Hyperbole? Absolutely. But not by much. City’s dominant season in the Premier League was a result of De Bruyne’s consistent brilliance in the centre of the park, a player so attuned to the demands of his manager and the vision behind a historic success.
The Belgian duly tops our ranking of midfield maestros in Europe’s top five leagues – see who else made our top 10.
1. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City
Only an unexpectedly stunning season from Mohamed Salah has kept De Bruyne from sweeping England’s end-of-season awards. City have a squad full of riches, but De Bruyne is the reason they’re champions.
2. David Silva, Manchester City
Speaking of that squad full of riches – was this Silva’s best season in a City shirt? He’s been so good for so long that it seems hard to believe, yet the Spaniard found another level this season to lead his side to the title.
3. Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona
Rakitic has had a resurgent year for Barcelona, often looking like the third-best player in his side behind Messi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. He rediscovered himself this season after a few below-par campaigns.
4. Miralem Pjanic, Juventus
Pjanic cemented his status as the Serie A‘s best midfielder this season. He’s a player who can be a metronome when Juventus are recycling possession, and visionary and lethal in attack. And that’s before you get to his set-piece prowess.
5. Fernandinho, Manchester City
Pep Guardiola’s insistence on full-throttle attack from even his defenders makes Fernandinho City’s most important player. He’s still glued in to their possession football, but he’s also the rock that anchors their defence.
6. Jorginho, Napoli
It says it all that with Fernandinho at 33, Jorginho is the favourite to deputise and eventually replace him at City. The Brazil-born Italian has had an utterly superb season for Napoli.
7. Saul Niguez, Atletico Madrid
Another player who’s turning heads at Europe’s other leading clubs. Saul’s been a great find for Diego Simeone, an energetic midfielder with an eye for goal.
8. Geoffrey Kondogbia, Valencia
Kondogbia’s stock had dropped sharply going into this season, but he’s redeemed himself just as his team have. Valencia have gone from relegation battlers to the top four, and Kondogbia’s been vital to that transformation.
9. Radja Nainggolan, Roma
He shoots as if his foot is a cannon, bulldozes through midfield like a tank, and runs like he’s a literal engine. Calling him a one-man army might be a disservice to the rest of Roma’s midfield, but he’s been their heartbeat this season.
10. Dani Parejo, Valencia
Much like Kondogbia, Parejo has embodied Valencia’s resurgence. This is a player who started off at Real Madrid but never quite seemed to be good enough for that level. He’s put that theory to bed this season.
Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum admits the dream of joining the ranks of Champions League “legends” is driving the players to succeed in Kiev later this month.
Despite winning the competition five times ,Liverpool have been starved of success among Europe’s elite since their last victory in Istanbul 13 years ago.
In Ukraine they face Real Madrid, the defending champions who have won three of the last four finals to extend the club’s all-time record to 12 victories – five more than anyone else.
The Real side already contain their fair share of the game’s greats but Wijnaldum believes Liverpool’s players can write their own piece of history.
“You can put yourself there with legends that won the Champions League. That’s what everyone wants,” said the Holland international.
“That is what makes it really exciting for us, because we have the opportunity now to win a big trophy with a massive club waiting for a lot of years for a trophy.
“We are lucky that we can give them one if we win.
“Two years ago it was the Europa League final (which Liverpool lost to Sevilla) but the Champions League final is the highest you can play for a club so everyone will look forward to it.
“For a lot of us it will be the first time in the final, so I’m really excited to play in that one.”
Since lifting the Champions League in 2005 Liverpool have won just one trophy, the 2012 League Cup, and the weight of expectation of adding to their European haul grows ever greater on Jurgen Klopp’s players.
It is, however, something Wijnaldum believes the squad can cope with.
“The supporters support the club for many years. It’s a big chance for them to win a big trophy, the first in years, so of course you know how important and big it is for them but this is also for us,” he added.
“We have to make it together, support each other and make the chance even bigger to win the Champions League.”
