x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The waiting game ahead for Kevin de Bruyne at Chelsea

The Belgian has the potential to be a star at Chelsea, but he will have to bide his time to impress at Stamford Bridge.

Kevin de Bruyne is willing to bide his time to break into the first team at Chelsea.
Kevin de Bruyne is willing to bide his time to break into the first team at Chelsea.

When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003, it was inevitably deemed a Russian revolution at Stamford Bridge.

Since then, the club's influences, at various points, have appeared to be Dutch, Brazilian, Portuguese, Israeli, Ivorian and Italian. Now a new nationality can be added to the mix. The Belgians are coming.

The Lille playmaker Eden Hazard could yet become the most expensive addition of all, but in the last few months Chelsea have acquired three: the striking substitute Romelu Lukaku, the goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and, most recently, the left winger Kevin de Bruyne.

Not that they will be seen just yet. Lukaku is often confined to the bench, Courtois has been borrowed by Atletico Madridand no sooner had De Bruyne been signed for £9 million (Dh52,292m) then he was loaned back to Genk for the remainder of the season.

Nevertheless, he consulted his compatriots about a move that completed a swift rise from the junior ranks at Genk to one of the world's leading clubs.

It had long been mooted, with rumours the 20-year-old winger would have joined last summer. "He deserves it," said Franky Vercauteren, his former manager at Genk.

Born in Ghent, De Bruyne was on the books of his hometown club, Gent, before signing for Racing Genk at the age of 14. His debut in the first team came four years later, just before his 18th birthday.

That summer, Vercauteren, now Al Jazira coach, was appointed. It was a move that benefited both the emerging player and the former Anderlecht coach.

De Bruyne became a regular, with Vercauteren appreciating his intelligence.

"He has quality, especially in football skills, and he is a clever player," said the 55 year old. "He can play a step forward, like when he is given the ball, he already knows what he has to do next."

So it proved last season when Genk became the champions of Belgium for only the third time in their history. De Bruyne contributed five goals and 16 assists.

A season that began with his first international cap - won in Belgium's 1-0 defeat to Finland in August 2010 - ended with him catching Chelsea's eye.

Before joining, he faced them twice. Genk lost 5-0 at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League, but earned a creditable point in the return fixture.

Two months later, his reputation enhanced by a hat-trick in Genk's 5-4 win over Club Brugge, his move was ratified.

"Three years ago I was playing with the young guys in Genk, but now I am making a transfer to Chelsea, it's almost impossible, a real dream come true," said De Bruyne, a Liverpool supporter as a boy.

He has signed a five-and-a-half year deal and there is a recognition he is recruited for the long term.

"I am patient. It will be very hard to play in the beginning," said De Bruyne, who accepted he may even be loaned out again next year.

Vercauteren warned: "The Premier League is not like the Belgian league. It is very tough and hard, and in this league they don't have patience. So he has to get really good to succeed. He has the ambition and he will."

One potential problem is that Andre Villas-Boas, the Chelsea manager, has conceded the newcomer is not his choice. He is, the Portuguese termed it, "a club signing".

Yet De Bruyne may fit his plans. The addition of a left winger, and a footballer some Chelsea fans have compared to Florent Malouda, would permit Juan Mata to move into the central role he occupied against Manchester United on Sunday.

The complication, however, is that De Bruyne also covets a role playing in the middle of the park.

"At Genk I have played on the left of midfield but when I was younger I played as an offensive central midfielder," he said.

"I am a creative footballer with two good feet I think, especially the right one. At Genk I create chances for the team."

But Vercauteren believes his protege is best deployed on the flanks until he becomes more experienced and powerful.

"He wants to play more in the centre but I put him on the sides because he not ready for that role," the Jazira coach said.

"He has to get physically stronger and more aggressive, particularly in the Premier League. He is determined to play in the centre and he will eventually fit in to that role."

A pivotal role for Chelsea may beckon. His immediate future, however, rests in his native land. But old and new club face similar problems.

Each is underachieving under a new manager in their respective domestic leagues. Chelsea are fourth, Genk sixth.

Old worlds and new have certain similarities.