- Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne speaks exclusively to Sportsmail
- De Bruyne's stock is still rising at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola
- Guardiola has told City stars 'to believe' after five games without a win
- Playmaker De Bruyne has every faith in Guardiola's vision for the club
- De Bruyne has no problem with Jose Mourinho despite their difficulties
- He sums Guardiola's style as: 'High pressing. Good organisation. Free'
As Manchester City's season continues through what may politely be described as a period of uncertainty, Kevin de Bruyne's stock continues to rise.
Not long before we met on Monday, De Bruyne learned he had been nominated for the Ballon d'Or and the stats show the Belgian has created more chances — 24 — than any other player in the Premier League this season.
It is less than 14 months ago that the 25-year-old arrived back in England from German club Wolfsburg with many people asking just how a player sold by Chelsea for £18million in January 2014 could be worth £55m a year-and-a-half later. With justification, De Bruyne believes he has answered that question.
'Obviously it is very satisfying,' De Bruyne told Sportsmail. 'I come here today with a very different view than people had of me last year. It shows that a lot can happen in one year.
'Everybody had a view of how I came out of Chelsea so, yeah, it gives me satisfaction that people have changed their minds.'
If De Bruyne's eminent place in English football is assured, his team have some way to go. A sprinter's start this season has been slowed by setbacks and Sunday's 1-1 draw at home to Southampton stretched a winless streak to five games.
There were even some boos at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Some were for the referee but some were for the players, too.
It seems extreme but a 50-minute post-match dressing-room address by Pep Guardiola only added to the feeling that something needs to be fixed ahead of Wednesday night's EFL Cup derby at Manchester United.
'He just told us to believe,' revealed De Bruyne. 'He doesn't want us to have doubts in the way that we are playing.
'He wanted to make sure that we know the way we are playing now is the good way. That was the message. There are a lot of risks in how we play, we know that.
'I know this is not a very patient world but we are trying something very new. There will be ups and downs. Other teams will adapt to us but everything will be OK in the end. We know we have to learn everything perfectly for this to work.'
DE BRUYNE'S BALLON D'OR SHORTLIST SPOT
There, in a nutshell, is the essence of the City debate. If something needs to work perfectly for it to work at all, does that automatically render it a risk not worth taking?
De Bruyne has no doubt. City won the first 10 games of this season and that golden spell was enough to convince him of the merits of Guardiola's vision.
'It felt so very good to be in the team at that point,' he recalled. 'The way we play is the way every team want to play but not a lot of teams can play that amazing way.
'It's not as easy as it looked. There is hard work involved and maybe many people wouldn't like that. But, for the best teams in the world who can do that without losing too many points, then it's just great.'
Guardiola has said there will be no change in the philosophy, despite the glitches in the system.
De Bruyne points out that the current schedule of games is limiting the training time needed to oil the machine so it could be that the cracks will remain.
'We are playing all the time so we don't really have real sessions and that's hard,' he said.
'The goals that we have conceded have been more like mistakes from us, rather than us being blown apart. So if we can minimise them it will be better for us, we know that.
'If the manager changed (his style) now people will ask why. So he can't really win. Anyway, why should he change his ways just because he has come to England? This is his belief and he thinks it's right.
'He has achieved so many things playing this way, so I can understand why he continues. We said it before the season. If we lose, the criticism is going to be way worse than it was before. But apart from Southampton and losing at Spurs, the other games were good.
'There are always new challenges in football. You just need to adapt otherwise you won't fit in. And if you don't fit in then you will have to go somewhere else.'
The final point is pertinent. Guardiola has already shown himself to be ruthless, with players such as Sergio Aguero finding themselves benched on occasion.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart is on loan at Torino having fallen short of Guardiola's standards and, perhaps predictably, his replacement Claudio Bravo, signed from Barcelona, has not emerged from his early experiences unscathed.
'It's very tough for Claudio because he is very different to Joe,' said De Bruyne. 'Joe is also from here, which is also against Claudio.
'His style of play is also totally different. Everybody knows that the coach likes a goalkeeper who likes to play a lot.
'So when Claudio makes a mistake with his foot, they are going to say that he isn't better with his feet at all. If he misses one pass they will say, "Ah, look! Why did they buy him?".
'So it's tough for him. He has nothing to do with what happened to Joe, obviously. He's a good goalkeeper but it has been difficult for him.
'He has made a few mistakes but it happens and we have full confidence in him. He is the right man for the job.'
De Bruyne left his home in Drongen, Belgium, at the age of 14 to play for Genk, 80 miles away. It was lonely at times and his different accent and looks made him stand out.
