It was a privilege to be at Molineux on Wednesday. It had nothing to do with the fact Manchester City were such comprehensive winners against Wolves but everything to do with my love of football and seeing a world-class player performing at his peak.
I knew within a minute of the start that Kevin De Bruyne was in the mood to do something special. Yes, he scored four goals but I’m sure if City had needed to win by eight, he’d have ended up with six. Pep Guardiola said he was ‘beyond perfect’ and that was quite a description!
But this wasn’t just about his goals. It’s the little things you notice when you are in a stadium, being able to look at the full picture, that make the biggest impressions. De Bruyne presses opponents ferociously and doesn’t let them breathe, he drifts into little pockets and causes mayhem.
Kevin De Bruyne delivered a magical showing after scoring four goals for Manchester City
Playmaker De Bruyne (left) almost single-handedly helped City place one hand on the title
This was magic and he is a huge reason why City have one hand on the Premier League trophy. But is he the best player in the club’s modern history? I don’t believe so. I have heard the arguments as to why people believe that is the case but I respectfully disagree with them. I will explain.
As good as Kevin is, he does not surpass either Yaya Toure or David Silva. There may come a point one day in the future when he does overtake them — the opportunity to do so would be if he leads City to a first Champions League triumph — but he isn’t there yet.
When Yaya and David arrived in the summer of 2010, it was the first opportunity I had got to work with world-class players on a daily basis. Yaya had won the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009, David had just helped Spain win the World Cup in South Africa.
It was the little things they did that set them apart. If you ever got into a rondo session with them, the small sided game that involves one-touch passing, they could literally keep you chasing shadows for two or three minutes. Their control was immaculate, their use of the ball perfect.
But he is yet to reach the level of Yaya Toure (above), who blew minds with his skill and ability
Yaya is often categorised as being this force of nature, due to his size and power, but his skill and the things he could do with a ball would blow your mind. It was an education to watch him, to see how he handled situations and the ability he had to take a game apart.
David was the same, in terms of the magic he possessed. We used to have a tactic that Roberto Mancini worked on where I, as the right back, would overlap. I’d run from the outside to inside, to get the ball and put it into the area.
Not once with David did I ever have to shout where I wanted the ball. He knew instinctively what to do, the weight to play it and when I would be arriving into position. Things happen so quickly in a game but I would often need a touch to control, a second to look up, then another second to pass.
With David and Yaya it all happened immediately. David had a picture in his mind about the game, almost like he could see into the future. You know you are in the presence of greatness when a team-mate makes you say ‘wow’ and these two did it on an almost daily basis.
David Silva is also yet to be usurped, with the diminutive midfielder a catalyst for City success
There was, of course, more to it than just skill. They came to Manchester at a time when we were not the best team in the city, let alone the country, but they were the catalyst for all the success that followed.
Yaya scored winning goals in the FA Cup semi-final and final of 2011, to give us our first trophy in 35 years. When we regained the league in 2013-14, he scored 20 goals and made nine assists. It almost gets overlooked how good he was during that campaign — he was unstoppable.
Guardiola worked with Yaya and David at City — David made his presence felt in the ‘Centurions’ squad of 2017-18 — but it would have been fascinating to see how good they would have been in the current team at their peak. They would both have been certain starters.
Yes, there are things Kevin does better than Yaya and David — his relentless pressing at Wolves and the breathless way he sets the tone wouldn’t be a forte of either of my old team-mates — and his numbers (15 goals, seven assists in the Premier League) aren’t far off Yaya from 2014.
De Bruyne betters both Toure and Silva in some areas, and could yet elevate himself further
This hasn’t been Kevin’s best ever season. Yes, his form in the last month has been outstanding but few would dispute that Bernardo Silva, over the entire campaign, has been the most consistent of City’s midfielders.
Kevin may elevate himself – who knows, he could do it in Istanbul in the Champions League final next year – but he doesn’t have the tag ‘best of the modern era’ and I use that phrase, once again, for a very specific reason.
We get caught up in the here and now but in terms of City’s greatest player of all time, I’ll simply say that Colin Bell, God bless his soul, is the only man to have a stand named after him. He won a European trophy and helped City win a title.
He set the standards that others are still to reach – we can enjoy watching Kevin rise to the challenge.
I’M WORRIED ABOUT LEEDS…
My heart says Leeds will stay in the Premier League. I’ve not said at any point this season that my hometown club will be relegated but my concerns are huge now and what particularly worries me ahead of the final week of the campaign is their discipline – or lack of it.
Elland Road is a stadium that feeds off emotion but Dan James’s challenge on Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic on Wednesday was poor, and for it to come so soon after Luke Ayling’s aberration against Arsenal really set alarm bells ringing.
The best teams play with ice in their veins but Leeds have simply been too rash recently.
I still believe there will be a twist in the relegation fight but, whatever happens from here, the fact Leeds have picked up 100 cards – and counting – this season is not acceptable. Whatever division they find themselves in next season, it cannot be repeated.
Leeds are too rash in their relegation scrap and, whatever division they are in, cannot repeat it
FULL BACKS DO BATTLE
There will be so many subplots in the FA Cup final this afternoon but the one I am looking forward to most is seeing how Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James influence the game.
These are the occasions you want to see the best talents produce.
Along with Kyle Walker, the way these right backs play football has transformed what we expect from men in their position.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (pictured above) and Reece James can help influence the FA Cup final
MICAH’S MAN OF THE WEEK
Could it be anyone else other than Erling Haaland? What a coup – there is no other way of looking at what Manchester City have done in signing the Norway striker.
The price tag – £51million – is a quite remarkable one for a player who might become the best forward in the world.
It’s unbelievable business.
I call it a coup because, at £51m, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and others in the Premier League – could have afforded him. He chose City and it’s a sign of where the club stand.
I’m not going to call Haaland ‘the missing link’ and I won’t heap pressure on him by saying he is what City need to conquer Europe but I’m fascinated about the prospect of watching him develop under Pep Guardiola’s coaching.
Big, powerful forwards haven’t tended to fit in Guardiola’s systems – think of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona – and I want to see how Haaland will press defenders and what his link-up play will be like. Give him time and, all being well, he will flourish.
City have pulled off a stunning coup in landing Erling Haaland and, given time, he will flourish