Sometimes wonderkids fulfil their potential and reach the top. Other times, the deadly grip of expectation becomes too much for them, and they fail to live up to what was promised by their apparent talent.
A player like Messi belongs to the first category. Touted as Argentina’s saviour from a very young age, the little striker is now generally regarded as the best player in the world.
A player like Bojan Krkic, Messi’s team mate at Barcelona, belongs to the second category. He too was believed to have the potential to become the best. After spending a season at Ajax on loan, he is now unsure of his future.
The Belgian national team is, of course, full of young, talented players, and out of all them, perhaps Kevin de Bruyne is the player most deserving of the "wonderkid" label.
But even though he’s been playing top-level football for a few years now, it is still unclear to which category the former Chelsea player belongs.
Enter the World Cup in Brazil, where De Bruyne will get a chance to leave his journeyman days behind him and finally join the rest of the world's wonderkids-turned-superstars.
It would be the end of a journey that started in early 2012, when De Bruyne moved to Chelsea from Belgian side Genk for a reported fee of around £7 million, as per Sky Sports.
Stepping into the limelight of Premier League football, De Bruyne was immediately hailed as an amazing prospect. But football has a knack of proving age-old cliches to be true, and thus it turned out that great pressure came with the great expectations attached to De Bruyne’s transfer.
De Bruyne did not get much of a chance in Chelsea’s first team before he was loaned out to Werder Bremen in Germany. There, he seemingly made a good impression on Jose Mourinho, who had just returned to Chelsea.
Undoubtedly under the impression he had managed to prove himself, De Bruyne returned to London. But once again, he didn’t get much playing time.
In January 2014, De Bruyne left Chelsea and joined German side Wolfsburg for a reported fee of €20 million, as per The Guardian.
There De Bruyne seemed to free himself from the shackles that kept him from getting the playing time a youngster needs. At Wolfsburg, the playmaker’s potential finally got a chance to truly blossom.
Meanwhile, it seemed like Belgium boss Marc Wilmots had never lost his faith in De Bruyne. Making regular appearances in the Belgian national team, De Bruyne became a pivotal player in the team Wilmots was forging to take part in the World Cup in Brazil.
During Belgium’s preparatory friendlies, the "Rode Duivels" experimented with different players, but De Bruyne was given ample playing time. Functioning as a No. 10, he was given the creative freedom he needed to truly show his qualities.
When Eden Hazard cut inside from the left wing, De Bruyne would drift out wide, giving midfielders like Moussa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini the opportunity to bomb forward from behind him.
Against Luxembourg, Sweden and Tunisia, De Bruyne’s positional awareness and tactical intelligence impressed the most. No wonder Wilmots built his Belgian side around the playmaker.
At the World Cup, a lot is expected of the young Belgian team. Some analysts are even tipping Belgium as dark horses to win the tournament.
As one of their key men, De Bruyne will undeniably play a crucial role in his country’s campaign. After a successful second half of the 2013-14 season at Wolfsburg, the playmaker must now do it on world football’s biggest stage.
And with Belgium’s fluid midfield seemingly built around him, the conditions are perfect for De Bruyne to do just that.
At the World Cup, he’ll finally get the chance to show the world that the "wonderkid" label was not just an empty promise.
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