Martinez: De Bruyne can reach Messi, Ronaldo level; Hazard a 'calm' captain
BRUSSELS -- Belgium manager Roberto Martinez believes Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne can reach the level of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Martinez said it will take time and consistency for him to get there, but suggested the Belgium midfielder is on the right path.
"Absolutely [he can]," said Martinez in an interview with ESPN FC at the Belgium team's training facility. I think when you see the players that you mention [Messi and Ronaldo], obviously you [have to] become consistent with your performances in order to reach that level. That happens over the course of a few seasons.
"The level of performance that Kevin is having this season [and] the level of performance he had last campaign shows you that he has the potential of reaching those highs. And there are not many players that you could say that about."
De Bruyne has played a fundamental part in his side's ascent to the top of the Premier League and former Everton manager Martinez noted the direct influence of Man City manager Pep Guardiola in the 26-year-old's development, adding that the player brings "arrogance" and "belief" to national team duty off the back of his recent form.
"I think that you can see that he's got a real special connection [with Guardiola]," said Martinez. "When a manager and a player hit the same way of thinking they become almost a manager on the pitch. I think Kevin De Bruyne's performances are exactly what the manager wants.
"[Guardiola] gets the best out of Kevin and Kevin is a player that is ready now to take that role and make a big, big difference on the pitch.
"When you get a new manager coming into a club with new ideas, you have to think and the players get pushed out of their comfort zone and I think Kevin De Bruyne has taken that and is using it to take his game to a different level."
Martinez, whose side host Mexico in a friendly on Friday, was adamant that Chelsea's Eden Hazard, who has captained Belgium in two of the Red Devils' last four matches, has become a leader within the squad.
Hazard has been an international since making his debut as a 17-year-old in 2008 and scored six goals in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, as Belgium won their qualifying group by nine points.
"There are many types of leader," said Martinez. "Some are more vocal, others are less vocal and they lead by example and Eden is that way; he's such a calm influence, but he's someone who has got an incredible passion for the game."
"He's a very special character on the pitch and in the final third. And he is without a doubt a leader, someone who has grown immensely behind the scenes and taken responsibility."
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.