Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola says he rates Kevin de Bruyne as highly as any player he has managed, with the exception of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
The Belgian scored City’s first goal in a 4-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday.
He now has 18 goals and 16 assists in 48 games for the Blues, who have begun the season with a club-record eight successive wins in all competitions.
Guardiola said: “Messi is on a table on his own. No-one else is allowed. But the table beside, Kevin can sit there.”
Throughout his stellar coaching career, 45-year-old Spaniard Guardiola has managed some of the world’s finest players, including Xavi and Andres Iniesta at Barcelona and Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller at Bayern Munich.
De Bruyne has taken seven games to show his new manager how talented he is, and took just 15 minutes to score against Bournemouth, as he did in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford seven days earlier.
But it is the former Chelsea man’s all-round contribution that has caught Guardiola’s attention.
“Kevin is outstanding player,” he said. “Without the ball he is the first fighter. With the ball he is clear. He sees absolutely everything.
“He makes the right decision in the right moment every single time.”
De Bruyne is not one of the Premier League’s off-field showmen. But, according to Guardiola, the 25-year-old is fiercely ambitious, and keen to win the major individual prizes that have been the preserve of Argentine forward Messi and Real Madrid’s Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo since 2008.
“I don’t know him too much but from what I can see he is a guy who likes to be at home with his wife and kids,” said Guardiola. “Before the game he is relaxed and quiet.
“He is one of the best, there is no doubt about that. We are lucky to have him.
“But to be the best, you have to win titles. Maybe I am wrong but I think he would like to win these individual prizes.”