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Man City's Kevin De Bruyne the one that got away for Bayern Munich

Man City's Kevin De Bruyne the one that got away for Bayern Munich
From ESPN - February 15, 2018

The list of top players Bayern Munich have plucked away from Bundesliga rivals grows every year: Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels, Manuel Neuer in recent seasons, soon to be followed by Leon Goretzka in the summer.

But Bayern may rue missing out on one particular star: Kevin De Bruyne, Germany's Player of the Year in 2014-15, and now the driving force behind Manchester City's assault on four fronts.

"I would give the shirt off my back for him," current Bayern coach JuppHeynckes saidsaid last month. "You must have a player like him in his position. He is far and away the best player in Europe at the moment."

Bayern head north to face De Bruyne's former team Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga at the weekend -- a side that have clearly never recovered from their star player's 55 million departure to City late in the 2015 summer transfer window.

Bayern, for that matter, will be kicking themselves for not bringing the Belgian to Bavaria after his career blossomed right under their noses in the north of Germany: first on a season long-loan from Chelsea at Werder Bremen (2012-13) and then at Wolfsburg between January 2014 and August 2015.

Having picked him up from Genk for around 7m, then-Champions League holders Chelsea loaned the promising 21-year-old to Bremen in a deal engineered by their savvy sporting director Klaus Allofs. De Bruyne caught the eye, not just with his distinctive red hair, and scored a consolation goal in Bremen's 6-1 defeat at the Allianz Arena, while he started all but one of Bremen's 34 league outings -- missing just the one game through injury.

Buoyed by 10 goals and nine assists during his spell with Bremen, De Bruyne returned to Stamford Bridge and began the following season as a first-choice for Jose Mourinho, starring alongside new signing Eden Hazard in a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford. But he soon fell down the pecking at Chelsea, having to feed on scraps having lost the confidence of Mourinho to play to his tactical instructions.

With his sterling feats just up the road in Bremen still fresh in the memory, Allofs (now in charge of transfer business at VW-backed Wolfsburg) took the plunge once again on De Bruyne's untapped talents, this time on a permanent deal at what proved a bargain 22m in January 2014.

The midfielder provided an assist for Naldo as his new side had the temerity to take the lead against Bayern in March, before succumbing 6-1 at home as Pep Guardiola's side romped to the Bundesliga title at the earliest ever juncture.

The assorted talents of Toni Kroos, Xherdan Shaqiri, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gotze all starred in Guardiola's debut season as a coach in Germany, but Bayern may look back at both Shaqiri and Gotze's ill-feted spells at the club and wish they had invested in De Bruyne at that stage instead. Though hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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