Succession planning for Kevin De Bruyne

At the top level of football today the very best clubs are constantly aware of the need to succession plan as a part of their recruitment process. This can mean keeping a short list of potential coaches or ensuring that you are constantly refreshing shortlists and rankings for each position or role in your game model. As a contact sport, there is always a risk of injury for players, and with the emergence of markets such as the Saudi Pro League, even the top clubs are at risk of big money offers turning the heads of their best players, as was evidenced by interest from Saudi Arabia in Mohamed Salah of Liverpool at the end of the transfer window.

Succession planning is such a key element of recruitment and squad building and for the most part, clubs integrate this well into their recruitment workflow. At times, however, clubs can develop a blind spot around their most high-profile player, this is generally a result of that player having such a key role within their game model. This, of course, could also be a result of that player being at such a high level that they are going to be difficult to adequately replace.

Succession planning around a key player is likely to be a hot topic around the Etihad Stadium this season as thoughts turn to how they are going to replace their midfield talisman Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian international midfielder is the club captain and he is arguably their most talented player. With this said though he is also 32 years old and becoming increasingly more susceptible to injury and at the time of writing he is currently out again for another long-term injury.

Moving players on is not something that is unusual at Manchester City and this past summer saw the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte depart having played significant roles in their recent success. Arguably though none of those are as important as De Bruyne. 

In terms of the Belgian's role for City, he is still their most dangerous passer of the ball and he is the most creative player that City have. This past season saw City add more players who were 1v1 specialists in Jeremy Doku and Matheus Nunes but they still need a progressive passer who can move the ball to the final third and into the penalty area.

So, how can City look to replace De Bruyne in the medium term? We can use the Smarterscout platform to help us in this regard. By building a template using the smartersearch tool we can filter the database of available players to show those with similar outputs in key areas to De Bruyne. First of all though we have to understand what the Belgian’s profile looks like.




This is the Smartercout profile for De Bruyne from last season. As you can see with his style ratings there are some key areas that we need to be aware of when considering a replacement for the Belgian. First of all, we see that he stands out in terms of moving the ball towards goal. He also has strong outputs for shooting, receiving in the area and dribbling but his ability to press and disrupt the opposition should not be ignored either.

The search


Here, we can see our search criteria in terms of style ratings on the Smarterscout site when considering how to replace a player like De Bruyne. For the model ratings, we are prioritising attacking output. For skill ratings, we are giving some importance to ground duels in possession and for style ratings we are rating passing towards goal and shooting as very important and link-up passing as somewhat important.


1. Joey Veerman, 24-years-old, PSV and Netherlands



The first player on our shortlist is the 24-year-old Dutch midfielder Joey Veerman of PSV. Veerman is a modern midfield player who can fulfil various roles for his team. He is capable of playing as a playmaker type but also in a more box-to-box role and he would be capable of playing at first-team level as an ‘8’ in the Manchester City system.

Veerman started his career with Volendam in the north of the Netherlands and he played there until 2019 when he moved to Heerenveen for a fee in the region of £550K. They made a significant profit on that deal in 2022 when PSV came in for the midfielder for £6M. The next move for Veerman is likely to see PSV make another large profit on their outlay when they signed him.

The first thing that stands out when we look at Veerman is his rating for passing the ball towards the opposition goal. He is an extremely aggressive and progressive passer of the ball with the ability to move the ball through the thirds and into the final third or penalty area. In this regard, he would fit City as their more aggressive ‘8’. His output for shooting is slightly lower but this is likely a direct result of his role in the PSV system. It is also worth considering that Veerman has extremely strong outputs for disrupting the opposition build-up and for recovering a moving ball.

At 24-years-old Veerman has yet to enter his prime as a player so City would be getting younger in a key position and role.


2. Lazar Samardzic, 21-years-old, Udinese and Serbia



Next up we have the 21-year-old Serbian international Lazar Samardzic of Udinese in Serie A. The Serbian midfielder was extremely close to a transfer in the summer with last season's beaten Champions League finalists Internazionale trying to secure his signature. He was actually born in Germany and he represented the German national team at youth level. Samardzic has, however, decided to commit to Serbia at full international level.

Samardzic initially developed at Hertha Berlin before moving to RB Leipzig. In 2021 he moved to Italy to join Udinese for a fee of £3M and when he next moves it will be a far bigger fee.

Samardzic is naturally left-footed and is an extremely progressive passer from deeper areas. There are similarities in the way that he moves the ball aggressively towards the penalty area to that of De Bruyne at City. Samardzic also poses a real threat for his team from set-pieces with an incredible delivery from his left foot.

As you can see from Samardzic’s smarterscout profile from last season he has a lot of similarities in his output to that of De Bruyne. His rating for passes towards the opposition goal is 78 but he also takes a large amount of shots at goal and he has a rating of 90.

As a replacement for De Bruyne for City, it is likely that Samardzic would be a more long-term option given his age. He has already played a significant amount of football though and as such he would be ready for first-team football.


3. Teun Koopmeiners, 25-years-old, Atalanta and Netherlands



We are staying in Serie A for our next option with the 25-year-old Atalanta midfielder Teun Koopmeiners. The Dutch international midfielder was the product of the youth academy at AZ Alkmaar, one of the most prolific academies in the Netherlands, and he developed to become one of the key first-team players there. In 2021 he made the move to Serie A to join Atalanta.

Koopmeiners is capable of playing as a ‘6’ or as an ‘8’ but as a De Bruyne replacement and in City’s system he would be used as a more advanced midfield player. At Atalanta, he has typically played in a double pivot in a two-man midfield but in those roles, he has to play in deeper areas as well as being in a more box-to-box role.

As you can see from his smarterscout profile Koopmeiners is one of the most progressive passers in Serie A. He has an extremely high rating for passes towards goal and he is capable of playing into the final third or into the opposition penalty area. Interestingly, he also has good ratings for shooting, dribbling and receiving the ball in the area. This well-rounded profile would fit well in the current City squad.

Koopmeiners would come with a significant price tag but given the financial power of Manchester City, this would not be a barrier. Koopmeiners would also be capable of playing as one of the more advanced midfielders in the City system. 


4. Eberechi Eze, 25-years-old, Crystal Palace and England



The final player on our list would also be the most expensive in the 25-year-old England international Eberechi Eze of Crystal Palace. Eze is an interesting player who has had something of a long road to get to this point in his career. Having been rejected by more than one academy as a young player he finally settled at QPR and made his way through to the first team. In 2020 he moved to the Premier League to join Crystal Palace for a fee of £17.8M.

Eze is something of a hybrid profile as a player who can play the progressive passes from the midfield into the final third or area and as a player who can dominate in 1v1 duels. In this sense, he is perfect for the way that City manager Pep Guardiola is looking to build his squad. 

As you can see from his smarterscout profile his rating for passes towards goal is slightly lower than we might want, although this is likely affected by the style of play at Crystal Palace. He does, however, have excellent outputs for dribbling, reinforcing his 1v1 ability, and shooting.

As a domestic option, it is likely that Eze would be one of the best options for City as a De Bruyne replacement. His hybrid profile would give more depth of options in the midfield for Guardiola.



As De Bruyne is becoming increasingly more injury-prone and as he comes closer to the end of his contract at City we will see the recruitment team at the club accelerate their plans to replace the Belgian going forward. Using a platform like Smarterscout would give their recruitment team a head start in terms of creating a shortlist to replace De Bruyne.


This Smarter Thinking piece was created in partnership with Total Football Analysis

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