Exclusive Kevin De Bruyne interview: 'Being an introvert is not always easy, but on the pitch I am a different person'

Mike McGrath
The Telegraph
Kevin De Bruyne has not always enjoyed the spotlight - PA
Kevin De Bruyne has not always enjoyed the spotlight - PA

Kevin De Bruyne is talking about his vision. The football part of that is easy enough for the Premier League’s leader in assists this season, as he describes his passing almost like seeing the future.

Away from the pitch it is less straightforward. He is looking ahead and there could be a career in coaching. The world of business interests him.

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He was a self-confessed introvert in his early 20s but his personality is coming out now, even it requires a nudge from those closest to him.

“If I would meet you four years ago I'd say 'hello, how are you?' then I’d go,” he says. 

“I learned how to manage myself growing up and being with people. It's just maturity. Being an introvert is not always easy.

“You think people always think bad or that they want something. But sometimes it is nice to have a chat with people. I'm more open.”

By contrast, De Bruyne has always been extroverted with the ball at his feet. The blonde-haired kid from Ghent has gone from teenage star in his homeland to Manchester City’s driving force in midfield during their back-to-back titles.

De Bruyne saw his path to the top despite his setback at Chelsea when he failed to break into the first team.

His career has almost seemed fuelled by that rejection and this season has seen a new level of excellence. De Bruyne has nine assists, three more than Trent Alexander-Arnold and David Silva.

There is more depth to him now and his character is broader, even if the priority is staying at his peak at the Etihad Stadium and trying to help them keep pace with Liverpool at the top of the table.

<span>De Bruyne is having a sensational season</span> <span>Credit: Reuters </span>
De Bruyne is having a sensational season Credit: Reuters

In Saturday’s Manchester derby all eyes will be on the Belgian to run the game and find scoring opportunities for his team-mates with his vision. This season his brilliance has been so commonplace that it is now expected every game. 

“Sometimes it is instinct,” he says. “Sometimes you know what people are going to do. 

“What I try to master as a player is trying to know what my team-mates like and how they want the ball. 

“You're a partnership and you know what my typical passes are and what I can play. If I was playing with Raheem [Sterling] or with Sergio [Aguero] it's totally different. One guy likes it deep, the other is different.

“As a midfield player you need to know. Some players like it in front of them. It's difficult to say. You just try to see the game, what's going to happen, before it even happens.

“You try to be ahead of the game and it's not always easy because the game is so quick but if I have a couple of moments a game when I can try to be ahead of some people, it helps.”

De Bruyne leads the way with 14 “big chances created”, to use Opta's terms. And he has perfected the cross to the far post, where he sets up team-mates by threading the ball through a corridor that is almost impossible to defend. 

He rates his pass for David Silva’s opening goal against Watford as his favourite. Why? He was on the run, dashing down the right channel before sending his pass between Ben Foster and three defenders. Silva taps in surrounded by Kiko Femenía, Adrian Mariappa and Craig Dawson.

“That is the most difficult one,” De Bruyne said. “You have just a small space where you can put it. You have to bend it away from the keeper and not let it go towards the defender. There is only a small gap. It's probably that one.”

At 28, that vision is now second nature. Under Pep Guardiola his game has improved, where from game to game he is given different roles. He can create goals but feels equally satisfied if he has controlled the game from a deep position, without the goals or assists.   

<span>De Bruyne says he adapts his game depending on who he is creating for</span> <span>Credit: rex features </span>
De Bruyne says he adapts his game depending on who he is creating for Credit: rex features

He is still working on his other side, the perception of Kevin De Bruyne.

He is sat in the new offices of Roc Nation Sports in London. His relationship with the management company owned by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z may appear unlikely at first glance. 

De Bruyne is chatting away to guests as Vaz Malhotra, director of player relations, introduces him to people, before finding time to speak to Telegraph Sport

The agency is one reason his personality is seen more now. But he credits a huge role in his shift from an introvert to his wife Michele.

“She helped a lot. Massively. She is just a really open person and it helped me open up to people and the more you talk, my world is becoming more open. At 21 it was just football, football, football,” he said. 

De Bruyne will also look at entering the world of business alongside football.  He is interested in America and has friends across the Atlantic, which is part of his thinking. 

Central to it all is how he is perceived.  He says he is very different to the hot-headed player seen on the pitch. 

He said: “I don't want to be a villain. If I choose a company or get a partnership together it will come across how I want it to be. 

“That is not me. I'm a mellow guy. I've got my character on the pitch which is sometimes a little bit different. 

“People probably think I'm explosive, very strong willed. But it's very different in an environment when you are competing. I wanted to think about the future a bit more and maybe find some partnerships that I'm interested in business-wise to do later. Obviously there is life after football.

“That is something I'm looking for but I'm not really sure. Maybe it is something in football, maybe it is not. I would like to have the options to choose a little bit but I think this an opportunity for me to learn about the business world.”

By the office reception there is a quote of the day from Jay-Z. “The motivation for me was them telling me what I could not be,” it read. 

De Bruyne is still assessing what he could be after he hangs up his boots and coaching will be an option.

<span>De Bruyne credits his wife Michele with his growing confidence off the field</span> <span>Credit: Roc Nation Sports </span>
De Bruyne credits his wife Michele with his growing confidence off the field Credit: Roc Nation Sports

Roberto Martinez has offered Belgium players the chance to start their badges in March during the international break. De Bruyne is among the players who have shown interest. 

There are other demands in his life now too as De Bruyne is a father to Mason and Rome.

“It gives you more responsibility and more maturity,” he said.

“I do everything. The walks. With the first one I woke up more. I had more energy when I was 24! It takes me a little bit longer now after games and I tell that to my missus also. 

“My first son didn't sleep for two years. I was up every night. Sometimes the night before the games we're in the hotel. It's tough. People who are parents know. 

“My second sleeps incredible. My first didn't sleep for two years. Whatever comes comes, you adjust to it.”

Fatherhood is now another aspect of his personality, away from being the reliable source of assists and goals for Guardiola.

“Before, everything I did was for myself. Then my girlfriend came, then my boys come first with my family,” he said. 

“It's together. One isn't No 1, we all have to work together to try to make me perform the best I can and try to make the balance.” 

With the ball at his feet De Bruyne is confident but parenthood has unearthed a weakness. 

“With my hands. I'm so bad,” he says. “One wants to draw animals and I can't do that. They try to ask and I say 'go to Mummy'.” 

Something Kevin De Bruyne cannot do. And only one part of his vision that he is ruling out. 

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