Kevin de Bruyne: Injury was blessing in disguise ahead of City's push for more silverware

Star midfielder tells The National his five-month lay-off offered him a chance to reset as he targets return to top form for second half of Premier League season

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne in action on his return to the team against Newcastle United earlier this month. EPA
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After five months out injured, it took Kevin de Bruyne all of five minutes to make his mark.

Manchester City trailed Newcastle United 2-1 at St James’ Park when De Bruyne was introduced from the bench in the 69th minute. It was his first Premier League appearance since the opening day of the season last August.

In typical De Bruyne fashion, he seized immediate control of the game, equalising for City with a classy strike from the edge of the area in the 74th minute. Then, as the match entered time added on, the Belgian delivered one of his pinpoint balls over the top, landing it on a postage stamp for his fellow substitute Oscar Bobb to finish the move with a fine goal.

Match won, three valuable points to add to City's title defence, and De Bruyne doing the business – essentially what football fans have witnessed most weekends throughout the midfielder’s illustrious Premier League career.

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne opens club's new fan and entertainment zone in Abu Dhabi

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne opens club's new fan and entertainment zone in Abu Dhabi

The football world went delirious in response to De Bruyne’s stunning return to action, and the ‘like a new signing’ cliche was inevitably rolled out. Except new signings often need time to adapt and sometimes don’t work out at all. Instead, De Bruyne is an absolute guarantee, both for his proven ability and his familiarity with Pep Guardiola’s City machine.

“I think people on the outside made more of a big deal of it, of me coming back,” De Bruyne told The National on his way back to the team hotel from Yas Mall, where he officially opened Manchester City’s “City Challenge” venue on Monday.

“Obviously, the game against Newcastle maybe blows it up a bit more. I’ve been here a long time with the team – I’m the longest-serving player here now – so I’m at a point in my career and with the team that I know what my role is. I try to do my job the best as possible and hopefully, the team can keep doing what they do with me now included.”

Indeed, including the Premier League’s finest midfielder to an already stacked squad will delight City and terrify their rivals in equal measure. What’s more, having missed 27 games this season, including City’s Fifa Club World Cup triumph in Saudi Arabia, De Bruyne will only get better as he regains match fitness and sharpness.

“I’d never had an injury like that so it’s hard to say where I am in terms of total fitness of playing every three days,” the 32-year-old Belgium captain said.

“Fortunately, the schedule is a little bit lighter at the moment, so I have some time to get back to that [level], but I need games to get to that match fitness. Until now, it’s been a good way to come back. Everything’s been going to plan.”

The lighter schedule is a result of the Premier League’s staggered winter break, so shortly after De Bruyne’s heroics on Tyneside, City made their way to Abu Dhabi for a warm-weather training camp and to recharge ahead of what is sure to be a hectic second half of the season.

Honestly, I’ve not missed it ... I actually enjoyed my time, so maybe in a way it was good that I could reset a little bit
Kevin De Bruyne on his long-term injury absence

Over the next few months, City will be fighting to defend titles on three fronts following last season’s historic treble. De Bruyne was, of course, a central figure in the club’s success, scoring 10 goals and registering an astonishing 31 assists across their Premier League, FA Cup, and first-ever Champions League triumphs.

City have been doing just fine in his absence. They sit second in the Premier League table, are through to the FA Cup fourth round, and face Copenhagen in the Champions League last 16. Had De Bruyne been available, City would certainly be in an even greater position of strength, so he must be full of frustration at not being able to contribute much this season.

“Honestly, I’ve not missed it,” he insisted. “At the beginning, it was a blow, but then I knew I was going to be out for five months so there’s no point thinking about it.

“I was working hard when I needed to work hard and I actually enjoyed my time, doing other stuff, doing things with my family, so maybe in a way it was good that I could reset a little bit and have a bit of a break after playing that long.”

Refreshed and reinvigorated, De Bruyne will once again play an instrumental role in City’s trophy pursuits until the end of the season – as he did in the other 13 major pieces of silverware he’s collected with the club. And while the aim is obviously to win it all again, De Bruyne is not placing too much pressure on a repeat treble.

“Of course the goal is to try and win everything possible, but we know that’s a difficult feat,” he said. “We just try to do the job we can do. We can’t control what other teams are doing, so all we can do is win the games we can win and see what happens from there.”

De Bruyne took time to meet fans as he formally opened the club's "City Challenge" experience at Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi.

The attraction, which is suitable to all ages and abilities, has been designed to recreate the feel of the club's Etihad Stadium and place visitors at the heart of the action, with a locker room, player tunnel and trophy hall as standout features.

Updated: January 23, 2024, 6:09 AM