Pep Guardiola believes Kevin De Bruyne could be the man to end the stranglehold Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have on the Ballon d’Or.
Real Madrid star Ronaldo won the prestigious world player of the year award for a record-equalling fifth time in December, meaning either he or Barcelona playmaker Messi have claimed the prize every year since 2008.
But the form of De Bruyne in Manchester City’s outstanding season has elevated the Belgium midfielder to the elite level in the eyes of his manager, and Guardiola believes is a potential winner.
“No doubt,” said Guardiola after watching De Bruyne lay on three more assists in Saturday’s 5-1 thrashing of Leicester. “He is not (just doing it in) one game. It’s the whole season, every three days playing that way. Every three days.
“But he knows and everyone knows, to be there you have to win titles – and titles and titles, especially one. But the way he’s played it’s difficult to find one (better) in Europe.”
When asked if the ‘one’ title he was referring to was the Champions League, Guardiola said: “Of course. You have to be there in the latter stages. Without the latter stages you will not be nominated.”
Guardiola, however, is not looking too far ahead just yet. The quadruple-chasing Premier League leaders resume their Champions League campaign at the last-16 stage in Basel on Tuesday and Guardiola is well aware City exited at this point last season. His immediate aim is negotiating a path into the next round.
He said: “The next step forward from last season is to achieve the quarter-finals. That is our only concern. Against Basel we try to make two good games and do it better than last season.
“We arrive good but we have to know the Champions League is another competition, completely different.
“The Champions League is (about) how you control the bad moments and the emotions. That is the Champions League. We scored six goals last season in the last 16 and were out.”
De Bruyne, who has now provided 18 assists for team-mates in all competitions this season, insists he is not interested in individual praise or talk of the Ballon d’Or.
The influential midfielder said: “To be fair, when I am busy playing football I don’t care (about that).
Class performance today! 👏🏼 pic.twitter.com/5ByRQsew85— Kevin De Bruyne (@DeBruyneKev) February 10, 2018
“I am doing what I have to do. It is something you reflect on after you get something like that. I am not busy with that before.
“I do everything to win titles with the team. What happens after is an extra.
“I am very pleased with the way everything is going for me. I am playing this way because the team is playing this way. It makes it easier for me, it makes it easier for them.
“At the end, if you get an individual honour, it is beautiful.”