‘I Understand What My Body And Mind Want’

Is Kevin De Bruyne mellowing with age?

The Manchester City and Belgium star once admitted he could be “a little b*stard” when he steps on the soccer field.

But ahead of the new season, which begins tomorrow for Manchester City in the Community Shield against Liverpool, De Bruyne is rested and relaxed.

“This year I took a really nice break with the family and didn’t think about football whatsoever because I think I personally needed it,” he tells me in an exclusive interview.

“Last year was not a good holiday. I had a lot of pain, a lot of injuries. So I just said to myself ‘there’s no football this summer, nothing. I’m not even going to train in the offseason. I’m just going to take my break that I want and start fresh’. I felt that was the right decision for me. The most sport I did was swimming in the sea.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had longer than three weeks (of vacation). This time I had about four weeks. I was considering in my last week if I should do something but I ended up saying ‘no, if I need a little bit longer in preseason that’s fine.’

“I understand a little bit what my body and my mind want so that’s the decision I took.”

De Bruyne, who turned 31 last month, has been forced to pay more attention to preparation and recovery as his career has progressed.

“When I came to City at 23, 24 (years old), you don’t need a lot of stuff. You feel fine. And then every year it gets harder and harder. You need more physical therapy, you need to take more care of your diet,” he tells me over a Zoom call.

“I think it’s like a car. Your body uses a lot of mileage and it’s harder and harder to keep going. So I try to do whatever I can to help me that little bit.”

Considered one of the best players of his generation, De Bruyne is well aware his soccer career will not last forever. He is seeing the value in investing for his post-playing future.

“If you’re lucky you play until 35, 36, and then the money just basically stops,” he says.

“I’ve seen a lot of players or heard a lot of stories where people after five years go broke even with the money that we make. I also see how quickly the money can go.

“I think probably 99% of football players, or athletes, they start so young they don’t understand how the money works, how it flows, how quickly it goes and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

“You only start to learn it at 27, 28 but (by then) I’d been making money for 10 years. I bought a house in Manchester, an apartment in Belgium. But except for that I didn’t do too much.

“When you start playing football you don’t think about what’s going to happen later. My business is playing football and that’s still the main business. But now I’ve got a family, I’ve got people to take care of, I’ve got multiple houses. So I see bills coming in and out … and you think, ‘what’s going to happen when I’m done and I don’t make the money anymore but the bills keep going?’ You need to find a way to make money in another way.

“I just had a ‘click’ where I said ‘I think I need to start doing something.’”

One of the companies De Bruyne has invested in is Therabody. The tech wellness business, based in Los Angeles, was founded in 2016 by chiropractor Dr Jason Wersland. In 2008, he altered a power tool to create the first Theragun, a handheld “percussive therapy” device.

The company now offers a range of products, including percussive and facial health devices, compression systems, vibrating rollers and muscle stimulators.

Therabody has partnerships with various athletes and sports teams, including Manchester City. In February last year, it revealed investment from a host of celebrity backers, from actors and musicians to athletes including De Bruyne and fellow Premier League players Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool).

“I got an opportunity to invest in it and I said yes. I think it just makes sense. Recovery is part of doing sport and more and more people are taking care of their bodies,” says De Bruyne, whose other investments include a Belgium-based producer of artificial grass for sports fields.

“I like to invest in stuff that I’m interested in. If I’m not interested, even if it makes sense money-wise, I don’t really want to do it. Because I want to feel connected with what I do. If I feel that I’m more invested in it myself, it’s going to be better for me in the end.”

Entering his 30s – traditionally considered an age at which midfield players have passed their peak – has done nothing to dim De Bruyne’s dazzling talents.

Last season, he won his fourth Premier League title with Manchester City and was voted the competition’s Player of the Year for the second time. He provided seven assists and scored 15 Premier League goals, a career high, including four in a 5-1 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

De Bruyne has not set a personal target for the upcoming season (“I just want to win”) and does not feel pressure to hit the ground running in what will be a demanding campaign.

