London – Vincent Kompany is entering his 10th season in England and, at 31, the Manchester City and Belgium captain happily admits he is no longer the player he was when he joined from Hamburg under Mark Hughes.
City supporters need not worry, this is not a lament about age or injury slowing him up. Kompany simply feels he has changed during his time in Manchester by virtue of joining exactly the right team at exactly the right time.
“This club has given me so much, and I think I have given a lot back,” he says. “I didn’t really expect any of this when I came to England but there’s a relationship now that’s going to grow and go further. Once I finish playing I’m still a Manchester City player for the rest of my life, that won’t change.
“At the moment I’m half-player and half-fan, that’s why I spend a lot of my spare time at the academy watching the kids. There is a real vision for the future here, a long-term plan. Only the very best clubs are able to pass the baton of continuity down through the generations.
“Manchester United were able to do it because Sir Alex Ferguson stayed so long. Maybe you see Barcelona and Bayern Munich doing it now and I think that’s what we are on the verge of putting in place.”
Continuity was not something that struck Kompany when he arrived in Manchester for the 2008-09 season with Pablo Zabaleta and, on deadline day, the new record signing, Robinho. “When I came to City there was a gap in the dressing room with regard to the club’s history,” he says. “There was not a lot from the previous generation, Dunny [Richard Dunne] was maybe the only one in a position to tell us what players like Shaun Goater and Paul Dickov had done for the club. If you stay long enough you get to hear about all the club legends but it is more powerful when there is a direct link through the present players.
“Nothing lasts forever in football, Zab and Joe Hart and others who were heroes at the club have gone now but I’m still around to provide a link to what we achieved in the last 10 years and hopefully players will come after me and do the same.”
Two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup are what Kompany has helped City achieve. That is an abundances of riches compared to what went before, yet considering the level of investment it does not quite represent the level of dominance the club owners seemed to envisage. “If you put everything into perspective it’s an incredible achievement,” Kompany says. “First of all because you don’t end 25 years of football and financial dominance by another team just by saying: ‘We want to catch up,’ you need to put a lot of work and effort into it, as well as money. Second, this is the Premier League and it’s very competitive.
“No team here is going to win eight titles in a row. We had to scramble and fight to get the first one and then we got a second to confirm things. Since then we have been in the mix with other clubs, and that’s progress. It’s not as if any one team has been dominant over the period.”
Kompany cannot help but smile when he thinks back to the club he joined compared to the slick operation City are now. “I can’t forget about the noise in the dressing room,” he says. “It was loud. You couldn’t imagine anything more opposite to what I was used to in Germany. You would have to be quiet there and focused on the game. Even reading a book, which I thought was sensible, would be too much for the manager.
“Then I came to City and the place was bouncing. People playing pranks. Robinho and the kit man would be taking the mickey out of each other. Robinho and Elano would be doing keepy-ups with rolled up socks, making the rest of us feel like amateurs. I couldn’t do anything like that, I just joined in by doing a few push-ups instead.”
Gradually, Kompany adapted to this new environment, even learning to accept a heated dressing room as a positive sign. “Quite often there would be massive arguments at half-time if the game wasn’t going well,” he says. “Then if we turned it round in the second half we would all be embracing each other at the end. Like we were after the [first title-clincher] QPR game. The scenes in the dressing room during and after that match will stay with me forever.”
Things have calmed down a bit since and what Kompany notices most in his present manager is an ability to read a game in progress and make subtle but effective changes. “I would say Pep Guardiola’s No1 quality is that he sees the technical and tactical aspect of a game really fast.
“Sometimes when you are in a game it is hard to figure out what is going on, especially with players you don’t know, but he can break it down pretty quickly and then solve the issue. It’s not about genius it’s about having the skill to get the message across in a way the team understands it. His previous teams have been successful because of that.”
Everton are the visitors to the Etihad on Monday and any relief Kompany might feel at not having to face his Belgian team-mate Romelu Lukaku – scorer of the goal that earned Ronald Koeman’s side a point last season – is tempered by the memory of Wayne Rooney scoring what many regard as one of the best Premier League goals with his overhead kick against City in 2011.
Everton’s new(ish) striker has described it as one of his greatest goals and Kompany had a perfect view. “Top strikers do things at unbelievable times and that goal was a testimony to Wayne’s talent,” he says. “I couldn’t believe it anyway because in that game I absolutely had him in my pocket. I played a really strong game and then he pulls the overhead kick and I’m thinking: ‘Oh, come on …’ but I have a lot of respect for Wayne. He’s got the ability to recognize when he needs to get in the box.
“Even that goal he scored against Stoke last week, I don’t think many other players would have done it. We can all play the pass he played, maybe even head it like he did, but the hard bit is understanding that this is the moment I need to go. He has that timing, he sees things quickly, and just like the overhead kick it’s something that sets him apart.”
The Guardian Sport