Marc Wilmots must be a worried man.
Jose Mourinho is going to have a considerable influence on the Belgium manager's World Cup plans heading into Brazil 2014, but it seems Kevin De Bruyne—one of Wilmots' key players—is not so highly rated at Stamford Bridge.
The 22-year-old had been a Chelsea player for over 18 months prior to Mourinho’s return in the summer but was yet to even be named among the club’s substitutes in that time.
Impressive loan spells at previous club Genk and Werder Bremen had given him a considerable profile in West London, though, so anticipation was high when he finally made his debut against Hull City on the opening day of the season.
Since then, however, things haven’t worked out as planned. De Bruyne has made just five more appearances and without making a significant impact, questions have been asked regarding his position at Stamford Bridge.
It’s even led to Eden Hazard, his club and international teammate, suggesting he must depart Stamford Bridge in order to rescue his seat on the plane to Brazil.
“For sure, playing at a World Cup without having been in action for a year, I think that's very difficult,” Hazard was quoted as saying by Sky Sports this week.
“I think for him that leaving [Chelsea] and playing, that would be good. If we want to get the best out of Kevin, I think that it's best if he leaves.”
That Hazard is concerned enough to discuss his De Bruyne’s predicament so frankly says much for his standing at Chelsea. From being a bright, young player that Chelsea fans hoped would add to the team's burgeoning attacking talent, he’s quickly becoming a forgotten man.
His situation is one we’re going to see repeated across Europe throughout 2013-14, too. Every player wants to feature at the World Cup with their country, and if they’re not getting games with their clubs, the January transfer window will provide the ideal opportunity to change that.
The same Sky Sports report suggests the likes of Schalke are interested in De Bruyne’s services, and if the opportunity arises, it would be folly to turn it down.
Not just for the remainder of this season, either.
De Bruyne is a talented player and in his short career has demonstrated his ability to compete at the highest level. What we’ve seen of him at Chelsea this term, though, has highlighted his inability to cut it with the very best.
Looking at Chelsea’s options in attacking midfield, he can have little objection at appearing significantly low in Mourinho’s pecking order. In front of him are far better players who have not only shown themselves to be more skillful and to possess greater guile but also to be mentally superior.
“One thing is to play for Everton, another thing is to play for Chelsea,” he explained to The Independent, referring to Lukaku’s ability to lead the line effectively with the Toffees but not being quite ready to do the same for the Blues.
It’s a similar situation for De Bruyne. He knows he can do it for the likes Werder Bremen—he already has. Yet Chelsea and the Premier League are a different beast altogether and thus far, he's not shown he can handle the expectation that comes with playing for Mourinho.
Whether it’s a crisis of confidence or his inability to simply make his mark, he hasn’t lived up to the hype.
Mourinho knows that, and De Bruyne must surely know it himself.
The Belgian has a major problem, though. He is running out of time ahead of January to turn it around and become a regular. With Juan Mata, Oscar, Willian and Hazard in front of him, he’s going to find it tough to even get an opportunity, too.
Out of time, out of his depth, De Bruyne must cut his losses before it’s too late.
Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes