Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 January 2020

Vincent Kompany a link with Manchester City's past - and the future

Former Etihad defender now managing Anderlecht but could return in the post-Pep era

Vincent Kompany during the tribute dinner at the Savoy Hotel, London. PA
Vincent Kompany during the tribute dinner at the Savoy Hotel, London. PA

Vincent Kompany had his eye on two fixtures at the weekend. On Saturday, in front of a sparse crowd in southern Spain, his Anderlecht played out a 0-0 draw with Scotland’s Livingston, part of their winter break schedule. At Villa Park on Sunday, a far grander occasion, when his former club thumped in six goals, and an old friend, Sergio Aguero, broke records with a hat-trick.

That evening Kompany made his way to the Savoy hotel in London to receive a prestigious Tribute Award from the English Football Writers' Association. Kompany may no longer be employed in the English game, but he is hugely appreciated there, missed, and warmly, eagerly invited to return.

Kompany was articulate and charismatic, as always, and shared some telling anecdotes about the transformation he witnessed at Manchester City over his 11 years propelling the club’s rise.

He had signed from Hamburg in late August 2008, and recalled that his first press conference was shifted off site. “It was at the local rugby club because they had a bit more space. Then I was trying to put boxing gloves on to do a cardio session and they only had one glove.” Kompany smiled at the memory. “City were playing good wages, but in terms of everything around the club, the standards, we’ve come a long way since then.”

In 2020, a new City signing would have, for his or her unveiling, a choice of auditoriums for around the vast Etihad campus in Manchester. They would then head to one of a number manicured practice pitches via a road known as Vincent Kompany Crescent. The symbolism is plain. Kompany, who joined City a week and a half before the club came under the ownership of the Abu Dhabi United Group, is the link between the City that used to be, and the soaring champions they became.

He was asked, at the Savoy, for his single fondest memory. The temptation, he reflected, was to cite the extraordinary, out-of-the-blue goal he struck against Leicester City in the penultimate match of last season, the one that kept a taut title-race marginally in City’s favour, the one that rocketed in from 25 metres. Emotion drove that strike, he acknowledged. “Before that game against Leicester, I had all this influx of information,” he remembered. “I knew I was going, I knew it was the last time I’d play in that stadium. And guess what? You keep a clean sheet, you go on to score that goal.”

But no, the souvenir most cherished would be the suspense-rich seizing of City’s first Premier League title, the Aguero goal in stoppage time on the last day of the 2011-12 campaign. “The Aguero moment,” as Kompany and all of English football know it, a moment made possible by Kompany, the captain, having scored the only goal of the Manchester derby two matches earlier, the result that leapfrogged City over United in the tightest race of the modern era, decided on goal difference.

Three more Premier League gold medals and six domestic Cups decorate Kompany’s City CV. There has been no finer leader in the club’s dressing-room. Which is partly why Kompany has long been identified as a candidate for a senior managerial or even executive role in City’s longer-term.

Though the club miss him as a player, not least in a season where the defence of the league title has confronted an invincible Liverpool and City’s central defence looked more vulnerable in his absence, they are monitoring his first steps in senior coaching with close interest.

Kompany returned to Anderlecht in his native Belgium in the summer, 33 years old, still eager to play but ready to combine it with a position on the coaching staff. Anderlecht were in a deep slump, and the climb out of it has been challenging. Kompany’s availability to marshall the team on the pitch has been restricted by injuries, and the notoriously hard task of being player-coach has led to some reshuffling in the hierarchy, though Kompany still takes a lead role in tactical planning and strategy up until each matchday.

He remains close to Manchester, where he actively supports a charity helping the homeless, and knows City would favour a reconnection after his playing career closes. A future, in the time after Pep Guardiola, in which a former City man from the era of great prizes coaches the first team is a preferred scenario.

Kompany’s credentials are obvious, as are those of Patrick Vieira, Kompany’s former City team-mate and now head coach at Nice, or Mikel Areteta, until last month assistant to Guardiola and in his first job as a manager at Arsenal.

Kompany’s concerns are the immediate future. Anderlecht will resume after Belgium’s winter break a lowly ninth in the top division, a long way from contesting next season’s Champions League group phase. For City, Kompany senses an imminent breakthrough in that competition.

The Premier League, he admits, looks under Liverpool’s command. “With this big a gap, I am not breaking news by saying it’s obviously in Liverpool’s hands,” said Kompany.

“But if the last decade has taught us anything, it is that we find our best moment exactly at these ‘breaking’ points. This season has so much still to be done. We’re still in the FA Cup, still in the Champions League, still in the League Cup. I wouldn’t look at this as a season with anything other than opportunity.”

Note the ‘we’. Kompany remains at heart a Citizen, and as eager as any of the current squad to claim a European prize.

“It’s part of the evolution of City. When I was at City I can comfortably say, for the first eight years, the Champions League wasn’t really as much of a priority as it was for other clubs in Europe. I can’t quite explain it. We wanted to win the Premier League, and win it again, we wanted to win the FA Cup. It was that English, Manchester kind of thing: We wanted to beat United, we wanted to beat Liverpool.

“In recent years it’s changed. Now the club is desperately hungry for the Champions League. And if I have learned anything about City it’s that whenever they set themselves a target, they are capable of achieving it.”

Updated: January 13, 2020 01:57 PM

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