Kevin De Bruyne plays with Manchester City against Real Madrid for a place in the Champions League final. The Belgian is considered a brilliant footballer – and seems to be underestimated in his genius.

Goals, goals, goals. It’s all about goals.

Mohamed Salah starts the season with a fireworks display of goals. It puts the Liverpool star in pole position for the Ballon d’Or! Robert Lewandowski scores the fastest Champions League hat-trick in the last 16. Suddenly everything speaks for Bayern’s goal machine and the Ballon d’Or!

Kylian Mbappé scores the winning goal against Real Madrid and outshines Lionel Messi and Neymar. The Ballon d’Or seems to be assured for PSG’s French superstar. Two hat-tricks in a row for Karim Benzema against PSG. Okay, now the Real Madrid goal scorer has to win the Ballon d’Or.

Or does he?

These four football stars are currently the bookmakers’ top contenders for the 2022 Ballon d’Or, but the best player in what is currently arguably the best team in the world, coached by perhaps the best coach in the world, is only ranked fifth.

His name: Kevin De Bruyne. Yet the Belgian playmaker can still win the English championship and the top flight with Manchester City, and on Tuesday evening the semi-final first leg against Real Madrid in the Champions League is on the agenda.

Liverpool legend: De Bruyne ‘best City player of all time’

After the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Atlético Madrid, TV pundit Jamie Carragher gushed with praise – even predicting that De Bruyne would go down in ManCity history as the “best player ever”.

But that was not all: the Liverpool legend also described the Belgian as “the best midfielder in the world” after scoring the winning 70th-minute goal in a thrilling game at the Etihad Stadium, and after being the lynchpin on the pitch yet again, tirelessly driving his Citizens forward to break down Atlético’s defensive bulwark. With success.

But his counterpart on TV – Micah Richards, a former City player – insisted that De Bruyne would only go down in history as one of Manchester City’s best players if he lifted a Champions League trophy – and added that David Silva and Yaya Touré were currently above him.

Carragher could not accept this and replied angrily: “De Bruyne is the best player in the world in his position. David Silva was never the best player in the world in his position. Never. He wasn’t! Kevin De Bruyne will score more goals and give more assists than David Silva ever did.”

This season, De Bruyne has a strong 14 goals and eight assists in 36 competitive games across the competition, although an injury from losing the Champions League final, which also saw him at Euro 2021 and the start of the season, gave the 30-year-old a difficult start to the season. On top of that, he also fell ill with Corona. In the meantime, however, De Bruyne is back in top form.

Belgian playmaker is becoming more and more goal-threatening

The fine technician underlined this about a fortnight ago in the top match of the Premier League, when the leaders from Manchester received the runners-up from Liverpool.

De Bruyne gave the Citizens a 1-0 lead in a 2-2 draw and would have been the celebrated hero had Riyad Mahrez converted his 100 per cent goal-scoring chance in stoppage time.

Had Mahrez scored the winning goal, De Bruyne’s dream pass would have been played up and down the TV – as the pass that decided the English championship! But even after this miss and minor setback, there is no mistaking or overlooking the Belgian’s top form.

Significantly, when De Bruyne sat on the bench for 90 minutes in the FA Cup clash with Liverpool a few days later, ManCity lost 3-2 – and squandered a possible third title opportunity.

If the Ballon d’Or is really all about goals, then De Bruyne’s performances in the big games in particular should not go unnoticed: He scored the late equaliser at Liverpool in October 2021, the winner against Chelsea in January and the first two goals against Manchester United in March. Even United legend Paul Scholes had to praise the arch-rival’s playmaker: “He’s the best midfielder in the world, no one can hold a candle to him.”

In his past seven appearances for City, De Bruyne has been directly involved in seven goals (four goals, three assists). But of course, it’s not all about goals for the former Wolfsburg and Bremen man, as he was named man of the match for his overall performance against Atlético and in the star-studded game against Liverpool.

Klopp, Martínez and Guardiola rave about De Bruyne

While football pundits are divided, many coaches think highly of the Belgian international, who will be aiming for nothing less than to win the title with the Red Devils at the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. It will probably be the last chance for Belgium’s Golden Generation to win a title after finishing third at the 2018 World Cup.

National coach Roberto Martínez sees De Bruyne as a “player with a great vision”. Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp still mourns him today: “I love him. I wanted him at Dortmund when he was still at Chelsea, but José wouldn’t give him to me.”

And even José Mourinho, who back in his Chelsea days preferred to back Willian, Oscar and Juan Mata instead of the up-and-coming De Bruyne, has recently admitted: “His quality speaks for itself. He is one of the top five in the world.”

Kevin De Bruyne played for Werder Bremen on loan in the 2012/13 season

The bare figures back up all the praise for the Belgian: in 298 games for the Citizens, De Bruyne scored 81 times and set up 115 goals. For Werder and cup winners Wolfsburg, he recorded 77 scorer points in 107 games in his younger years.

He even led his youth club KRC Genk to their third championship as a 20-year-old in 2010/11 thanks to six goals and 17 assists. And for Belgium’s national team, the attacking midfielder scored 23 goals with 45 assists in 88 appearances.

De Bruyne deserved the Ballon d’Or

Numbers don’t lie. And that is why his coach believes he deserves the Ballon d’Or: “I like the fact that he is a player who not only gives a lot of assists, but also scores a lot of goals. I told him that he has to score more goals to reach another level,” Guardiola revealed.

“He scores a lot of goals and creates chances because he knows that the position he plays is so difficult against teams like Liverpool because the space is so tight. And his eye for the last pass is just exceptional.”

His teammate Jack Grealish, who joined the Citizens from Aston Villa for €117.5 million, is in the same vein: “I regularly watch clips of De Bruyne. That’s what I want to do as well. I want my final pass to be exactly like that.” There can probably be no greater praise than that from a similarly brilliant team-mate.

Grealish is not alone in this, however. In the vote for the best player of the year in England, the votes of the professionals count. That’s why, for legend Teddy Sheringham, it’s also the “most important personal title you can get”.

In 2019/20 and 2020/21 De Bruyne won this election and is only the third player after Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo to be awarded twice in a row.

This season, he is also one of the favourites, but for that to happen, titles are needed. On Tuesday evening, the Belgian can take the next step with ManCity in the semi-final first leg against Real Madrid on the way to the coveted trophy.