After a couple of days off Liverpool’s players will reconvene for a gentle training camp in Spain, before returning at the weekend to begin preparations in earnest.
Wijnaldum admits it will be difficult to switch off with such a huge game looming on May 26.
“To be fair it’s difficult to not think about it because everyone is talking about the final,” he said.
“Even before the Brighton game nobody is talking about that game. When you see people, they were wishing me luck for the final, they didn’t wish me luck for against Brighton.
“Everyone reminds you that you’re going to play a final. Even if you don’t want to think about it, people remind you that you’re going to play a final so you will think about it.”
And what of Madrid?
“Good players, good team. They are really professional, this is their third final in three years so that says a lot about that team,” the 27-year-old added.
“They are used to playing in games like this. It’s going to be difficult but I think that’s something we can deal with.
“You don’t look at the past and say, ‘You know we scored a lot of goals so we are going to create them against Real Madrid’.
“We have to see how we going to perform. The only thing we have to do is play our own game and not be nervous. I think then we will make a chance to win the game.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Mohamed Salah. It’s been a season of stunning performances from attacking players – not least from Salah, who broke the hegemony that Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar had over the discussion of the best players in the world.
It’s those three who are the frontrunners for the Ballon d’Or, with Ronaldo and Salah just in front of Messi. But who are the other players who shined in attack this season?
Without further ado, here’s a look at our top ten forwards across Europe’s top five leagues.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid
How do you split a top three of Ronaldo, Salah, and Messi? Ronaldo’s performance since the turn of the year has been extraordinary. But what seals the deal is that he’s almost single-handedly taken a Real Madrid side that has visibly dipped to a third straight Champions League final.
2. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool
The remarkable thing about Salah is how unfair it seems to not have him at No 1 on this list when only a year ago, he probably wouldn’t even have made the top 20. A joyful, thrilling, stunning player to watch. Bring on Salah vs Ronaldo in the Champions League final.
3. Lionel Messi, Barcelona
Messi’s brilliance is so routine, it’s almost normal. He single-handedly kept Barcelona‘s bid for an unbeaten La Liga season alive (unsurprisingly, it ended in a game where he was rested). But European disappointment, including his own below-par display against Roma, has cost him a top-two spot.
4. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich
He’ll be disappointed with the way his Champions League campaign ended, but it’s been another stunning season for the striker – not least for the way he led Poland in the World Cup qualifiers.
5. Antoine Griezmann, Atlético Madrid
It’s been a strange season from Griezmann. In the first half he looked nothing like the player who had cemented his status as one of the best in the world. But he’s found form to lead Atlético to the Europa League final – and likely earned himself a move to Barcelona.
6. Neymar, PSG
The only reason Neymar is ranked this low is because his season’s been curtailed by injury. He was having a Ballon d’Or-calibre season before that – though the failure against Madrid in the Champions League, for which he was present for the first leg, goes against him as well.
7. Edinson Cavani, PSG
Most teams would miss a player like Neymar – just ask Barcelona how they felt at the start of this season. Most teams aren’t PSG playing in Ligue 1 with a striker in the form of his life. It was fitting that Cavani became the club’s all-time leading scorer after Neymar got injured.
8. Roberto Firmino, Liverpool
Is there any team so defined by one player? Salah might be the sensation but Firmino is the one who makes Jurgen Klopp’s system work at Liverpool. His selflessness, in the way he leads Klopp’s press, is remarkable. And he scores some outrageous goals.
9. Ciro Immobile
The last Lazio player to win the Capocannoniere was Hernán Crespo in 2000-01. That Immobile is set to put his name alongside such a legendary figure in club history shows what he’s accomplished. Hopefully he’ll be doing it again in the Champions League next season.
10. Harry Kane
Tottenham may have put the one-man team jibes to rest this season thanks to the form of Heung-min Son, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, and Mousa Dembele, but Kane is still the jewel in their crown.