OLIVER HOLT: Brains and the ambition to win more than higher wages – thank goodness for Kevin De Bruyne!
There are plenty of reasons why I will vote for Kevin De Bruyne as my Footballer of the Year, even though he missed part of the season due to injury, even though there are still weeks to go before the vote is due.
One of those reasons, perhaps the first among equals, happened for us at King Power Stadium last weekend.
Manchester City were already a goal when De Bruyne controlled the ball just within the half of Leicester and rocked to the right to take his attention off his marker. There was still a cloak of defenders in front of him, which looked as if they were shielding every possible danger, but De Bruyne sees things that others cannot see.
Few players in the Premier League have Kevin De Bruyne’s football brain
What happened next was the best moment of the season so far. De Bruyne played a slide rule along an invisible line that knocked out half of the Leicester team. Jonny Evans attempted to intercept, but it escaped him.
Wesley Fofana threw himself at it, but it also escaped him. That pass defeated them all and ran onto Gabriel Jesus’ path, through on goal and after a short distraction, City led 2-0 and the game was over.
It was beautiful. It was like ballet on grass. It was one of those moments when you sit back and marvel at the pictures football can paint and the way it can illustrate a player’s vision and anticipation of movement.
De Bruyne recently signed a new contract that makes him the highest paid player in the top flight
We often talk about a player’s ‘football brain’ and there are very few in our league or anyone who has De Bruyne’s football brain.
And De Bruyne does things like this almost every week. Sometimes twice a week. He was engaged again in City’s Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund, where he rivaled Real Madrid player Toni Kroos for the quarter-finals pass with an arrow from a left-footed ball that flew like a bullet to Ilkay Gundogan, with that flat trajectory that De Bruyne has perfected and made City’s last-minute winner.
As if that wasn’t enough, it was then announced on Wednesday that De Bruyne had signed a new deal that will keep him with City until 2025, making him the highest paid player in the Premier League.
When it turned out that he had negotiated the deal himself, with no middleman, he won almost as much admiration as one of those defensive passes.
It’s worth pointing out that there are many good players in football, decent, honorable people who work hard for their clients, who care about more than just a quick penny, who don’t just exist to transfer a transfer. negotiate.
Manchester City talisman De Bruyne has gained admiration after negotiating the terms himself
It is also worth pointing out that there are many unscrupulous people in football clubs who are willing to pay players less than they earn.
But the work of those agents is too easily overshadowed by the predatory activities of men like Mino Raiola, who is said to have received £ 40m for his part in Paul Pogba’s move from Juventus to Manchester United in 2016 and apparently much of it. the time since the suggestion that the Frenchman wants to leave and play for someone else.
Now Raiola is busy piloting Erling Haaland around the richest clubs in Europe, even though the player is in the middle of a contract with Dortmund.
At a time when many football clubs are struggling to survive through the pandemic and figures show that Premier League clubs paid more than £ 272 million in fees to agents over the course of 12 months to February this year, people are seeing men like Raiola as symbols of a game gone mad.
The work of good agents is overshadowed by the activities of men like Mino Raiola (photo)
It is also the apparent inability of clubs to curb the power of the less prominent agents that is so irritating. While City and Manchester United have become reluctant to deal with Raiola, many clubs remain complicit.
That’s why De Bruyne’s decision to negotiate his own deal with the help of his father is such an emotional topic. Fans see too much money flowing out of the game and passed on to them in the price of their season tickets and their merchandise.
De Bruyne is not alone in what he did. Gary Neville had no agent when he played. He and his brother, Phil, took their father, Neville Neville, to meetings with then-chief executive David Gill when they played for United.
It is also reported that Raheem Sterling will represent himself in talks about a new contract with City at the end of the season.
It was refreshing for De Bruyne to be successful on the field, both in his thinking and in his merits
De Bruyne also made it clear in his contract negotiations that he wanted to be satisfied that City would do everything in its power to give him the platform to win the Champions League. That may seem like an obvious request, but it was still refreshing to see it take on as much importance in the player’s thinking as his pay.
In light of their shortcomings in the competition, there is a danger that City will start feigning indifference to the Champions League, but the truth is that winning it remains the last hurdle they have to overcome to be recognized as part of the European elite . , a club that belongs at the top table.
With players like De Bruyne connecting their future to the team, it feels like they already have one hand on the prize.
MASTERS WE DO NOT DEFINE MCILROY
When Rory McIlroy accidentally hit his dad, Gerry, with a quirky approach that shot to the seventh green at Augusta on Thursday, it marked another stop in what started to feel like a doomed quest to win the Masters and a Grand Slam career. to complete.
McIlroy is a superb player. Maybe I’m biased, but I still feel like he is the most naturally talented player on the track. He will win more Majors before his career is over. But he may have developed a psychological block on the masters. This year he missed the cut, his 13th time trying and failing to win the tournament.
There is a macabre fascination with quests like this, great sportsmen and women chasing something just out of their reach.
If Rory McIlroy (pictured) never makes it to the Masters in the future, that won’t determine his career
The first I became aware of when I was a kid was Ken Rosewall’s fading attempts to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, culminating in a fourth defeat in the 1974 final to Jimmy Connors, who won him from swept the track.
Richard Johnson, who retired last week, attempted to win the Grand National 21 times without success. Brian Clough has never won the FA Cup. Jimmy White could never quite get over the last hurdle to win the World Snooker Championship, Henry Cooper never won the world heavyweight title, and Stirling Moss never won the Formula 1 driver’s title.
Those failures didn’t shape their careers, though, and if McIlroy never nailed the Masters, it won’t define his either. It may be a regret, but it will illuminate more sharply everything he has accomplished.
LINESMAN’S NOBLE PURPOSE FELT ALL WRONG
The sight of Romanian linesman Octavian Sovre asking Erling Haaland for his signature in the tunnel after the Champions League match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund last week has been excused by the referee’s wanting to raise money for a charity for autism. .
It’s a noble goal, but it still felt completely wrong. It indicates a loss of impartiality and hero worship with wide eyes that could create an unhealthy bias during a match.
It also deserves censure for being a reminder of one of the most embarrassing passages of confession in any sports autobiography.
In the book Seeing Red by former referee Graham Poll, Poll told how he asked Zinedine Zidane for his shirt during a Real Madrid match against Dortmund. Zidane smiled and said he might give it to him if he was good. Sometime in the second half, Poll ran up to Zidane and asked, “Am I good yet?” Yes really. Pass the sick bucket.
Octavian Sovre asking Erling Haaland for his autograph had a noble purpose but still felt all wrong