The Man City midfielder says he has felt the season has been over since he got injured against Tottenham in April, but is ready for the FA Cup final

In a way, Kevin De Bruyne was no different to any Manchester City fan in the final weeks of the season. 

“I hate watching my team,” he told reporters on the eve of the FA Cup final. “I just can’t, especially at the end of the season when there’s so much at stake.” 

The relentless form of City and Liverpool made this title run-in perhaps the tensest in Premier League history, with supporters of both sides knowing even the most minor of slips could cost their sides the trophy they covet most. 

Yet for De Bruyne, he knew he could have been out there. Twelve months ago, he was the heartbeat of Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking City side, the man who so often popped up when games were tight to make a decisive contribution. 

“I just think you’re not in control,” he adds. “You know, when you’re on the field, you’re in control. If you lose, you lose, but you know what you can do. On the sidelines, you can’t do anything. You feel more like a fan. Obviously I watched all the games, but it’s not something I really enjoy.” 

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De Bruyne endured an injury hit campaign; two separate knee injuries keeping him out from the first game of the season until December, and muscle problems stopping him from finding his rhythm during the run-in. 

Just as he was looking back to his best – he was fantastic in the Champions League clash with Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium in mid-April – he pulled up again, injuring his hamstring against Mauricio Pochettino’s side in the league a few days later. 

The Belgian clearly took great pleasure in seeing his side come out on top without him – and does not feel sorry for Liverpool one bit – but he admits he has not enjoyed this season as much as last. 

“Last year was way better for me,” he says. “It feels different, but I still felt important. It’s more difficult but when I’ve played I’ve done a really good job. March and April were really important, and I helped the team when they needed me. Last year was unbelievable: I played every game.” 

He continued: “I’m fine. For me, this season, mentally, has been over since the Tottenham game. It’s good to be back with the team for the prizes, the Brighton game and now the final. But in other ways it was just a bad start, being unlucky with the two knee injuries.” 

The 27-year-old has been able to make some impact, however; on a few occasions in recent weeks he has had words of encouragement for his team-mates before matches. 

“It’s more about being there mentally,” he continues. “If somebody needs you or asks you for advice, you just make sure they are sharp. On the field you can’t do anything, but before the game you can say something if you need to. I’ve tried to do that a couple of times, but mostly they’re fine. 

“I wouldn’t have done that four or five years ago. I’m an older player now and I take more responsibility for myself and the team. I think when you’re younger you’re just focused on doing your thing, but now, the older you get, you take more responsibility and more care with what is happening to the others.” 

It is testament to the quality and mentality of Guardiola’s squad that without being able to call upon De Bruyne every week they still won their final 14 games of the season in a row, and 18 of their last 19, to finish ahead of a Liverpool side that lost only one game all season – to City. 

Jurgen Klopp’s side recorded 97 points, enough to have won the title in any Premier League season apart from the last two, when City won 100 and 98. Guardiola says he himself admires Liverpool perhaps more than some of the club’s own fans, but while De Bruyne says he can sympathise with their predicament, he does not feel sorry for them. 

“No,” he replies. “It’s a remarkable effort, but it means that we were just better than them in the end. I don’t feel sorry for them, because I don’t think they’d feel sorry for us. I don’t think anybody felt sorry about the way we went out of the Champions League. You take it. I know how they feel, because you’re going to feel disappointed. We’d feel the same if it happened to us. 

“But we’re still competitors. We want to win as much as they do, but I can understand the feelings they have. 

“It’s the general view of athletes. You feel compassionate with other teams, but in the end the most important thing is, if you play an individual sport, it’s yourself, and when it’s your team, it’s your team. It’s been a great battle. But to feel ‘sorry’ for them is maybe going a little too far.” 

De Bruyne made his latest return to the City side at Brighton on the final day, and it was during the title celebrations on the Amex Stadium pitch when he turned to Guardiola and joked, ‘You’re a sh*t coach, all you do is win.’ 

The two get on well, even if De Bruyne says he still cannot quite work out his manager, and he says he still doesn’t know if he will start at Wembley. 

“I don’t know,” he says. “Pep rarely says it up front. Except maybe three or four games out of the 60 it’s always the meeting before the game. 

“I’m fine [with that]. Maybe sometimes he doesn’t even know until a few minutes before – I can believe that. I’ve no idea where we’re going with the gaffer sometimes! That’s good.” 

Part of the reason Guardiola has won so much with City – and why a domestic treble would be secured if they beat Watford on Saturday – is because he has presided over a squad full of quality players who each understand their roles. 

That has been an increasingly tough job this season, however, with fundamental players from the 100-point campaign, like Nicolas Otamendi and Gabriel Jesus, suddenly finding themselves on the outside looking in. The unwritten rule in the City dressing room is that nobody is untouchable, as De Bruyne himself has found out this season. 

“It’s not like he speaks about it. It’s hard because some players – like Nico – played everything, even when he was injured. This year you play less. You feel bad for somebody really because there isn’t really a reason why they don’t play, it’s just that he chooses somebody else. You have to accept it as a player and I’ve had to do that for different reasons too. 

“It’s not always nice because you come into a season thinking it’ll be the same as last year. Everybody knows what the goal is. You can be angry and disappointed about it but when you come on the pitch you have to show your worth. Everybody has done that. They all perform. That’s why we’ve gone so far.” 

Perhaps one man in the City squad sums that up more than anybody else; De Bruyne’s Belgium team-mate Vincent Kompany. Guardiola has turned to the club captain for six of City’s past seven games, including the especially must-win matches at Selhurst Park and Old Trafford. 

It was Kompany who crashed in a long-range screamer when the end-of-season tension seemed to be overcoming the team against Leicester in the penultimate game of the league season, yet his tears during the ensuing lap of appreciation suggested his future at the club is in some doubt. 

It had been expected that he would sign a one-year contract extension, but nothing has been finalised and the discrepancy seems to, inevitably, centre on the 33-year-old’s fitness; he wants to play, Guardiola is concerned he cannot play enough. 

“We’ve spoken about it a few times but he says the main thing is he wants to play as much as possible,” De Bruyne says. “It’s not easy at our club with the players we have. The last six weeks have helped his case. But I don’t know. 

“I don’t think you can replace Vinny. I’m hoping that he stays for another year. I can understand his situation but when I see him play he’s maintaining the level. For me, if you can play at the highest level as possible then I want to stay. But I can’t speak for him. He does so many things at the club. Not just for the team but around the club. He knows everybody, he’s been here 11 years. 

“It is impossible (to replace him) but every team has an evolution. When Vinny finally steps down then maybe others will step up. That’s the way it goes… when you get too old you get replaced!” 

Too old, or too injured, perhaps, given the environment at City. But De Bruyne insists his fitness problems are behind him and he will not be watching from the sidelines next season. 

“I’ve no doubt in my mind that after a good summer break and preparation everything will be fine.”