So…what exactly just happened?
Football in the midst of the deadly and egregiously tragic coronavirus came back. There were no fans. There were rules changes. And there was lots of hydrating.
The Premier League managed to finish its season albeit with five substitutions per team per match and breaks within the half that turned from aggressive squirts of water into sweaty faces into full-blown coaching sessions. It was messy.
The players who contracted COVID-19 were out of luck. They and any staff who tested positive were forced to quarantine as the matches trundled on. If that sounds unfair it is because it was. But, that is one of many sacrifices the league had to make, I suppose, to get this season back underway.
Did we need it? Definitely not. But money dictates life, so it happened, and now it’s over.
But, what exactly, did we experience?
The play was rusty at times. The players were offseason fit. But, there were moments that even for the briefest minute allowed us the luxury to escape the current abyss much of the world finds itself in.
There was enough of a dip in form for almost everyone that a usual Premier League XI for the season wouldn’t be right. Liverpool were the best team over the course of the campaign. And after that Manchester City proved the most deadly when interested. What went on beyond City was muddled with teams, such as Manchester United and Chelsea, showing sparks in spurts. Overall there was enough to promise some tasty footie for the 20/21 term.
But, one player above everyone shone. And to no one’s surprise. Kevin de Bruyne is in a league of his own when in form. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the best players in the world (of all time, but that’s a different conversation for a different time), so let’s set them aside. Neymar has otherworldly skills. And then there’s super elite players like Kylian Mbappé and Eden Hazard. But, de Bruyne, on a whole, has set the standard to be deemed the best of the rest. He isn’t an all-time great yet, but he is emphatically unstoppable when he ties his boots up.
De Bruyne had 13 goals and 20 assists this season for a Manchester City side that, despite their humiliating exit to Lyon in the Champions League, were one of the best in Europe. I’m sorry to just gloss over that. TWENTY FUCKING ASSISTS! That is an absolute bucketload. Do you know what the record number of assists is for one Premier League season? 20.
The Belgian has had 20 assists before, too. He notched that absurd amount for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga in 2014-15. That is the only full season de Bruyne played for the German outfit and they finished 2nd in the Bundesliga standings (KdB also had ten goals that campaign), only to be outdone by a Pep Guardiola-led Bayern Munich who were also Champions League semi-finalists that go round. Not to belabor the point, but Wolfsburg have only ever had one season in their entire history better than the one de Bruyne set alight, which was 2008-09 when they won the title.
So, yeah, he is the man. And that’s not news. But, what makes him so special is that he’s so gosh darn skillful on the ball. His passing is exquisite. He has the vision of a…I don’t know…an owl? Whichever animal has spectacular eyesight. Rabbits? No idea. Fighter pilots? Ok. Moving on. His vision is splendid. And he can strike the ball with such precision. It is a joy to watch. He’s fast. He’s technical. He does not lose well. He’s a bit spoilt which really just adds to his tenacity and fight. The man is a leader to boot. An extraordinary full package. If there was a Ballon d’Or for 2020, de Bruyne should be on the dais with Robert Lewandowski and…probably Karim Benzema.
He has a few years left on top and would slot in nicely at any massive team. De Bruyne must be frustrated, and sounds tired, as I am sure he wants to win the Champions League. Manchester City just don’t seem to have the grit for the latter stages. And his time is running out. A third stint in Germany, but this time with Bayern Munich, Juventus and Real Madrid would all be dreamy situations for himself. Not that he’ll be leaving, but I am sure he has his fantasies. As fans of all those squads do as well.
The onus is on everyone else now to up their game. In a sport dominated by Ronaldo and Messi, Kevin de Bruyne has come through and shaken up the system. And now he’s hungry for the ultimate glory for his club and country. And we get to watch that.
So. Buckle up. It’s a short turnaround now for the new season. If you enjoyed the football thus far, that’s fantastic news. A redhead from Ghent turned out to be one of the highlights of this bizarre and scary summer. And, if you enjoyed him and what he does, then you’ll be glad to know in just a few, measly weeks, we are ready to go again.
And, why not? Everyone is doing it. So, let’s play more football.