Reminded of that on Monday, he shrugged, a reaction indicative of a life and a career that have already presented numerous challenges. Most of them, De Bruyne has overcome.
He is a young man capable of big decisions.
Reminded that one coach — the Belgian Hein Vanhaezebrouck — described him as 'the Cruyff of his generation', he didn't blink.
'People just say stuff,' he said. 'I have seen some tapes of Cruyff but not much.'
DE BRUYNE'S CAREER SO FAR
One episode of his eclectic career has remained with him, however, and his recollection on Monday of his time at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho was more expansive than it has been before.
Success at City has clearly given him the confidence to finally explain fully his view on Mourinho's comments that he moved him on simply because he was not capable of fighting for a place in his team.
'I couldn't say anything before as I wasn't playing,' said De Bruyne. 'If he says something to the press they are going to believe it because at that moment it was the only thing they had to listen to — the only evidence there was.
'But I don't think I am like he said. I always want to play. I have played hundreds of times in my career and I am only 25. So I think I have answered it quite well.
'At the time at Chelsea I had already many, many games under my belt. I didn't feel I was like a normal 20-year-old because I had already played for years in Belgium and then on loan from Chelsea in Germany.
'I think they (Chelsea) had a different view than I had of myself. I was young but also experienced. If I had come through the youth then maybe I would be happy to play 10 games there.
'As far as I was concerned, I was ready to play. I have read that, for them at Chelsea, I was too young, but in my mind you are never too young. If you are ready you are ready.
'I think Eden Hazard was the same age as me when he played so it's a little bit strange to say this guy is young and the other guy is old enough to play. It's just another way of saying that somebody isn't good enough.'
A minor ankle injury will keep De Bruyne out of Wednesday's game with Mourinho's United but he has already struck one blow this season, the opening goal in City's 2-1 Premier League win at Old Trafford.
'I have no problem with Jose,' he shrugged. 'In some ways it was a good experience. It's the only experience of not really playing and it gave me another aspect, to realise how to conduct yourself.
'I learned a lot about myself and I am happy with the decision I made to move on.'
After leaving Chelsea permanently for Wolfsburg in January 2014, De Bruyne flourished. Jurgen Klopp had already wanted him at Borussia Dortmund while Guardiola himself tried to tempt him to Bayern Munich before he left Germany for City.
DE BRUYNE'S TOP 10 QUOTES
He almost stayed at Wolfsburg for one more season but news that his girlfriend Michele was pregnant made his mind up to go.
'I am a person who is very confident of what I can do on the pitch, and off the pitch I do my thing and live my life the way I want to live my life,' he said.
'The pregnancy changed things. Maybe there was a chance to stay one more year in Germany but with the child coming it was the right time to go.
'Michele and I didn't think it would be good to have a child somewhere else and then two months later move and make everything different.
'That maybe gave me the little push to go and take the move. We are really happy and my son, Mason, is doing really well here.'
Despite the impression given by his touchline antics, Pep Guardiola doesn't micro-manage.
Asked on Monday to sum up the Spaniard's philosophy in three neat phrases, De Bruyne said after a brief pause: 'High pressing. Good organisation. And free.'
The last part is interesting. Freedom suits some footballers and not others.
I asked De Bruyne if his coach sends his players home with computer files and DVD clips to watch like some modern managers do.
MANCHESTER CITY'S RUN OF FIVE WITHOUT A WIN
'No, he never does that,' he said. 'We have lots of meetings at the club but it doesn't extend to personal things like that.
'We have a lot of freedom. That's important because your head needs to be free. It's no good if it's always "football-football".
'You know, we sometimes sleep at home before games and that's good. We know we eat here in the morning and after training and, yeah, sometimes the coach is there. But it's not as if we need to eat at a certain time. We eat when we want, as long as it's here.
'Like I say, some freedom.'
What Guardiola and his players need is the freedom brought about by improved results. United on Wednesday, West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, then Barcelona at home in the Champions League next week.
City's style of play has been placed neatly in a bracket with that of Klopp at Liverpool and Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham. At the Etihad, however, Guardiola's profile means that expectation is higher.
'Maybe it is the new way of playing but in five years maybe there will be another way coming,' smiled De Bruyne.
'But those other coaches are able to do it because they have had the time. Liverpool and Klopp have been together a year and Tottenham also needed a first year before they did really well.
'Hopefully we will get some time like they did. We play really high against 10 players in a small space and the opposition play against three or four players in a big space.
'So it's harder for us to defend than for other people but I think it's always going to be like this.
'We hear the criticism but we know what we are doing wrong and what we are doing well, so the truth is always somewhere between the lines.