It wasn’t the kind of complaint one might have expected from a midfielder who specializes in scoring goals and assisting in abundance. “We’re working in a time where everyone is only talking about goals and assists,” said Kevin De Bruyne. His last two trips to Molineux have yielded four goals and three assists, making him a topic of conversation and praise in equal measure. By scoring twice on Saturday he drew level with Steven Gerrard at number 92 on the Premier League all-time assists chart and by the end of next season he could overtake Cesc Fabregas, who had 111, and is second only to Ryan Giggs standing .
It’s a record that’s even more remarkable when his 35 Bundesliga assists are factored in. Judge De Bruyne on the end product and he is a creative phenomenon as well as a player who had the most productive season of his career last year before giving back more to the role of supplier following Erling Haaland’s arrival.
Judge Jack Grealish by his goals and assists and he doesn’t look exceptional. De Bruyne’s selflessness is often shown when he picks a teammate in a better position, and the man who unlocked so many defenses was Grealish defending. The Belgian scored 15 league goals last season, five times as many as the Englishman. De Bruyne nonetheless repeated his manager’s regular refrain that he doesn’t judge players on goals.
It may be Pep Guardiola in his most esoteric form that puts him at odds with both the world and Manchester City’s record signing. “I haven’t scored enough goals in my entire career,” said Grealish after a late start to the season. “I’d like to add that to my game.” A team-mate could be a role model: De Bruyne is four years older than Grealish, but their respective club and country tallys are a whopping 158 and a relatively meager 45.
Grealish may be the mesmerizing dribbler, but De Bruyne is the entertainer who also has a purposeful productivity. The £100m man can be both a magnet for the ball and a magnet for criticism. De Bruyne argues that much of this is due to his price and nationality. A jack-the-lad personality can endear Grealish to many, but it can also attract extra attention. If there is an English premium for transfer fees, De Bruyne sees the locals will also be disadvantaged in terms of coverage.
“It’s not about football,” he said. “Outside of football, the focus is more on them. I understand because they’re English and people tend to pay more attention to what’s happening. I feel like foreign players, if you go out at night we don’t get checked very often. While I get the feeling when an England player goes out, it’s always in the media somewhere. I think people are taking that on board too. Nobody should be interested in what he does in his private life, but people should be.”
De Bruyne believes references to the £100m fee may be a case for playing the man rather than the ball and is asking for a better understanding of Grealish’s circumstances. “I don’t feel people [who criticise] tend to care about people anyway,” he said. “They try to look at the facts and talk about the money and talk about everything else around it. I don’t feel like anyone necessarily thinks about how they felt when they first moved away, and people think that’s always easy to do.”
Nevertheless, price tags can of course convey expectations. A contribution always goes beyond goals and assists, he said, but eight City players have scored more goals than Grealish last season; Scored 10 more goals. If the exam involves money, then this is also a consequence of moving to a higher club. If Grealish ever won the numbers game it was during his last season at Aston Villa when 24 starts recorded six goals and 10 assists. However, his home club’s swap for the champions put him in an environment that was under pressure.
“With all due respect, he’s been to Villa before and sometimes if you lose a game it’s not the end of the world,” said De Bruyne. “But if we lose a game, it’s different.” As Grealish can attest, a win can also prompt an investigation. He conceded he might have been lucky to retain his place after an underwhelming performance against Borussia Dortmund. “It probably wasn’t my best,” he said.
And that openness is an appealing quality. De Bruyne may have aimed at Grealish’s doubters, but players who were on the same wavelength after 55 seconds on Saturday struck different tones. Grealish is commendably candid. People questioned him. “Rightly so,” he said. He sees room for improvement. “I will always have people talking about me when I see the amount I was bought for.”
So far, the big numbers refer to the amount City has spent, not Grealish’s attacking performance. He was the anti-De Bruyne, saved by his more clinical peers. De Bruyne put Grealish’s first goal of the season on the plate. But whatever the cost or nationality, he knows he needs a lot more. If everyone is talking about goals and assists, then so is Grealish himself.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/jack-grealish-goals-man-city-kevin-de-bruyne-b2169748.html Jack Grealish eventually misses, but Kevin De Bruyne’s example sets the standard