MANCHESTER CITY’S Secret Santa says the champions already have the perfect Christmas gift — as they prepare to return to action on Thursday.
During the World Cup break, boss Pep Guardiola gave the club a major boost by putting pen to paper on a two-year contract extension.
And, thankfully for City fans, it has no ho-ho Clauses…
Kevin De Bruyne dressed up as a Sky Blue Santa for the club’s Christmas campaign — ‘A Time for Giving’.
And the Belgian World Cup midfielder said: “It was great news to hear that while we were away. Pep has done so much for this football club and I am sure he will continue doing that.
“We want to win every single game and every competition we play in and Pep’s impact on helping us try to achieve that is just huge.”
City fans will be hoping this Santa can sleigh old rivals Liverpool in Thursday’s Carabao Cup cracker.
A place in the last eight at the expense of the holders is top of their wish-list.
Yule not be surprised that the serial winners are also aiming to close the five-point gap on title leaders Arsenal.
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The Belgian superstar endured a miserable time in Qatar, as the Red Devils failed to make it out of their group despite being among the favourites.
And much of the blame was placed at the feet of De Bruyne, 31, who effectively wrote off his nation’s chances in an interview early in the tournament.
He then struggled to find his best form as Roberto Martinez’s men were dumped out by Morocco and Croatia.
But after a brief spell of rest and reflection, he has now thrown himself back into the domestic season with the Prem champions.
After dressing up as Father Christmas he now wants to be more like Scrooge — and make sure all the silverware that is up for grabs between now and the end of the season goes to the Etihad.
Looking back on a dismal month, De Bruyne said: “It was a disappointing World Cup campaign for us.
“We have had some successful major tournaments in previous years — and unfortunately this was not one of them.
“Now I am back with City and my focus is on continuing the strong first half of the season we had, to give us the best possible chance of winning trophies at the end of the campaign.”
No team had more players taking part in the World Cup than City — and boss Guardiola will need to check on their physical and mental state as they return to the club in the coming days.
The £14million arrival from River Plate had given glimpses of his talent at City — but had been largely overshadowed by fellow new boy Erling Haaland.
However, he had an exceptional tournament in the Middle East — scoring four times and linking up brilliantly with skipper Lionel Messi.
Alvarez — who found the net six times in the first half of the season at City — will be given a few days to enjoy the celebrations back in South America before returning to Manchester.
But his club team-mates and fans cannot wait to see what it will do for his confidence.
De Bruyne claims that his performances in Qatar came as no surprise to the players who have been training with him every day at City — and hopes he can pick up where he left off.
He said: “Julian has been amazing with us since joining and now he has shown his quality at the World Cup.
“He has already scored some important goals for us this season, so fingers crossed that will continue when he returns for the second half of the season.
“It’s been no surprise to see him doing so well for us — and in Qatar — because of the quality he has.”
As well as Alvarez, Guardiola is still waiting for several of his players to return to the fold — including five England stars and three Portuguese.
That means City will be severely depleted for the visit of Liverpool in the Carabao Cup on Thursday — and the same could apply when they return to Premier League action at Leeds on December 28.
It presents a new type of challenge for KDB and his team-mates, as they look to make it a hat-trick of titles — and five in the last six years.
The £54million midfielder said: “It has obviously been different, but we just have to try to be ready.
“It is now another sort of challenge physically and mentally, however I am sure we will be ready for the second half of the season.
“We will do everything we can to try to get the rhythm back and ensure we put in good performances.
“We will have to adapt to the situation. When I returned to training last week there were few senior players, so it is a strange situation.”
Their first game back could not be any more difficult, a tie with rivals Liverpool looks set to be explosive given the clubs’ history over the last few seasons.
De Bruyne said: “We will obviously be trying to win the game against a very tough side. It will be great to be back at the Etihad in front of our supporters.”
But the midfield maestro took time out from preparations to make that surprise visit to a City in the Community session.
Meanwhile, team-mates Erling Haaland, Riyad Mahrez, Rico Lewis and Stefan Ortega visited the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital to give out gift bags to the patients.
KDB said: “It’s obvious from my visit how much these children enjoy playing football with City in the Community coaches. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
“The impact of playing football on physical and mental wellbeing should not be underestimated.
“It makes me proud to know that City and its fans are now creating real opportunities for young people through the club’s campaign.”
Manchester City are offering the gift of football this Christmas, through community campaign, ‘A Time for Giving’.
The club has funded the equivalent of 76,000 hours of free football community sessions, to support young people in Manchester — raising more than £190,000.
Since early November, the club has been donating £5 to its charity, City in the Community, for every purchase from a range of selected Christmas items.
In addition, the club has matched extra donations made by fans and staff — to increase the overall funds for City in the Community football programmes up to the value of £75,000 in total.
Every £10 raised will enable a young person to enjoy four hours of football plus a healthy lunch in the school holidays in 2023 and beyond.
The club has also continued its annual support for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, through the donation of more than 400 festive gift bags.