Manchester City demonstrated its financial might by breaking the club’s transfer record for the second time this summer to sign Kevin de Bruyne on Sunday, making the Belgium midfielder the second most-expensive player in English football history.
De Bruyne is reported to have cost City more than 50 million pounds ($77 million) — less than two months after the club’s Abu Dhabi ownership spent 49 million pounds ($76 million) on another attacking midfielder, Raheem Sterling.
Freed to spend lavishly again after UEFA loosened its Financial Fair Play rules restrictions, City has paid out close to $250 million in transfer fees this summer as the club looks to win the Premier League for the third time in five seasons and end four years of underachievement in the Champions League.
City leads the Premier League after winning its first four games, scoring 10 goals without conceding.
“It takes a special footballer to improve our squad,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said, “and I have no doubt that Kevin is certainly one of those — he has all of the mental, physical, tactical and technical attributes required to fit straight in.
“We like to play attractive, attacking football and bringing in a player like De Bruyne will only aid us as we fight on four fronts.”
De Bruyne signed a six-year deal, less than two years after being cast aside by title rival Chelsea and sold to Wolfsburg. The fee was undisclosed, but British media reports said it could rise up to 58 million pounds ($89 million) with incentives.
The transfer fee smashed the previous Bundesliga record for an outgoing player, the 41 million euros (€46.7 million) Liverpool spent for Brazil forward Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim in June. Only Angel Di Maria, who cost Manchester United 59.7 million pounds (then $99 million) from Real Madrid last summer, has cost more in the English game.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said he sold De Bruyne because the Belgian was unhappy at not being a first-team regular. It has done wonders for his career as De Bruyne starred at Wolfsburg, scoring 13 goals and setting up 27 more in 52 Bundesliga games. He was recently named Germany’s footballer of the year.
German media reported that Wolfsburg sporting director Klaus Allofs and coach Dieter Hecking tried to convince the attacking midfielder to stay another year at the Volkswagen-backed club. De Bruyne had a contract with Wolfsburg to 2019.
De Bruyne came to prominence at Genk, scoring 16 goals in 97 competitive games for the side and helping it to win the Belgian league in 2011. He signed for Chelsea in January 2012 but remained at Genk until the end of the season and joined Werder Bremen on loan for the next. He scored 10 goals and set up nine more in 33 Bundesliga games for Bremen.
De Bruyne returned to Chelsea for the 2013-14 season but was unable to force himself into the team — he played six competitive games, three each in the league and Champions League, and only two as a starter — before he was sold to Wolfsburg in January 2014 for a reported €20 million ($23 million).
De Bruyne, who has 33 appearances for Belgium, is likely to line up on the right of an attacking-midfield trio at City behind Sergio Aguero.
“I want to reach the highest level possible as a player and I think the most important thing is that at the end of the season we can be happy and maybe have some titles,” De Bruyne said.
“I think this is the most important for the club, the players and for the fans of course.”