“This is my 14th or 15th year in professional football so I’ve been playing a long time,” he says.

“I think I understand a little bit more what my body wants and what it needs. I’m not really too worried about being at 100% for the first game of the season because mostly that doesn’t happen anyway. I will be ready when I’m ready in the season and I have no doubt I will be OK for that.

“Before, you wanted to be ready the first day of training, everybody’s watching you, but I think I’m in a different situation as a player so I’m OK with the way that I handle myself. I’m not worried about what other people are saying anymore.

“When you’re a young player you need to establish yourself and playing a long time makes you more relaxed about these things. I’m at the club, I’m OK, everybody knows that. I’m really settled, I don’t have anything on my mind to change. Other players will change, they’re young, they have to show something, so I get it, and I’ve been there before, but it’s a very different situation for me.”

This will be an unusual season, with the World Cup in Qatar taking place in November and December, nearly halfway through the Premier League season.

Will it be a big factor in how the season plays out?

“I don’t know!” De Bruyne says, laughing.

“No idea. It could help out, it could be a disturbance, I don’t know. I’ve never experienced it and it’s going to be so different.

“It’s not something that I think if players could vote for it they would, but it’s been planned, it’s been done and you have to go with it so that’s what we’re going to do and it’s fine.”

If he had to choose, would a World Cup win with Belgium or a Champions League title with Manchester City mean more to De Bruyne?

“I think winning the World Cup because that only happens every four years,” he says.

“Plus we are a small country so winning the World Cup is a very difficult task. If we could do that with our country that would be unbelievable.

“But I don’t really want to choose.”

Would winning either be the biggest achievement of his career?

“It’s something I’ve not won yet so it would definitely be special. But I don’t take anything for granted because I know also how hard it is to win a League Cup or FA Cup or the league,” De Bruyne says.

“What we have achieved in the last seven years at City has been unbelievable. Winning that many trophies shows the consistency we have and I think that’s also very important.

“I know people get a stick out and say ‘you’ve not won the Champions League’, but we’ve been there, we’ve been fighting all the time. Even being in the top eight, top four for a lot of times in the Champions League is a very big achievement.

“Obviously you want to win it but we are there or thereabouts and we will try to do the same every year.”

Including the World Cup, De Bruyne could potentially play 79 matches this season. Speaking last month ahead of a Nations League match with Belgium, Wales captain Gareth Bale said “people’s bodies can’t deal with that sort of calendar year after year”.

“I know I’m not going to play all the games. I think people sometimes underestimate if you travel a lot, even if you don’t play, it’s hard,” De Bruyne says.

“(But) I don’t really mind playing that many games. The season is the season and with the World Cup qualifiers and European qualifiers that’s fine.

“Obviously I’ve got a different view about the Nations League because that’s just an added tournament. Where I saw the games, they were not really interesting, a lot of second teams played, a lot of different players. It’s basically a friendly but with more TV rights or whatever.

“I just thought it was a lot playing another four games two weeks after the season has finished instead of having a break. But that’s an opinion and everybody has a different one. As long as we have a nice break in the summer, I’m fine.”

Last July, De Bruyne received two painkilling injections in his ankle in order to play in Belgium’s Euro 2020 quarter-final loss to Italy. Afterwards, he was in “discomfort” and unable to play for Manchester City until the end of September.

“I had a big injury last year and I made the decision to play with that against Italy because I thought I had to do it for my country. I thought it was a good decision. I’ve never done it before, I never had to do it,” De Bruyne says.

“Afterwards, I don’t know if it made (the injury) worse, it’s very hard to say. But obviously I was struggling for a long time so if I had that decision now, I wouldn’t do it. Now I know the consequences.

“It all depends on what game, what situation. If it was a World Cup final I would probably do the same. It’s risk-reward, sometimes you make a decision and it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. You live with the choices you make.”

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