Kevin de Bruyne: 'Pep has helped me play better as an individual'

According to the Manchester City midfielder, the exposure the Belgian players have had from playing abroad has benefited them.

Kevin de Bruyne attended the pre-match press conference ahead of Tuesday's semifinal against France.   -  Getty Images

The attacking verve of the Belgium team in this World Cup has surprised many with pundits drawing a similarity between the side and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, which won the 2017-18 English Premier League on a canter.

Both have a common fulcrum in Kevin de Bruyne, who came up with a superlative performance against Brazil after some steady but unspectacular games in the earlier rounds. Talking about the influence of Guardiola on his game and City and Belgium’s playing style, de Bruyne said: “Pep has helped me to play better as an individual. His style is very different and the game becomes very easy once you are able to adapt to it. The style with the national team is a little different as it takes time to play the City way. In national setups such time is unavailable, but we have some similarities as we also play with the ball and try to attack.”

Read: The French hand in Belgium's success

The playmaker believes that Belgium’s “golden generation” of players have benefited from the exposures abroad. “The chance to go and play in other countries have helped,” de Bruyne said. “Belgium has a lot of talent but nobody was playing outside. Then (Vincent) Kompany and (Marouane) Fellani went and others thought let's sign more Belgium players and that has helped.”

Belgium’s 23-match unbeaten streak – including five in this World cup – can be attributed to the tactical nuances of Roberto Martinez, who was unceremoniously sacked by Everton in May 2016. “Martinez has built on the potential of the team, which has been playing together for seven or more years. He has brought the team together and allowed us to trust in each other while giving us the belief that we can go on till the end,” de Bruyne said.

Lavishing praise on young France sensation Kylian Mbappe, de Bruyne added: “He has become a star in France. When I played against him (in the Champions League in February 2017) he had played only 10 matches and I didn’t know him. He has played for a year and half now and he has played a lot for France and in the Champions League and he is going to be a star for the next many years. He can improve more and he will be dangerous for us.”

De Bruyne, however, is not too perturbed about the pressure of a World Cup semifinal. “As a player it’s always now or never especially in a big Cup competition because it only comes a few times in a player’s life,” he said. “We have to show the ambition because otherwise you can’t win and for tomorrow’s game we will go out with the same attitude.”

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