A year-and-a-half after joining Wolfsburg, Kevin De Bruyne has become a superstar of the Bundesliga. Once cast away by Jose Mourinho as surplus to requirements at Chelsea, the Belgium international's stock has risen to the point where now he is among Europe's most coveted attackers.
Last month, German magazine Kicker rated De Bruyne as the best attacking midfielder in the Bundesliga and one of two (alongside Arjen Robben) attacking players rated in the "world-class" category based on the previous half-year. In a league that includes the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Franck Ribery, Roberto Firmino and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, among others, that says a lot.
Yet De Bruyne certainly has held his own and is well-deserving of his status. Since Kicker's rankings were released, the 23-year-old has only further solidified his claim to the "world-class" tag, scoring five goals and assisting another in three games to open the second round of the Bundesliga. De Bruyne's masterclass against Bayern on January 30 will likely be remembered as a turning point in his career, when he took the leap to superstardom.
In 28 games in all competitions this season, De Bruyne has scored 11 and given 14 assists, a remarkable tally. But with his newfound fame, the attacker has also gained the kind of arrogance that typifies many of football's greatest players.
On Monday, De Bruyne was fined (per Stern, in German) €20,000 by the German Football League (DFL) for an offensive remark he made towards a ball boy in Wolfsburg's recent match away to Eintracht Frankfurt. As he ran to the touchline to take a throw-in, he appeared to say "Give me the ball, you motherf----r!"
De Bruyne later apologized (via the Guardian) for his actions and promised to send the ball boy a signed shirt. Exactly how enthralled the Frankfurt native will be with his gift from the player who offended him remains uncertain.
Arrogance is something that seems to follow stardom in many instances. Cristiano Ronaldo is infamous for opening museums and erecting statues in his own honor. Even more so is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who when once asked what he got his wife for her birthday, replied (per Goal): "Nothing, she already has Zlatan." This article by B/R's Michael Cummings gives a good summary of just how arrogant many of football's biggest stars are.
The arrogance of elite footballers should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt. In Ibrahimovic's case, he often is tongue-in-cheek about his own greatness, with the previously cited article also quoting him as referring to himself as God. Yet regardless of exactly how serious they are, football's greatest figures often act as though they are on a higher level.
De Bruyne is not yet at the level of some of football's most arrogant figures, but along with his giant leap towards fame and stardom, he's taken a clear step towards the arrogance that fits so many other great footballers. In many cases, it's this headstrong personality that fuels their success. In others, it can go too far and hinder development or even destroy a career.
Djalminha was one of the most talented attacking players of his generation but could not be coached and once even headbutted then-Deportivo La Coruna coach Javier Irureta. Ricardo Quaresma is another player of outstanding talent who never made good on his potential for similarly being too difficult to coach. And Mario Balotelli is now infamous for having the talent to be a world-beater yet being "uncoachable," according to Mourinho (via The Telegraph).
De Bruyne is still leaps and bounds from the extreme cases of the aforementioned, and it seems he's at the right leve, attitude-wise. He's been Wolfsburg's best player all season long and, even with the arrival of Andre Schurrle, will likely remain the big star of Dieter Hecking's side.
He's not just one of many talented players as he was at Chelsea. He's the key man, having been given the chance to prove himself and taking it with his outstanding performances.
Whereas expectation can be too much of a burden on some footballers, the responsibility of carrying his team's hopes has suited De Bruyne quite well, and it's safe to say by now that he's realized his potential and emerged as a world-class star.
He has every right to be arrogant as long as it's measured and kept in check and doesn't hinder him or the team. If the cost is a few signed shirts and a couple days' salary, so be it.