The Premier League has been home to its fair share of superstars in the past. Whilst a lot of the truly elite talent often ends up in the upper echelons of continental football – whether it be Spain, Germany or even Italy in Serie A’s pomp – the ‘Prem’ has seen a number of high profile players make their name on the world stage over the years.
The fast pace of the English game gives younger players a good foundation, whilst the ever-increasing amounts of cash available for wages has, rightly or wrongly, attracted many a top-class footballer towards the end of their career. It has also helped make stars out of lesser-known foreign players – the likes of Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola really rising to prominence while playing in the Premier League.
These three players are more the exception than the rule, however, and should there ever be a Premier League Hall of Fame they seem certain to be inaugural members. More often than not though, the better players the league helps develop get picked off by the giants of European football, their best years (mid to late 20s) often played out on foreign soil. Two of the biggest examples of this in recent times are Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, both of whom rose onto the footballing stage in the Premier League before joining the ranks at Real Madrid.
And whilst this season has seen the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Dimitri Payet and Harry Kane produce outstanding performances and play the kind of football that may well see them move onto elite status later in their career, there is one player in the Premier League currently who looks almost certain to go on and be a true great in world football, in the mould of Henry, Ronaldo or Bale. And that player is Kevin De Bruyne.
There were sure to be more than a few eyebrows raised when Manchester City paid Wolfsburg an estimated £55m for the Belgian’s services on the final day of the summer transfer window, but they are already reaping the rewards. Let go by Jose Mourinho at Chelsea (whoops), De Bruyne really proved and improved himself in Germany, doing what the best young players do in the Premier League before earning big money moves. His performances this season have been scintillating at times and it’s no surprise that City’s worse period came during the two months he was out – losing four games and only beating Villa and Sunderland during February and March.
His influence on this City side is already significant – only perhaps Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany are more important to the team – and he’s only been there a little over seven months. A return of 15 goals and nine assists (already) is a mighty fine contribution in your first season at a club, so it seems that De Bruyne is on course to be one of the best players in Premier League history, his goals and assists only likely to increase even further under incoming boss Pep Guardiola.
Indeed, De Bruyne’s signing to a six-year deal at the Etihad might mark a changing point in terms of how the best players in the world view the Premier League. Because, should Manchester City become one of the truly European elite clubs under Guardiola, something entirely possible, and De Bruyne plays a key role in his side over the next few years, he has the potential to become one of the truly great players in the world whose best years will be in the Premier League.
Much like the Premier League luminaries before him, whenever De Bruyne gets the ball you feel something is going to happen. The same excitement that fans at Old Trafford felt whenever Ronaldo twinkled his toes, or Bale set-off down the wing at White Hart Lane, or Thierry Henry in his pomp gliding over the pitch at Highbury – players that can single-handedly change a game and get supporters on the edge of their seats.
The 24 year-old Belgian has this kind of aura about him and if Manchester City can hang onto him for the length of his contract, the club, their fans and even the Premier League as a whole will greatly benefit from having a world class player at the peak of his powers amongst their ranks.