BY DAVID CLAYTON
As City prepare to welcome back one of our favourite sons this weekend, we look back at Vincent Kompany’s decade of brilliance, from start to finish.
When an unassuming 22-year-old Vincent Kompany arrived at Manchester City in late August 2008, it’s fair to say that he wasn’t really that well known outside his native Belgium or the German Bundesliga where he had plied his trade.
This writer was sat in the reception at our old training ground in Carrington when Kompany and manager Mark Hughes headed out to talk to the media.
Hughes had to return to his office to get something and I recall asking Vincent if it had been a long day?
“Just a bit,” he smiled – if memory serves – and off he went with his new manager and that was that.
The fee? Just £6million.
Few could have realised the impact our new arrival would have on the Club or the glorious period that was just a couple of years away.
Within a few days, another relatively unknown player had arrived ahead of the transfer window closing in the shape of Pablo Zabaleta and crowd idol Shaun Wright-Phillips had been re-signed from Chelsea.
To complete what would – looking back – be a seismic 10 days or so in City’s history, Sheikh Mansour’s takeover was completed on 1 September.
A new owner, Kompany and Zabaleta for less than £13million combined and the return of Wrighty.
The optimism and hope for a brighter future was off the scale for City fans, but nobody could have predicted what lay ahead for the athletic young Belgian defender from Hamburg.
City boss Mark Hughes played a huge role in Kompany’s arrival…
“I was manager of Blackburn, and we were in Germany where we playing Hamburg in a pre-season friendly – that’s where I saw this big, young athletic centre-back and he was impressive even then,” recalled Hughes.
“He caught the eye immediately and I made a mental note of him in case I was ever in a position to bring him to the club I was with.
"We asked about the possibility of signing him when I was with Blackburn but obviously, he was well regarded at Hamburg and that was the end of that."
But Hughes didn’t forget Kompany, and a sequence of events meant the stars were about to align for manager, player, and club.
Hughes became City manager in June 2008, but the big-money signings he’d been promised by then-owner Thaksin Shinawatra failed to materialise and with the summer transfer window deadline fast approaching, the Welshman was forced to think of bolstering his defence with a couple of solid, if not spectacular players that would fit his limited budget.
“I think people forget what the situation was like at City at the time I joined,” recalled Hughes.
“When I went to see Thaksin Shinawatra after becoming manager, I quickly discovered the resources I’d been promised weren’t actually available, so we had to look for good players who were good value.
“Vincent was on a list of players I’d had at Blackburn, so we made an enquiry, got a little bit of encouragement and it went on from there.”
That encouragement was borne out of a major falling out between Kompany and Hamburg.
Representing Belgium at the 2008 summer Olympics, Hamburg wanted him to return for the start of the Bundesliga campaign which would kick off against Bayern Munich.
Having been sent off in the opening group game against Brazil, Kompany was banned for the second game but would be available for the final match against New Zealand – and he wanted to stay and help his country progress to the quarter-finals.
Hamburg reportedly threatened legal action and demanded he return and for Kompany, his club’s very public threats didn't sit well.
He did return to Germany and came on as a 51st-minute sub in the season-opener against Bayern – a 2-2 draw in the Allianz Arena – but it would be his final appearance for Hamburg with his mind set on leaving.
City learned there might be an opportunity to prise Kompany away and lodged a bid that was accepted. All Hughes had to do was convince the ambitious youngster that there was a project in place that he could be a big part of.
"We sat down and talked and if I’m honest, City weren’t as easy to sell to players at that time because nobody knew what was happening behind the scenes or the possible future that lay ahead," said Hughes.
“I just felt the club was going places and told Vinnie we needed players like him to get us there and move the club forward. I told him the ambition was to be the best team in the Premier League and Vinnie got it very, very quickly and he wanted to be part of that project… the rest is history.”
The timing couldn’t have been any better for City or Kompany and within a few days, an unclear project had become crystal clear. With Sheikh Mansour’s takeover completed just 10 days after Kompany’s arrival, Manchester City had gone from a club with an uncertain future to a world heavyweight capable of bringing in players of the highest calibre in the blink of an eye.
With only hours of the transfer window left, the new-look City flexed their muscles by breaking the British transfer record by signing Robinho from Real Madrid for £32.5m.
Hughes was now the manger of a club with incredible resources and a very clear vision, but Hughes knew he would need leaders on the pitch to make the next step forward.
Kompany showed definite leadership qualities, but first his new manager would have to convince him that his future lay as a central defender rather than the role he perhaps saw himself progressing in having last worn the No.10 jersey at Hamburg!
