Kevin De Bruyne could have been playing for Bayern Munich in their 5-0 hammering of Freiburg in the Bundesliga on Saturday, if only they had been willing to match Wolfsburg’s valuation of him in the summer of 2015.
De Bruyne’s heart was beating for the move, his agent Patrick De Koster told SportFootMagazine last year, but Bayern would not budge their bid beyond €50 million.
In stepped Manchester City and the rest is history.
It would take a long time to list all the ways in which De Bruyne was effective for City in their ludicrously one-sided 7-2 demolition of Stoke City last weekend.
If you’ve only got time for the Cliff Notes then satisfy yourself with the following three through balls.
One, the return pass to Leroy Sane, who set up Raheem Sterling for City’s second goal in the first half.
An ankle-breaker of a pass for those Stoke players on the field expecting the shot; a neck-breaker of a pass for those of us in attendance who only spotted it after it was executed.
Two, the assist for Gabriel Jesus’s second goal. Let’s credit the movement of the striker first but the timing and execution of De Bruyne’s pass were geometrically perfect. He has a gift of playing decisive passes with the opposition on the back foot. It buys an enormous amount of time for the recipient.
Three, his pass for Sane’s goal some seven minutes later, just before his substitution. Maybe he was tired because he probably could have carried the ball further.
But the path of the pass was measured to the millimetre. It ate up the grass and turned midfield possession to a goal in the blink of an eye.
Guardiola hates to elevate one player above others - in his public analysis at least – but even he had a smile on his face when describing that pass afterwards. There was no hiding his delight.
Pep could have been coaching him at the Allianz Arena but – like with Thiago – he would have had to wave De Bruyne goodbye when leaving for City.
The Thiago signing Bayern could satisfy; his Barcelona buyout clause had dropped tantalisingly low and in they swooped. But without a significant discount there would be no De Bruyne to follow.
Lucky for City and – ultimately – lucky for Pep that Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and the now reappointed president Uli Hoeness are so stuck in their ways.
Bayern are a super club trying to keep up with the Joneses but are cutting corners.
They cut one in failing to get De Bruyne; they had cut another a year earlier in failing to meet the contract demands of Toni Kroos.
They are failing even in the eyes of even their star centre forward Robert Lewandowski – who spent the early part of the season pleading for more signings to keep pace with Paris Saint-Germain and the big teams in the Premier League. A signing like De Bruyne.
He knew what Bayern had wasn’t enough, not with the army Pep was assembling at the Etihad, and certainly not with the Globetrotters PSG were putting together in their strikeline.
PSG then demonstrated just how badly dilapidated Bayern had allowed themselves to become by walloping them 4-0.
There may well have been issues with the coaching methods of Carlo Ancelotti but one man alone shouldn’t be carrying the can for their overall recent negligence.
And so it was to Jupp Heynckes that Rummenigge and Hoeness turned… again.
At 72, Jupp is the third-oldest man to ever take charge of a Bundesliga team. His side racked up five against Freiburg – their 15th home win against that opposition in a row – but it’s hard to escape the sensation that Bayern have taken backward step with his appointment. It would be like Manchester United spelling out progress with Sir Alex Ferguson back in charge.
City are the team of the future now and they are taking giant leaps every week under Guardiola.
Bayern instead opted to press the reset button when he left; turning to Ancelotti - the yang to Pep’s yin - but now they are right back where they started.
Heynckes couldn’t have picked any more of his 2013 team on Saturday for his comeback if he tried. He had Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Javi Martinez, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller in the starting line-up.
Manuel Neuer and Franck Ribery were injured but we can assume they might have been there otherwise. The rest are cleared out or in Philipp Lahm's case retired.
And 2013 is for now is where Bayern appear to want to be. But the treble was half a lifetime ago in football terms and they haven’t got a hope of winning the Champions League up against teams the calibre of not only Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain this season but City themselves.
They decided to abort their season by appointing a caretaker in September. Rummenigge and Hoeness are again leaning on their old-boys network which has bailed them out of some ordinary decision making in the past.
Heynckes is yesterday’s man. Instead of having a genuine successor to Guardiola – to stand on the shoulders of that giant – and a player like De Bruyne they are desperately trying to rekindle the fire that burned bright in 2013.
But Bayern are rubbing sticks together compared to what Pep is doing.