For Kevin De Bruyne, playing for Belgium at the World Cup feels very different than playing for Manchester City in the Premier League.
“I know I have to adapt to my team-mates,” De Bruyne said on Friday, demonstrating the kind of honesty that sometimes flared up during Belgium’s unconvincing first performance at the World Cup.
As Belgium worked towards a 1-0 win over Canada on Wednesday, the midfielder kept losing his temper. He threw up his hands in disgust at his team-mates on the pitch and, during a break in play, had a heated argument with defender Toby Alderweireld and coach Roberto Martinez.
After the game, De Bruyne mocked the decision to vote him player of the game. He didn’t feel like celebrating.
“Sometimes I get really upset because I’m a perfectionist,” said De Bruyne, who is considered by many to be the best midfielder in the world and has been voted the Premier League’s best player for the last two seasons.
“I can’t do this job alone,” he added. “I’ll need everyone else. I have to raise the level of the other guys if we want to have a successful tournament.”
When De Bruyne plays for City, the English champions, he has his sights set on Erling Haaland up front, Bernardo Silva and Rodri as technically proficient midfield colleagues and Rúben Dias and Aymeric Laporte cleaning up at the back.
The level of talent around him just isn’t the same as Belgium, even if the team sits second and boasts other star names like winger Eden Hazard and forward Romelu Lukaku.
The problem is that Lukaku is currently injured – he could only return for the knockout stages if Belgium make it – and Hazard has hardly featured for Real Madrid this season, making just two starts.
Against Canada there was a general sluggishness of the aging Belgium team that De Bruyne has noticed for some time.
“Maybe it’s been a while since we haven’t played at our best level,” he said from the Belgian training camp in Al Rayyan, “and I think the team has the level to do better. There is potential in this team. It’s time to deliver.”
That starts, De Bruyne hopes, against Morocco on Sunday – a game that could come too soon for Lukaku, although he is back in training after suffering a left thigh injury.
Michy Batshuayi may have scored the winner against Canada but he doesn’t offer the same all-around threat as Lukaku, Belgium’s record goalscorer with 68 goals in 102 games.
“Obviously it’s going to be a boost (if he plays),” De Bruyne said, “someone who’s that productive, who’s always on defense, can only help our options.
“I know he hasn’t played for a long time, but he’s even coming off the bench, maybe at the start or whatever. Defenders will be more afraid of him. It gives us options that we might not have at the moment.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Brussels AP sports journalist Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.
Steve Douglas can be reached at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80