Kevin De Bruyne credited the influence of Pep Guardiola after becoming the first Manchester City player to be named the Professional Footballers’ Association’s player of the year.
The rest of the PFA team of the year is dominated by Premier League champions Liverpool with five players, while Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford was handed a merit award for his role in the fight against child poverty.
City trailed Liverpool by 18 points in the 2019/20 Premier League season but De Bruyne, who registered 13 goals and a record-equalling 20 assists, was voted the campaign’s top performer by his peers.
“This is a big honour, to be voted by your colleagues, competitors from other teams who you always play against on the field. That they vote for you for best player, it’s amazing,” said De Bruyne.
“It’s maybe strange that I’m the first one at City, seeing all the good players who played there before and who are still playing. But it’s nice to represent the club.”
The Belgian midfielder praised Guardiola’s influence for giving him the freedom to shine after a 2018/19 season where he was dogged by injuries.
“We speak often about the team but in a lot of senses he knows when he gives the orders of what the team has to do that I will listen,” added De Bruyne.
“But then on the other side he gives me a lot of freedom; I don’t know why, that’s just the way it goes between us.
“He knows in one way I will always put the team first and then obviously if I can help myself I’m going to do that.”
Liverpool’s five-strong contingent in the team of the year was made up of Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mane.
Burnley’s Nick Pope, Leicester defender Caglar Soyuncu, City’s David Silva, golden boot winner Jamie Vardy and Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were also selected.
Rashford forced the UK government into a U-turn over its free school meals policy during lockdown, ensuring children in need would receive meals across the summer.
The England forward has since formed a child food poverty task force, linking up with some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets and food brands.
And on receiving the PFA’s special award, handed out for services to football, the 22-year-old insisted he is only just getting started on his off-field quest.
“What we’ve done so far, it’s only a short-term answer,” said Rashford.
“Me and my team behind me are just trying to find plans on how we can help these children for the rest of their childhood really, to find long-term answers to the problem.”