Eyebrows were raised when Wolfsburg completed the signing of Belgian youngster Kevin de Bruyne just over a year ago. Not particularly for the fact that Chelsea had parted with the 23-year-old, but that the Bundesliga side had stumped up around £18m for his services.
For a player that was deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge with first team opportunities limited, cashing in on a squad player for that sort of price was seen as a great piece of business by Chelsea, a decision that suited both parties.
But 14 months on from his decision to allow the sale of De Bruyne, Blues boss Jose Mourinho could well be beginning to regret his choice, and with every passing week, it appears ‘The Special One’ may have made a significant error of judgement.
Wolfsburg are enjoying a terrific season, both domestically and in Europe. A 3-0 win over Freiburg last weekend strengthened their grip on second spot in the Bundesliga, and they now look certainties to secure qualification for next season’s Champions League. The German side have also emerged as favourites to lift the Europa League, a prize that would cap off a brilliant campaign for both the club and De Bruyne, who is starting to emerge as one of Europe’s best midfielders.
Following a brace against Inter Milan in the Europa League just three days earlier, the Belgian international inspired his side to victory yet again, with a goal and two assists in their latest Bundesliga fixture. In doing so, De Bruyne took his tally of assists to 16 in the league, a figure unmatched by any player in Europe’s top divisions.
Creating goals is not the only department where the midfielder is thriving; his composure in front of goal this season has seen him net 14 times in all competitions, figures that are proving just what a talent Wolfsburg have at their disposal.
And it’s not just against the lesser teams where De Bruyne is having an impact. The ex-Chelsea man was instrumental in his side’s demolition of Bayern Munich at the turn of the year, bagging another brace in a famous 4-1 win.
Whether Chelsea would have given him the platform for his talent to flourish is debatable, and it seems he made the best possible move in order to develop his career. De Bruyne started just two league games for the Premiership side in two years at Stamford Bridge. A £7m arrival highlighted the potential Chelsea saw in him, yet he was never given the opportunity to build on a successful league debut against Hull, where an impressive performance led to claims he would be one of the season’s surprise packages.
However, that was as good as it got for his career in the Premier League, and he was later loaned out to Werder Bremen, where he impressed with 10 goals in 34 appearances.
Despite attracting the attention of league rivals Wolfsburg, his performances weren’t enough to persuade Mourinho that he had a future at the club, and could challenge the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Oscar for a place in the Chelsea side, ultimately meaning a permanent transfer was on the cards.
But his performances this season must have some Chelsea fans looking on in envy at what could have been. Again, even now, it’s debatable if he would be a regular selection for Mourinho were he still at the club, but he would certainly be involved in the first team much more than he once was.
De Bruyne is not the first to show how talent can often be left unfulfilled at the Bridge. Just look at Romelu Lukaku and Mohamed Salah as prime examples. But the club may well be regretting not taking a stance similar to the one they took with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was able to gain first-team football week in week out at Atletico Madrid for three seasons before securing a place in Chelsea’s starting XI upon his return.
But Chelsea’s loss is certainly Wolfsburg’s gain, and if his first season at the club is anything to go by, it looks to be one big loss for the Londoners. £18m on the face of it seemed like a great piece of business originally, but should any of Europe’s powerhouses make a bud to lure De Bruyne away from Wolfsburg over the next couple of years, you can certainly double that valuation on his price tag.