Earning the title of grandmaster is the highest honour a chess player can achieve.
To date, Belgium have provided ten grandmasters, ranging from the enigmatic Albéric O’Kelly de Galway in 1956 to 2018’s Mher Hovhannisyan.
While the Belgian grandmasters can meet up for a game of 5-a-side at Bruges Powerleague whenever they please, they’re still one short of an 11-a-side team.
Not to worry, because if Kevin De Bruyne keeps up his current form then it won’t be long before he’s named Belgium’s 11th grandmaster.
De Bruyne might not be pushing around pawns and bishops for a living but he’s been playing 4D chess with elite footballers since the start of the season.
The numbers make for impressive reading. Ten of De Bruyne’s 15 Premier League starts have seen the 28-year-old contribute either a goal or an assist, while he’s scored four goals in six appearances for Belgium.
But the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. De Bruyne is three steps ahead of everyone else on the pitch. He’s already orchestrating the 2020/21 season while his City team-mates are stuttering towards the business end of the 2019/20 campaign.
How can you stop De Bruyne making a pass when none of the opposition can even fathom what’s about to split their defence in half?
De Bruyne’s passing isn’t his only weapon. Opposition defences are naturally drawn to pressing the Belgian, in theory denying him the space and time required to scan and pick a pass.
But that only invites De Bruyne to showcase his dribbling which, as a converted winger who made his Genk debut at 17, is as smooth as Pep Guardiola’s freshly-shaved crown.
In City’s glittering squad only Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva average more dribbles in the Premier League this season, while none of his team-mates compare favourably in the Champions League.
Whether passing or feinting , De Bruyne will find a way into your final third. Time to panic.
De Bruyne’s shooting technique is unrivalled in world football: part ballistic missile, part eye of the needle, as potent on his left as it is his right.
Were Albert Einstein to be reborn he would undoubtedly write an entire thesis on the relationship between the inside of De Bruyne’s feet and a football, such is the purity of the connection every time the Belgian puts boot to leather.
His two goals against Arsenal were polar opposites. The first saw De Bruyne hammer a bouncing ball into the roof of the net with such ferocity that Sead Kolasinac- pinned on the line- was read his last rights. The second was a Ronnie O-Sullivan-esque roll into the Bernd Leno’s far corner.
But the end result was the same. Both shots found the back of the net with unerring clarity.
Lionel Messi has a better left foot, both when shooting and passing. Cristiano Ronaldo has a more prolific right foot. Neymar is a more imaginative dribbler. N’Golo Kante is more of a defensive pest.
But no player in world football carries as complete a tool belt as De Bruyne. He’s verging on unplayable, even though the ease with which he carries out every task can, at times, mask his genius.
Combine all those physical and technical attributes with De Bruyne’s ridiculous IQ and it’s easy to see why he’s already being fast-tracked for a Pro Licence by the Belgian FA.
Before De Bruyne the coach’s time comes, savour every moment of De Bruyne the player. What we’re currently witnessing is special.
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