Maybe it was a mind game effort, maybe it was an attempt to bless his successor, or maybe it was a tribute to a manager who turned a dying club into a football brand that invites comparisons to his own. Whichever Pep Guardiola reiterated his view. Vincent Kompanydestiny to be Manchester City manager. “He needs to stop saying that,” City’s greatest captain smiled. “I am a Championship manager.” Admittedly, not much longer Burnley three wins from promotion.
It was rediscovered and rejuvenated under Kompany. One FA Cup Saturday’s draw at Etihad Stadium is his first competitive visit to his former club since leaving to manage Anderlecht in 2019, but he’s looking forward to ensuring this isn’t seen as the start of a more permanent comeback. I think Pep should stay at Manchester City for 10 more years above all else. “City is racing to win the Champions League and we are racing to win the Championship, so I don’t think that kind of talk makes sense.”
Kompany was quick to highlight the different worlds they occupy. Guardiola’s apprentice, with Mikel Arteta on track to win the Premier League and Xavi La Liga this season, has a manager family tree, and Kompany said: “Pep has always been very in touch with former players who have moved on to the other side.”
There are sounding boards with more relevant experience though. Kompany took advantage of his time at Bournemouth to consult with Steve Cooper and Scott Parker of Nottingham Forest on how to gain promotion. “I went to the championship,” he said. “After the game I’ll still talk to Pep and have a glass of red wine, but (normally) I have to deal with balls, headers and throw-ins.” He married a City fan and his children are City fans. He may be an inconspicuous presence at Etihad, but these days he is sometimes seen there, but not when City beat RB Leipzig on Tuesday. “I was reviewing Hull City,” he explained. Burnley duly beat another City 3-1 on Wednesday.
Not that Kompany expected a similar score at Etihad. “The club is now a machine, a beast,” he said. Yet when he joined, there wasn’t even a coffee machine. Kompany changed that and much more in an 11-year stay that brought 10 grand prizes. The last three came in his latest campaign, a historic trio. FA Cup, City It was his first and last trophy with the team: after beating Watford 6-0 at Wembley, he announced his decision to leave the morning.
And yet, there was an even greater way to say goodbye, if at all possible. His last match as a player at Etihad was against Leicester. It was an increasingly tense affair: in the final week of the season, Liverpool were threatening to become champions, while Leicester was heading towards one point as the game entered the final quarter.
At this point the ball came to a defender who had not scored in over a year. He was 25 yards from goal and Sergio Aguero, a much more regular goal scorer, shouted, “No, Vinnie, don’t shoot.” Kompany ignored him and found the top corner. He knew instantly that this was the perfect farewell.
“My decision was formulated in my head that this would be a good moment for me to leave a little before the game, but when the ball hit the net, it was over, it was over,” he thought. “If I had told my lady I would go back and continue, I hope she would have stopped me,” I said.
Kompany was nostalgic. “I’ll let you remember one more time,” he grinned. But he presented himself as a pragmatic figure. He argued that Burnley became the top possession in the Championship simply because he thought it was the best way to win games. He said his support for Guardiola stemmed from his logic. “My rational side was that I was a functional captain and I was driven, and the biggest thing I realized was that he was right,” he said. “And then my only task was to keep the locker room on track.”
Now the City locker room, even former Belgian teammate Kevin de Bruyne, has been quiet before the reunion. Still, it’s hard to ignore the impact of a huge figure on City. Look around the Etihad and there it is, immortalized in bronze. It is not uncommon for a manager to visit a place with his own statue. “It’s hard to put into words what an honor this is,” Kompany said. “Shared by my family. But when you talk about it, it’s kind of weird. But if a version of Vincent Kompany is going to stay out of Etihad Stadium forever, this may be the first time it has been proven many times that the real thing is in the bunker.