Kevin De Bruyne's genius: Roberto Martinez and Thierry Henry explain
Last Updated: 24/04/18 6:39am
Kevin De Bruyne may have missed out on the PFA player of the year award but he has been the star man in Manchester City's Premier League title win and will be awaiting England at the World Cup in Russia this summer.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez joined his assistant Thierry Henry on Monday Night Football to discuss De Bruyne's strengths, how they plan to use him for the national team and just why he is so hard to stop…
"Average players complicate the game," said Henry. "Great players simplify it.
"He does that all the time, understanding space and distance. And you do not want him on the ball when he can put his head up and pick a pass. That awareness that he has is second to none. There is a thought process behind everything that he does."
It seems that much of Kevin De Bruyne's thoughts are focused around that search for space. "It's the way he opens a line of pass and the distance that he gets from opposition players that makes it so difficult to stop him," added Martinez. "It allows him always to create space for others.
"It isn't a case of playing in a position. He plays around space. And if you give space to someone like Kevin De Bruyne, he will pick a long pass or a short pass. That is why, in the national team, he is someone who can play in different positions."
De Bruyne was used further forward earlier in his career, either as a number 10 or on the flanks, but it is in a central role in a 3-4-3 formation that he is expected to line up for Belgium at the World Cup, as Martinez explains.
"We have seen a big evolution," said the Spaniard. "We have seen him more in a central role where he can pick the long pass. Sometimes you need to use players who are in good moments of form and think about how you are going to put them together.
"When you have got a Kevin who can play deep it allows you to have five players in front who can be his targets. That is the way I see him, different to any playmaker. With the precision of his long pass he can give you real width or he can play the pass internally."
De Bruyne is Belgium's playmaker, but with a twist. "He is a modern playmaker," explained Martinez. "Playmakers they used to need two seconds on the ball. They almost needed the tempo of the game to stop for them to find that pass.
"I think what Kevin De Bruyne gives you, you would not find in another playmaker around the world, which has that dynamism in his play that allows you to do things at real pace. It is that ability to execute and be dynamic with your play and be dynamic around the pitch."
While De Bruyne's passing range is reminiscent of the iconic playmakers of recent history, such as Andrea Pirlo, it is this dynamism - and what Martinez calls his "intensity off the ball" as well as on it - that allows him to fit seamlessly into a high-tempo team.
In fact, he is the one who encourages this style - something that Henry identified by pointing out an example in Manchester City's game against Swansea in which De Bruyne worked hard to cut out a forward pass. "He didn't have to go," said Henry.
"You would not have been upset if he didn't go. But when you see a player like De Bruyne doing that, arguably your best player in the team, what it does is that it's contagious. If he does it, I'd better do it, because he does a lot on the ball but he also does a lot off the ball."
All of which helps to explain why De Bruyne is the key man for Belgium. "We get a lot of advantage from getting him on the ball," admitted Martinez. "Systems very much depend on the teams you play but it is a system that has worked for us very well in qualification."
So while Martinez can count on the talents of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku among others, does that mean that stopping De Bruyne means stopping Belgium? Would it hurt them if he was stifled? "The same way that it would hurt Manchester City," said Martinez.
"If you are trying to stop one player that should create the space in other areas of the pitch. You can almost counter-play. We have different options and have found ourselves in different situations away from home. It is about being flexible and appreciating the space."And nobody does that better than Kevin De Bruyne.