“I think Vincent saw himself as a midfielder!” smiled Hughes.
“We had a need in that position at the time, so I thought, okay, let’s give it a try and see how it goes. I remember on his debut, he received the ball on a half-turn, looked up and played a 45-yard pass straight to a team-mate’s toe and I thought, 'well, nobody else can do that in those areas' so that's why he stayed in there a little bit longer than he should have done given the problems we had in defence at the time.
“The old adage is good players can play anywhere is certainly true in Vincent’s case.”
It wasn’t long before Hughes saw something very special in his new charge, with a mindset and maturity way beyond his 22 years of age.
“He was a young man but in terms of his ability and thinking, he was older,” said Hughes.
“The way he presented himself, his high standards and the way he wanted to develop as a person and as a player were evident from the off. He was very motivated, and he wanted to get to the top.”
Fittingly, Kompany’s City career began with a win and a clean sheet as the Blues swatted away West Ham United 3-0 at the Etihad.
Wearing the No.4 jersey vacated by Nedum Onuoha, Vinnie was off and running, though over the course of that first season, he moved into the back four, though it wasn’t all smooth sailing as City won just three of 15 Premier League matches from the end of September through to Boxing Day.
That led to more excellent signings in the shape of Craig Bellamy, Shay Given and Kompany’s former Hamburg team-mate Nigel De Jong.
The spine of a very good team had been formed, but a tenth-place finish didn’t quite match the optimistic wave the Blues had been riding on.
More new arrivals during the summer of 2009 included Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott, but despite winning five of the first six Premier League matches in 2009/10, an extraordinary run of seven successive draws and a demoralising 3-0 loss to Spurs meant a 4-3 win over Sunderland just before Christmas would be Hughes’ final match as City manager, with Roberto Mancini replacing him in the hot seat.
Hughes, however, takes great pride in having helped identify the bulk of the team that would end a 35-year wait for silverware the season after.
“The resources to be able to do that and to be able to bring in the players we wanted was down to the ownership of the club,” said Hughes.
“The quality that we brought in helped the club move forwards and looking back on the time they had with City, I do take pride that I was able to sign them and to be a part of helping them play a part in the club’s history.
“They were great guys, and you always want good guys to succeed. We had a good relationship and I think they appreciated that we saw something in them and that we gave them the opportunity to be part of something very special.”
Though Kompany wasn’t skipper yet, he had already become a commanding figure in the City team that flourished under Mancini and was instrumental throughout the 2010/11 season.
Joleon Lescott would become Vinnie's partner at the back during the second part of that campaign and he recalls how his friendship with the Belgian began from the word go.
"I’d played against Vinnie when I was at Everton so I knew he was a competitor who could affect the game, though he was in midfield at that point," said Lescott.
"When I arrived at City, my place in the changing rooms was next to Vinnie and we hit it off straight away.
"Myself and Kolo Toure had been signed to play, so Vinnie had to play out of position again – at left-back or midfield, I think – but then I got injured and he moved back into central defence.
"We were always aware that we were competing for the slot next to Kolo who was the captain at the time and the way it worked back then was that if you played well, you stayed in the team, so we were definitely in competition with each other to begin with.
"I can’t remember for definite the first time we played as a central defensive partnership, but it might have been the Manchester derby where Wayne Rooney scored that overhead kick.”
"I wasn’t due to play that day, but Kolo had a six-month ban imposed on him and that meant I would be in the team for the foreseeable if I played well.
"Vinnie and I played about 20 games together for the remainder of that season, including the FA Cup final against Stoke which was huge for us, so going into the 2011/12 season, we knew we were the partnership to break for anyone that came in."
Kompany led the team in Tevez’s absence as City beat United 1-0 in the FA Cup semi-final and then playing in the final against Stoke before the Blues secured Champions League qualification for the first time.
He was voted the Club’s Player of the Year by supporters and his team-mates voted him the Players’ Player of the Year.
Giving him the captain’s armband permanently was an easy decision for Mancini and under Kompany’s inspirational leadership, City would go on to end a 44-year wait for a top flight title.
"Vinnie was made captain for that season so I knew I just had to complement him, play as well as I could and hopefully keep my place," continues Lescott.
"I understood what Vinnie’s strengths were and he knew what mine were and we had a great understanding.
"We used to have conversations about who were playing next all the time I enjoyed that – it was never a case of ‘you do that, and I’ll do this’ and we had a mutual respect for each other, and we knew what was required.
"He always had leadership qualities, but he grew into the role of captain.
