Captain leaves on a high after City complete domestic treble • ‘The time has come for me to go. What a season to bow out’
Vincent Kompany left a victorious Manchester City dressing room at Wembley for the fifth and final time, knowing that his secret would be out soon enough. “Family commitments,” was the line given, with a twinkle in the eye, to those hoping for a word about his future, and as he disappeared through a side door to meet his loved ones, nobody could quite have been prepared for the revelation that would emerge within 15 hours.
In a way, those two words had foretold everything. Kompany will return to Anderlecht, the club he called home between the ages of six and 20; he was, as his statement on Sunday morning explained, “born and raised” as a footballer there and he will leave City in order to spend the next three seasons attempting to revive their fortunes as player-manager.
The announcement, released in two parts as an open letter on his Facebook page, initially spelled out that Saturday’s 6-0 FA Cup final victory over Watford, which secured a historic domestic treble for City, had been his last game for the club, ending weeks of speculation over the likelihood of his 11-year stay being extended. If that seemed dramatic enough then the next drip-feed of news, delivered two hours later, was a genuine shock; Kompany confirmed his move to Belgium and it means one of the most remarkable Premier League careers ends on the unprecedented high of a domestic treble.
“Not so long ago, I took a call from RSC Anderlecht,” Kompany wrote. “Quite unexpectedly, they offered me the position of player-manager. Michael [Verschueren, the sporting director] and Frank [Arnesen, the technical director] explained to me in detail how they saw it working in practice. They had thought it through. I was left not only impressed, but also intrigued by this sign of confidence in me.
“Pep Guardiola reignited my love for the game. I’ve witnessed, participated, analysed, absorbed, studied. Man City play the football I want to play. It is the football I want to teach and to see played. I have decided to take up the challenge at RSC Anderlecht. Player-Manager.”
Kompany explained he had visited Anderlecht, where he won two Belgian league titles as a young player, socially during an international break last year and offered his thoughts on the currently-ailing club’s future. That conversation appears to have sown the seeds for his move, perhaps expediting his decision not to pursue a contract extension with City.
He bows out with his stock higher than ever at a club where he is adored. Early in Guardiola’s reign there were fears that injuries, which have dogged him throughout his playing years, would bring his career at the top level to a stuttering end. He only played 15 games in the entirety of 2016 and the City manager never hid his concerns over Kompany’s availability. “Vinny is always like this and we cannot count on him for a long time,” Guardiola said in December 2017, but the club captain recovered to play a crucial role in City’s overwhelming successes of the past two seasons.
Guardiola lent on him heavily during this year’s run-in, aware that his skipper’s indomitable presence could tip the balance in a title race of wafer-thin margins, and was rewarded with a series of outstanding performances, as well as a winning goal against Leicester City that may prove the signature moment of his time at the club. “In big moments like this, I’m going to do something,” Kompany said after that 30-yard strike. A centre-back whose blend of ruggedness and composure have put him comfortably among the world’s best when fit, he honed a knack of delivering in the opponents’ penalty area at vital times: his headed winner against Manchester United gave City the upper hand in the final weeks of 2011-12, when they won their first title of the Premier League era, and he also scored when they defeated West Ham to repeat the feat two years later.
Kompany’s haul of 12 trophies since his arrival from Hamburg – for a fee of £6m whose knockdown nature can be fully appreciated now – in 2008 includes four Premier Leagues, two FA Cups, four League Cups and two Community Shields. While City’s stranglehold on English football does not sit easily with everyone, the Belgian has been a marvellous ambassador for the sport and his role during their rise deserves appreciation of its own. City finished 10th in Kompany’s first season and he observed, speaking on the pitch at Wembley on Saturday, that it was “never on the cards even to win one trophy” when he first joined.
“Countless of times have I imagined this day, after all, the end has felt nearby for so many years,” Kompany wrote of his decision to leave. “It still doesn’t feel real. Man City has given me everything. I’ve tried to give back as much as I possibly could. How often does someone get the chance to end such an important chapter, representing a club with such great history and tradition, in such a great fashion?”
“The legacy he left behind is great, not only for City but the Premier League, and I think everyone should appreciate what he’s done for English football,” said Kevin De Bruyne, Kompany’s team-mate and compatriot.
It is easy to do that; the Premier League and Manchester City have developed almost beyond recognition during his time in England, but there could hardly be a more warmly regarded face of change.