian team-mates Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. “Aside from being colleagues, we’re also good friends,” he explained, stressing how fortunate he is to rub shoulders with two of his countrymen on a daily basis.
“It’s been so important for me to have them here. They’ve given me tactical advice, explained the culture of the club and really helped me to settle in.”
De Bruyne has done exceptionally well to get to where he is with club and country. The only problem is that, if he continues his rapid rise, he will doubtless have to forego his family’s traditional inclination to keep a low profile, because true talent rarely goes unnoticed.