“I understand what my body and mind want”
Does Kevin De Bruyne soften with age?
Manchester City and Belgium star once admitted he might be “a little b*stard” when he walks onto the football pitch.
But ahead of the new season, which begins tomorrow for Manchester City in the Community Shield against Liverpool, De Bruyne is rested and relaxed.
“This year I took a very nice break with the family and I didn’t think about football at all because I think I personally needed it,” he told me in an exclusive interview.
“Last year was not a good vacation. I had a lot of pain, a lot of wounds. So I just said to myself ‘there is no football this summer, nothing. I’m not even going to train in the offseason. I’m just going to take whatever break I want and start over.” I felt it was the right decision for me. The sport I practiced the most was swimming in the sea.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had more than three weeks (of vacation). This time I was about four weeks old. During my last week, I was wondering if I should do anything, but ended up saying “no, if I need a little more time in pre-season, that’s fine”.
“I kind of understand what my body and mind want, so that’s the decision I made.”
De Bruyne, who turned 31 last month, was forced to pay more attention to preparation and recovery as his career progressed.
“When I came to City at 23, 24 (years old), you don’t need a lot of things. You feel good. And then every year it gets harder and harder. You need more physiotherapy , you need to take more care of your diet,” he tells me on a Zoom call.
“I think it’s like a car. Your body is using a lot of mileage and it’s getting harder and harder to keep going. So I try to do everything I can to help myself a little.
Considered one of the best players of his generation, De Bruyne is well aware that his football career will not last forever. He sees the value of investing for his future after gambling.
“If you’re lucky you play until you’re 35, 36, then the money basically stops,” he says.
“I’ve seen a lot of players or heard a lot of stories where people after five years go bankrupt even with the money we earn. I also see how quickly the money can go.
“I think probably 99% of football players or athletes start out so young that they don’t understand how money works, how it flows, how fast it goes and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
“You don’t start learning it until you’re 27, 28, but (by then) I had been making money for 10 years. I bought a house in Manchester, an apartment in Belgium. But other than that, I haven’t done too much.
“When you start playing football you don’t think about what will happen later. My business is playing football and that is still the main activity. But now I have a family, I have people I have to take care of, I have several houses. So I see bills coming in and out… and you think, ‘what will happen when I’m done and I don’t earn anymore money but the bills will keep coming?’ You have to find a way to make money another way.
“I just had a ‘click’ where I said ‘I think I need to start doing something.'”
One of the companies De Bruyne has invested in is Therabody. The Los Angeles-based tech wellness company was founded in 2016 by chiropractor Dr. Jason Wersland. In 2008, he modified a power tool to create the first Theragun, a handheld “percussion therapy” device.
The company now offers a range of products including percussive and facial health devices, compression systems, vibrating rollers and muscle stimulators.
Therabody has partnerships with various athletes and sports teams, including Manchester City. In February last year he revealed the investment of a host of celebrities, actors and musicians in athletes, including De Bruyne and fellow Premier League players Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) and Trent Alexander Arnold (Liverpool).
“I had the opportunity to invest there and I said yes. I think that makes sense. Recovery is part of sport and more and more people are taking care of their bodies,” says De Bruyne, whose other investments include a Belgian producer of artificial turf for sports fields.
“I like to invest in things that interest me. If I’m not interested, even if it makes sense financially, I don’t really want to do it. Because I want to feel connected to what I do. If I feel that I invest more myself, it will be better for me in the end.
Entering his thirties – traditionally seen as an age when midfield players are past their prime – did nothing to dampen De Bruyne’s dazzling talents.
Last season he won his fourth Premier League title with Manchester City and was voted the competition’s Player of the Year for the second time. He provided seven assists and scored a career-high 15 Premier League goals, including four in a 5-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers.
De Bruyne hasn’t set a personal target for the coming season (“I just want to win”) and doesn’t feel the pressure to embark on what will be a demanding campaign.
“It’s my 14th or 15th year in professional football, so I’ve been playing for a long time,” he said.
“I think I understand a little better what my body wants and needs. I’m not really too worried about being 100% for the first game of the season because most of the time it doesn’t happen anyway. I will be ready when I am ready in the season and I have no doubt that I will be OK for that.
“Before, you wanted to be ready on the first day of training, everyone is watching you, but I think I’m in a different situation as a player, so I’m ok with the way I behave. I don’t worry about what other people say anymore.
“When you’re a young player you have to settle down and playing a long time makes you more relaxed about those things. I’m at the club, I’m fine, everyone knows that. I’m really settled, I don’t have anything in mind to change. Other players will change, they are young, they have to show something, so I understand, and I have been there before, but it is a very different situation for me.
It will be an unusual season, with the World Cup in Qatar taking place in November and December, almost halfway through the Premier League season.
Will this be an important factor in how the season unfolds?
“I do not know!” said De Bruyne laughing.
“No idea. It might help, it might bother, I don’t know. I’ve never experienced that and it’s going to be so different.
“It’s not something that I think if the players could vote for it they would, but it’s planned, it’s done and you have to go so that’s what we’re going to do and it’s ‘is good.”
If he had to choose, would a World Cup win with Belgium or a Champions League title with Manchester City mean more to De Bruyne?
“I think winning the World Cup because it only happens every four years,” he said.
“Also, we are a small country, so winning the World Cup is a very difficult task. If we could do that with our country, it would be amazing.
“But I don’t really want to choose.”
Would winning one or the other be the greatest achievement of his career?
“It’s something I haven’t won yet, so it would definitely be special. But I don’t take anything for granted because I also know how difficult it is to win a League Cup, an FA Cup or the Championship,” says De Bruyne.
“What we have achieved in the last seven years at City is incredible. Winning so many trophies shows the consistency we have and I think that is also very important.
“I know people pull out a stick and say ‘you haven’t won the Champions League’ but we’ve been there, we’ve been fighting all the time. Even being in the top eight, top four at several times in the Champions League is a great success.
“Obviously you want to win it, but we’re there or thereabouts and we’ll try to do the same every year.”
Including the World Cup, De Bruyne could potentially play 79 games this season. Speaking last month ahead of a Nations League match with Belgium, the Wales captain Gareth Bale said “People’s bodies can’t keep up with that kind of schedule year after year.”
“I know I won’t play every game. I think people sometimes underestimate if you travel a lot, even if you don’t play it’s difficult,” says De Bruyne.
“(But) I don’t really mind playing so many games. The season is the season and with the World Cup qualifiers and the European qualifiers, that’s fine.
“Obviously I have a different view of the Nations League because it’s just an extra tournament. Where I saw the games, they weren’t really interesting, a lot of second teams played, a lot of different players. It’s basically a friendly game but with more TV rights or whatever.
“I just thought it was a lot to play another four games two weeks after the end of the season instead of taking a break. But that’s an opinion and everyone has a different one. As long as we have a nice break in summer, I’m fine.
Last July, De Bruyne received two injections of painkillers in his ankle in order to contest Belgium’s Euro 2020 quarter-final loss to Italy. Afterwards, he was “uncomfortable” and unable to play for Manchester City until the end of September.
“I had a big injury last year and I made the decision to play with that against Italy because I thought I had to do it for my country. I thought it was a good decision. I’ve never done it before, I’ve never had to,” says De Bruyne.
“Afterwards, I don’t know if it got worse (the injury), it’s very difficult to say. But obviously I struggled for a long time, so if I had that decision now, I wouldn’t do it. Now I know the consequences.
“It all depends on what match, what situation. If it was a World Cup final, I would probably do the same. It’s a risk-reward relationship, sometimes you make a decision and it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. You live with the choices you make.