As Vincent Kompany today announced he would be leaving Manchester City, Joe Butterfield takes a look back at his career and offers up a tribute to our club captain.
On a warm Monday night, Manchester City signed off their home campaign in the 2018/19 season, beating Leicester 1-0 and putting one hand on the Premier League trophy. Shortly after the final whistle, Vincent Kompany stared into the chaotic joy which had erupted around the stadium with tears in his eyes. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was to be the final time he would do so.
I suppose we should all have known. As the players gave a victory lap around the stadium, it was almost as if it was all for him. Kompany walked ahead of the team, family in tow, as the players allowed this to be his moment to say farewell to an unsuspecting crowd of 50,000 fans who love him a bit more than the rest. Because he’s not like the rest.
It was fitting that this Leicester victory would turn out to be his final home game for Manchester City. One in which he was utterly, crucially, inevitably decisive. In the biggest of big moments, City’s colossus stood head and shoulders above the rest as he has so many times before – and what a head it is.
When Pablo Zabaleta left, it felt like we’d lost a mate. An Argentinian Manc who’d bled time and time again for Manchester City, he was the kind of man we’d all love to have a few pints with. It hurt mostly because of how much we loved him but also because, deep down, we knew that this was just the beginning of a long line of history-writing club legends leaving.
Now that Vincent Kompany is leaving, it feels like losing a family member. The father figure of the club, the perfect role model for the young players and even the old players, he’s been a perfect captain. Whether it’s eloquently addressing the media, encouraging his team-mates in the heat of a game of football or standing on a seat in the middle of the Railway pub, he was everything that every club wish they had. An ever-present in most of my life as an avid City fan, he, like Zaba before him, felt like a permanent fixture at the club. ‘He’ll never leave,’ we all thought, ‘not really.’
His arrival was, just like his departure, low key. Joining the club in 2008 for just £6 million, he was Mark Hughes’s first signing, yet his arrival was overshadowed by the purchase of the club by Sheikh Mansour. There was nothing understated about his time as a player, as he would become a crucial figure at the club for a decade.
During the Pellegrini era, it became widely believed that a Manchester City defence without Vincent Kompany wasn’t a very good one and, for quite some time, that was basically true. His obvious ability was there for all to see, however it was his leadership qualities and ability to keep the defence organised which was his greatest asset. Whether it was Joleon Lescott or Eliaquim Mangala, Vinnie’s presence turned average defenders into great ones. During the Mancini and Pellegrini reigns, it was this which made him invaluable and for quite some time he was legitimately the greatest defender in the Premier League.
It was a shame, then, that his presence was missed so often. Injuries plagued his time at the club as, in the 2012/13 season, he pulled his hamstring in December and was out for 10 days. A relatively short injury, though just over a month later he pulled his calf muscle and so began a painfully frequent recurring muscular injury list. His body let him down far too often, whenever he’d be getting back into a rhythm of playing regular games there was always a part of you that was just waiting for him to stretch for the ball that little bit too far or break into his stride just a touch too quickly and see him inevitably signal to the bench. Despite the 360 appearances he made during his time at the club, it’s hard not to think of what could have been if he’d been more readily available in his absolute prime.
It says everything about him that this never got the better of him. Players with similarly recurring injuries who endure long spells out of the game, only to return to the team and then find themselves immediately picking up another, have ended their careers or slowly found themselves sliding down the footballing pyramid. Kompany, however, always had the mentality to bounce back, determined to come back better than before. Whenever he did return, it said everything about his talent that it never felt like he was returning from an injury. Whilst many players take anywhere between a couple and a handful of games to return to their normal form, Vinnie could always slot straight back in and you’d never know he’d been out at all.
It has helped, somewhat, that we’ve become less dependent on him in recent seasons. The individual has made way for the system with this side side now – Kompany is no longer the defensive crutch he once was for us. Yet it’s telling that, in so many crucial games this season, Guardiola has continued to select Kompany. The closing run of the season saw Kompany and Laporte become the preferred centre-back partnership. He was brought into the team for the crunch game against Liverpool earlier this season and has almost exclusively been used in the biggest of games under Guardiola’s management.
He gave us far too many great moments to count them all but there are a few individual moments which I think perfectly demonstrate everything he brought to this club.
The first is the obvious one – the goal which has probably already earned him a statue at this club on its own. On April 30th 2012, the Etihad stadium exploded as the Belgian towered above the Manchester United defence, thundering it past a hapless David De Gea with his magnificent forehead. His celebration for that goal is iconic – not a single one of you reading is able to imagine that goal without the slow-motion leap in front of the fans. It’s difficult to imagine a single player on that pitch who could have scored that day and enjoyed it more than him.
That ability to bully opposition defenders made him a handful not only during attacking set-pieces but also defending them. His strength, determination and sheer physicality made him an imposing figure for opponents to deal with. As if his anticipation and tackling ability didn’t make him an absolute brick wall already, the way he relished a physical duel also made him impossible to get the better of – often leading to set-piece goals just like this one.
The second, much more hipster-esque choice, is a moment on one of City’s Tunnel Cams. On 25th January, City hosted Watford in the FA Cup 5th round. A frankly shambolic start to the game saw the blues go in at half time 2-0 down, after some defensive howlers. Pellegrini responded and at half-time both Kompany and Zabaleta were introduced, yet it’s as the players step into the tunnel for the second half that the moment comes.
The leadership which was clearly lacking in the first half was back and City went on to win the game 4-2. It’s not a huge speech, it’s not particularly revolutionary, but it’s what a captain does. He gathered the team in the tunnel and set the standards the team had to abide by. This is what makes him so irreplaceable, nobody better embodies the fighting mentality of the club more than himself.
The third is one single tackle, one against the greatest player the world has ever seen.
There’s nothing more to add here. No words can do it justice. This tackle is art.
Seeing the tributes to him pour in from City players, past and present, throughout the day has been quite emotional. He’s more than a player that everybody looked up to, he’s a man that everybody looked up to. His intelligence off the field is almost unrivalled in the game. He casually got himself an MBA at Manchester Business School after several years of study. His charity work is incredible – his entire wage from this season has been donated to homeless charities whilst he does plenty of work for them personally in his own time.
It’s sad that we didn’t really get to say a proper goodbye. There was no fanfare, no presentation, no emotional outpour from himself, that’s not Kompany’s style. He could have made this last couple of weeks about himself by announcing his departure, and that’s not a slight on players who have announced their departures in the past, he’d have been well within his rights to do so. However his focus, first and foremost, is on the team. He would never have wanted to make this his title win, his FA Cup Final, his domestic treble. Those things belong to the club and he would always prefer it that way. But they are his. He has captained this incredible ship and I would never have had it any other way.
I love Vincent Kompany. I love him more than he will ever know.
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