ABSENCE makes the heart grow fonder, so wrote an ancient poet.
And a wise old philosopher once told us that “every parting is a form of death, as every reunion is a type of heaven”.
And these were blokes who never even watched football. Let alone lived through Kevin De Bruyne’s five-month lay-off with a hamstring injury.
As football lovers, how we missed Manchester City’s Belgian genius.
And how we marvelled at the majesty of his Premier League comeback at Newcastle on Saturday, when De Bruyne conjured a goal and an assist to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 victory during a 21-minute cameo as a sub.
The goal was all about body shape, calmness and accuracy. It was the assist for Oscar Bobb’s late winner which bore his hallmark. The KDB USP.
What sets De Bruyne apart is the 360-degree vision, the sixth sense for a pass that makes him football’s version of that weird kid in the Bruce Willis movie who gives you the absolute willies by saying, “I see dead people”.
Anyway, De Bruyne’s return made me wonder — is he so good that we now have to regard the City midfielder as the greatest footballer the Premier League has ever seen?
The Belgian’s stats are mightily impressive — 65 goals and 103 assists in 244 appearances — but he wouldn’t get that accolade on stats alone.
As with all these things, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I’m lucky enough to have seen Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the flesh on many occasions but I regard Zinedine Zidane as my favourite player.
He was the one who, even more than Messi, did things which made me disbelieve my own eyes.
And in terms of Premier League players, De Bruyne provides those “F*** me, Doris!” moments more than pretty much any other.
The City squad assembled by Pep Guardiola — which, if De Bruyne has his way, will become the first in English football history to win four straight titles — is probably the greatest ever assembled on these shores.
And yes, here’s the asterisk to acknowledge lawyers must decide the legitimacy of its funding.
But even in a squad as multi-talented and expensive as City’s, De Bruyne is still indisputably the main man.
He’s the bloke you want to watch. However ably Phil Foden deputised.
However many goals Erling Haaland scores. However crucial Rodri is at the base of midfield. Whether or not Bernardo Silva is even the most magnificent little bloke called Silva to have played for City under Pep.
Jurgen Klopp called it right last week when he said: “Kevin De Bruyne is warming up, the whole country is starting to shake.”
Klopp understands how special De Bruyne is and the fact City remained even close to his Liverpool side during the Belgian’s absence was ominous.
It’s to the shame of my profession De Bruyne has never been voted FWA Footballer of the Year.
De Bruyne is a pleasant bloke but he has a healthy chip on his shoulder about the Press, ever since he was derided as a “Chelsea flop” when City signed him from Wolfsburg in 2015 for what turned out to be the best £55million Abu Dhabi’s royal family has ever spent.
Like Mohamed Salah, De Bruyne wasn’t rated by Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge and only became a Premier League great at the second time of asking.
Nobody who sees football as an art, rather than a science, would ever have ditched either player.
Salah and De Bruyne have both won two PFA Player of the Year awards, equalled only by Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Gareth Bale during the Premier League era.
Those must all be contenders in our “Who’s the Greatest?” debate, along with a clutch of other players from Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, including Roy Keane, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona and Paul Scholes.
Or what about Dennis Bergkamp, Harry Kane, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard or Sergio Aguero?
Personally, I rank De Bruyne at No 2 behind Henry.
But if he makes the difference in this title race by overhauling Liverpool, as even Klopp suspects he might, then De Bruyne can claim to be the Premier League’s GOAT.
WHISTLE FOR IT
IS there a bigger load of old guff in football than demands for consistency in refereeing decisions?
There have been 25 refs in the Premier League this season.
Why should they carry out a difficult role, full of subjective calls, any more consistently than 25 different people doing any other job? This weekend, Fulham’s Tom Cairney argued that Chelsea’s Malo Gusto should have been sent off for a horrible challenge on Willian.
But he then compared it to the sending-off of Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin against Crystal Palace, which was rescinded on appeal.
So do we now want refs to be consistently wrong?
REPLAY IT WITH MATES
THIS week brings what are almost certain to be the last-ever FA Cup third-round replays — with original ties to be settled on extra time and penalties from next season.
Like most changes in football, this has been met by an outcry.
But replays make Cup shocks less likely and the fixture list is so congested, for Football League as well as Premier League clubs, that something has to give.
There was similar uproar when shootouts were introduced after a single replay in 1991. Before that, men were men and Cup ties were played to a standstill.
Fulham fans reminisce about the longest-ever run to an FA Cup Final.
It took the Cottagers 11 matches — including six replays — to reach Wembley in 1975.
In 1980, Arsenal and Liverpool met four times to decide a semi and the Gunners ended up so knackered that a team chasing a treble of league title, FA Cup and Uefa Cup lost two finals and won nowt.
Still, that’s nothing on Alvechurch and Oxford City, who took SEVEN matches to settle their final qualifying round tie in 1971, before Bobby Hope scored Alvechurch’s winner in the 588th minute.
Players on either side are said to have struck up genuine friendships after spending so much time together.
ANGE POSTECOGLOU’S Tottenham are great to watch as a neutral.
While being “fearless” is such a cliched buzzword in modern football, Spurs genuinely do seem immune to fear and pressure — and it leads to some belting, wide-open games.
Maybe it’s an Aussie thing, because it brings to mind a quote from Postecoglou’s countryman, the great cricket all-rounder Keith Miller, who had fought the Luftwaffe as a flight lieutenant during the Second World War.
Asked about the ‘pressure’ of Test matches, Miller replied: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your a**e. Playing cricket is not.”
TAXING TIMES, JIM?
DURING a media call at Old Trafford on Sunday, Britain’s second richest man Sir Jim Ratcliffe — who is buying 25 per cent of Manchester United for £1.03billion — stated he won’t be at all of his club’s matches because of “other things”.
Other things, including his status as a tax exile in Monaco which means he can only spend 90 days per year in the UK?
ROCKET’S A GENIUS
WE love to witness genius in sport. But we also love aggro.
With Ronnie O’Sullivan we get both.
It has become increasingly rare to hear sporting rivals verbally rocketing each other, so O’Sullivan’s X-rated rant at beaten opponent Ali Carter after his latest Masters final triumph on Sunday night was as refreshing as it was fun.