To the euphoria of their fans, Manchester United finally signed the piano man, Alexis Sanchez, amidst much social media fanfare on Monday. But on the same day, news also emerged from the other half of Manchester that was music to the ears of City supporters — news that certainly struck a chord with me.
While United were quite rightly celebrating the arrival of their first Chilean player- – a signing to breathe new life into the second half of the Premier League season, even if the title race might be a foregone conclusion — City made their move. Not in announcing a new, big-name arrival to compete with United’s successful plundering of a player City themselves thought they might have landed. Instead, they announced a contract extension for Kevin De Bruyne, keeping him at the Etihad until 2023.
— JohnDykes (@JohnDykesFC) January 23, 2018
The 26-year-old Belgian’s services have been secured for wages of somewhere between 200,000 pounds sterling a week and 280,000. Sanchez, who turned 29 last month, is estimated to be earning in excess of 400,000 a week, although the Daily Mail somehow managed to come up with 600,000 in its coverage of the deal.
That’s the last comparison I’ll make between the two. Let me state again I think Sanchez will be a huge boost to United’s prospects in all competitions. They desperately need his goals to support their most prolific striker, Romelu Lukaku, and the Chilean’s work ethic and character are well suited to Old Trafford’s traditions.
De Bruyne is something else though. In my opinion, he’s the best player in the Premier League right now.
The Belgian’s manager Pep Guardiola describes De Bruyne as “one of the best players” he has ever seen, and the Catalan guru has worked with living legends of the game. The stats tell us De Bruyne has scored six goals and delivered 10 assists this Premier League season and a total of 19 goals and 37 assists since he joined City from Wolfsburg in 2015, but his magic cannot be measured solely in stats.
After City beat Spurs 4-1 earlier this season, De Bruyne smashing home the key goal with a left-footed blast in the 70th minute, Guardiola raved about De Bruyne’s work rate and running off the ball as much as he did about his quality on it. Football writer and historian Jonathan Wilson has also analysed De Bruyne’s work under Guardiola, a Catalan coach steeped in the Dutch traditions of Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff. Writing in The Guardian, Wilson likened De Bruyne’s work to that of Dutch legend Johan Neeskens in that he combines technical ability with stamina and directness.
It’s the latter quality that especially strikes a chord with me. When I think of De Bruyne, I summon up images of first-time, or at least very early, balls rattled in to the feet or heads of attackers. Unerringly accurate and invariably catching defenders wrong-footed. Similarly, his shooting – this season with the left-foot too – catches goalkeepers out, thanks to his football brain and technique telling him to strike split seconds before others would. It sounds simple but it’s a rare quality and one shared by only the finest players in the world.
Real Madrid will continue to, annoyingly, leak stories about interest in the player. However, the hashtag #KDB2023 and the phrase “home is where I’ll stay” on De Bruyne’s Twitter feed announcing the new deal should reassure City fans he is theirs for some time to come. For the neutrals among us as well as followers of the Premier League, it’s news worth celebrating too. I see De Bruyne as a Ballon D’Or candidate if he wins major trophies for club and country and his presence can only add lustre to England’s top flight for seasons to come.