There are ‘cultural architects’ in the most successful dressing rooms. Vincent Kompany was that for Manchester City or, rather, he was the ‘cultural warrior’ given his formidable status at the heart of a club that has changed so extraordinarily since he arrived for just £6million on Aug 22 2008 – days before the Abu Dhabi takeover.
In an interview with Telegraph Sport Kompany four years ago he told me that when he signed there was, for example, just one boxing glove in the ramshackle gym. “If you were doing a boxing session you had to go ‘right, right, right’ then change and do it ‘left, left, left’,” he said, laughing.
That boxing story has served Kompany well. Ever since he has felt that City were “in a corner where punches were landed” as they faced criticism over lavish spending, Financial Fair Play breaches and, he felt, the difficulties of taking on the established order of clubs. A favourite saying was: “Regroup and strike back”. It spoke of his focus and determination.
On a personal level there were also many injuries to overcome – the sight of him limping off with a calf problem was a recurring frustration – and even questions as to whether he was good enough. “You know, the season when I got Premier League Player of the Year [2011-12], at the start of the season they were saying, 'The weakest part of the City team is the defence',” Kompany also said in that interview.
His signing was not linked to that transformative Middle Eastern investment but it says everything about his impact and importance that he remained so long, the one player who pre-dated the mind-boggling investment, and did so as captain, as leader, as the man who defined the culture of what City are and what they want to be. He set the tone; set the standard; was the touchstone and survived for 11 years in that intense role.
On the eve of the FA Cup final Watford captain Troy Deeney, with a nod to Virgil Van Dijk, described Kompany as the best centre-half in the Premier League since Rio Ferdinand and mention of those three names – John Terry can also be added – will provoke a debate as to who was the greatest of them all. Suffice to say that Kompany is up there. Kompany is in that company although, with him, there is an extra dimension that should be acknowledged.
It is not for nothing that Kompany is nicknamed ‘The President’, a nickname he was given back in his native Belgium, partly because of his elevated status and forthright, sometimes outspoken, views but also because he had that kind of air. As he has grown older the talk of going into sports governance or politics has grown and the work he has done to combat homelessness in Manchester has been profound.
And now Kompany is going. There will be a send-off at City’s “Champions Parade” celebrations on Monday and in a testimonial which is taking place in September by which time the season will be well underway as player-manager of Anderlecht, the first club of course for the Brussels-born 33-year-old. The fact that Kompany is combining the roles shows his iron self-belief.
Pep Guardiola said he would sit down and have a beer with Kompany before deciding his future but Kompany has, as ever, taken matters into his own hands with his contract running out and an insistence that he was not about to retire.
It was clear after City’s thrilling league win over Leicester City recently that there was no guarantee Kompany would stay with Guardiola non-committal and the player in tears as he led the post-match lap of appreciation: but what a way to go - as it was his brilliant 35-yard rocket of a shot that won that game and effectively settled the title. As with Sunday’s announcement that he was leaving it showed an innate sense of timing, a belligerence (others told him not to shoot!) and the ability to go out on top.