LONDON (Reuters) - There have been moments this season when Pep Guardiola, the orchestrator of Manchester City’s landmark season, has been left open-mouthed by the excellence of his on-field conductor Kevin De Bruyne.
“I have no words...” spluttered the City manager after watching De Bruyne engineer the 4-1 destruction of Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur in December.
Guardiola explained then that it was the Belgian’s work ethic, chasing around tirelessly like “a player in the Conference (minor) league” as much as his sheer brilliance on the ball that was so striking.
De Bruyne, he felt, was shining his light on the path that the rest of City’s young armada of talent needed to take. His positivity, selflessness and industry demonstrated the way forward. The Guardiola way and now the City way.
Which was why the manager sounded so enthused when commenting on the five-year contract extension that De Bruyne signed on Monday. Asked how delighted he felt by this news, the Spaniard just smiled: “You cannot imagine...”
Twenty-four hours after he had put pen to paper, the League Cup semi-final second leg at Bristol City illustrated De Bruyne’s worth perfectly.
Though the home side’s late equaliser could only be a consolation with the tie already lost, the 26-year-old made it seem a personal affront, driving back downfield in the 96th minute to score and make it 3-2.
It capped yet another of those complete performances that makes De Bruyne an unassailable favourite to win the footballer of the year honours in England this season.
Yet it also left awed observers wondering if a man who has run his heart out in all of City’s 24 league matches this season could maintain such energy levels over the rest of a sapping campaign as City still targetted four trophies.
“I‘m trying to, hopefully,” he told reporters after the Bristol City match when asked if he could feature on all four fronts, adding wryly: “Otherwise I will fall down...”
For the moment, though, with City preparing for another potentially tricky visit to a Championship (second-tier) side, this time Cardiff City in the fourth round of the FA Cup, on Sunday, he reckoned he and his team were “managing really well”.
Guardiola, who has overseen City’s commanding 12-point lead in the League as well as piloting them to a League Cup final date against Arsenal on Feb. 25, keeps saying the ‘quadruple’, capped by a Champions League triumph, is “an illusion”.
In truth, a coach who once won six trophies in a year with Barcelona must know anything is possible yet he will need De Bruyne, the man he hails for “making us a better club”, to be operating at the stellar level he has made look almost routine.
De Bruyne, who still shows no signs of offering anything but his familiar study in perpetual motion, rules out nothing himself.
“Obviously we want to try and win all four, because we want to win every game,” he shrugged. “But it’s a hard task...”
Hard, but not wholly unfeasible if De Bruyne can maintain the exalted standard that precious few have achieved in England’s top flight.
Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Toby Davis