Kevin De Bruyne's path to becoming one of the best footballers in the world could have been so different if it wasn't for the stubbornness of Jose Mourinho. Quelle surprise.
In a piece for the Players' Tribune, the Manchester City playmaker spilled the beans on his time at Stamford Bridge, revealing the sulky Portuguese manager blocked a move from Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund for the Belgian at the time.
Referring to his early career at Chelsea, the 27-year-old said:
The truth is that I only ever spoke to him twice. The plan was always for me to go on loan for a bit. So I went to Werder Bremen in 2012, and that season went great. When I came back to Chelsea the next summer, a few German clubs wanted to sign me.
Klopp wanted me to come to Borussia Dortmund, and they played the kind of football that I enjoy. So I thought maybe Chelsea would let me go.
But then Mourinho texted me, 'You are staying. I want you to be part of this team.'
The relationship eventually began to turn a little sour, as it often does with Mourinho, and although we have already joined the dots of the unhappy marriage, De Bruyne sheds more light on the circumstances that led to his eventual exit from the London club.
Mourinho himself was asked about De Bruyne's exit at the time and issued a damning response.
“With De Bruyne, if you have a player knocking on your door and crying every day he wants to leave, you have to make a decision,” said Mourinho. “He was not ready to compete. He was an upset kid, his training very bad.”
De Bruyne confirmed that the erstwhile manager was ruthless in his approach when dispensing with the midfielder.
José called me into his office in December, and it was probably the second big life-changing moment for me. He had some papers in front of him, and he said, 'One assist. Zero goals. Ten recoveries.'
It took me a minute to understand what he was doing. Then he started reading the stats of the other attacking forwards — Willian, Oscar, Mata, Schürrle. And it’s like — five goals, 10 assists, whatever. José was just kind of waiting for me to say something, and finally I said, 'But … some of these guys have played 15, 20 games. I’ve only played three. So it’s going to be different, no?'
It was so strange. We had a bit of a conversation about me going back out on loan. And Mata was also out of favor at the time, so José said, 'Well, you know, if Mata leaves, then you will be the fifth choice instead of sixth.' I was completely honest. I said, 'I feel like the club doesn’t really want me here. I want to play football. I’d rather you sell me.'
As it transpired, De Bruyne's career didn't turn out too poorly. And maybe Mourinho's tough love scaffolded the Belgian's career towards its current heights. Letting such a mercurial talent slip through the fingers, however, seems outlandishly foolish no matter which way you look at.