Frank Lampard claims the huge competition for places prevented Kevin De Bruyne from establishing himself at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho.
The Belgian star began his Premier League career at Stamford Bridge but found opportunities hard to come by when Lampard’s own playing days were drawing to a close.
De Bruyne rebuilt his reputation in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg before Man City spent £50m in the summer of 2015 to bring him back to England.
The 31-year-old is now regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation and underlined his class with another superb display during Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final rout of Real Madrid.
‘I’ve always liked Kevin as a player,’ said Lampard at his pre-match press conference. ‘I liked him when he was with us at Chelsea and we were team-mates and I like him now as a top-class midfield player.
‘When I think back to his time at Chelsea, at that time we were mainly playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, and I was playing a bit deeper as one of the two sixes. Kevin was fighting more for the No.10 position or one of the two wide players.
‘So I wouldn’t say we were particularly in competition for a place in the side, but you could see his quality.
‘Kevin’s a fantastic player and he’s become a top, top player for Manchester City over the past few years. He’s certainly going to be one of many threats we will have to plan for.
‘When he was with us in his younger days, we were probably quite well stacked in those attacking areas. Eden [Hazard] was here, [Andre] Schurrle was here, Juan Mata was here and what I remember from Kevin was a real hunger and desire to come in and play.
‘I don’t personally know the intricacies of what happened at the time between him, the club and the manager but looking back now I respect the fact he did leave to play regular football. You can see that hunger in his game and he’s always wanted to showcase that talent he’s got.
‘He’s gone from strength to strength, he’s had an incredible rise as a player and I love watching him play. To get the numbers he gets, through goals and assists from midfield is fantastic and his range of passing is amazing. If it’s not the best in the league, it’s certainly right up there.’