"If you look at the players we had assembled, we had Carlos Tevez who had twice won the title with United; Kolo was part of the Invincibles at Arsenal; Patrick Vieira who had won pretty much everything for club and country; Nigel (de Jong) had captained Hamburg; David Silva was a World Cup winner and Gareth Barry had been Villa captain.
"There were so many elements and influences around Vinnie because we had leaders all over the pitch at the Club at the time and they all deserve credit for helping shape the sort of captain he became.
"He was part of a group of players in that era who were all leaders in their own right and it’s something that people probably don’t appreciate, but they all helped mould Vinnie and all of us into the team we became.
" He began to facilitate defensive meetings and that’s when you recognised he was growing into the role of being a leader because he wanted that responsibility and he had a good balance of being Vinnie the captain, and just Vinnie where he could enjoy the moment the same as everyone else."
One of Kompany's most iconic moments would come in one of the biggest Manchester derbies of all time as City hosted United with three games remaining.
A win would put the Blues ahead of the Reds with two games remaining and who else but the skipper himself would settle the battle with a towering header and unforgettable celebration?
As commentator Alistair Mann succinctly put it as Kompany rose to power the ball past David De Gea in the a must-win Manchester derby, “Cometh the hour, cometh the captain!”
A tense win at Newcastle followed and, of course, somehow, City came from 2-1 down on the final day against QPR – ironically by then managed by former City boss Hughes – to win 3-2 and claim the Premier League title.
The joyous scenes were epitomised by Kompany, who galloped around the pitch in sheer disbelief at the 90 minutes he had just taken part in.
For Hughes, it was a bittersweet defeat.
“I might have been a little less gracious if QPR had gone down!” he said.
“But we didn’t and seeing the joy in the players faces, especially Vinnie’s was special. The part I played was only small in Vincent’s successes, because what he achieved was down to him and I don’t take too much credit for it. But I was pleased to even play just a small part.”
Kompany was assured legendary status among the City fans who continually serenaded him, telling him they loved him more than he’d ever know.
But he did know.
Vincent Kompany was born to play for Manchester City and born to lead this particular club.
He would have been a great success, no doubt, wherever he played, but there was just an unbreakable bond between the player, the supporters, Manchester, and the Club that elevated the relationship to a different level.
City have had some wonderful captains, but few would argue that Kompany is the best of a very fine bunch.
As City won trophy after trophy, it was fitting that when he was needed most, he always delivered - and in the penultimate game of the 2018/19 season, the Blues desperately needed a goal against Leicester to go into the final game at Brighton needing one more to win to be champions.
With 70 minutes gone and almost all his team-mates urging him not to shoot, he thundered a 25-yard shot into the top right hand corner to win the game amid wild celebrations.
As the goal was replayed, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said, “Vincent Kompany! Where do you want your statue?"
The answer is outside the front of the stadium, thank you!
In what would be his final season as City skipper, injuries restricted him to just 26 appearances, but he still played in the Carabao Cup final win over Chelsea, the FA Cup win over Watford and in the final title-deciding day win at Brighton.
And who knows how things might have gone but for some very odd VAR decisions in the Champions League quarter-final loss to Spurs?
He was always there for the big moments; the games that City had to win, instructing, cajoling and leading by example.
He ended his City career as a player with a treble trophy success and with his battle with injuries taking its toll, he knew there couldn’t be a better time to say goodbye.
Ten magnificent years, 360 games, 20 goals and 12 trophies.
He sent a message to the City fans after announcing he was leaving the Club, saying: “As overwhelming as it is, the time has come for me to go. And what a season to bow out. I feel nothing but gratefulness.
“I am grateful to all those who supported me on a special journey, at a very special club. I remember the first day, as clear as I see the last. I remember the boundless kindness I received from the people of Manchester.
"I will never forget how all Man City supporters remained loyal to me in good times and especially bad times. Against the odds you have always backed me and inspired me to never give up.
"Sheikh Mansour changed my life and that of all the City fans around the world, for that I am forever grateful. A blue nation has arisen and challenged the established order of things, I find that awesome.
"I cherish the counsel and leadership of a good human being, Khaldoon Al Mubarak. Man City could not be in better hands."
We may never see the likes of Vincent Kompany – who developed a Mancunian accent during his time in the city he still calls home – but we will leave the final words to our Chairman, Khaldoon Al-Mubarak…
“He defines the essence of the club. For a decade he has been the lifeblood, the soul, and beating heart of a supremely talented squad. A booming voice in the dressing room yet a quiet and measured ambassador off it, Vincent can be as proud of himself as we are of him.”