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'It's impossible to replace Vinny' - How Kompany set the standard at Man City

10:51 IST 19/05/2019
Vincent Kompany Manchester City
The Belgian has announced that he will leave Manchester City this summer after helping to transform the club into an English football powerhouse

“The time has come for me to go now.”

And with that, he was indeed gone. Vincent Kompany, after 11 years as a Manchester City player, has left the club less than 24 hours after helping to guide them to a historic English treble to take up the role of player-manager at Anderlecht, the place where his journey began.

“A blue nation has arisen and challenged the established order of things,” he said in the statement announcing his somewhat surprising departure. “I find that awesome.”

City today are almost unrecognisable compared to Kompany signed for in August 2008, a month before the Abu Dhabi takeover that has helped change the landscape of European football.

"We want to be a young, vibrant team with energy and technical ability,” former City boss Mark Hughes said of Kompany’s arrival. “He comes into the category of the kind of young player we are trying to attract."

City are certainly a young and vibrant team now but it is a long time since Kompany has been thought of in those terms; in recent years, and perhaps never more so than in the past six weeks, he has been a warrior, the man for the big occasion, City’s leader.

In truth he has been like that all along.

“You could see that personality that he had,” Richard Dunne, Kompany’s former team-mate, tells Goal. “He wanted to improve, he wanted the team to improve. I think he was only 19 or 20 when he came but he had the personality where he would ask if we could have a team meeting because he wanted to understand how can we do better.

“It just wasn’t what we were used to. He wanted to help the club get better, that was the thing. Even as experienced players you can’t turn around and say, ‘Oh I can’t be arsed today, I want to go home,’ but when someone has that enthusiasm to try to improve not just himself but all of us, you take notice of it.”

That determination to improve both himself and the club has run right the way through his time at the Etihad Stadium, and has played its part in their journey from also-rans, to well-backed contenders, to the dominant force they are today.

“It’s funny because in those days that was not even the aim for anyone at the club,” Kompany said in an interview last year. “Initially, nobody would’ve said, ‘Our dream is to be one of the main clubs in the country’.”

Yet four Premier League titles, two FA Cups and four League Cups later, City are right up there at the top. If they are not level with giants like Manchester United and Liverpool in terms of fan bases and overall trophy hauls they are certainly on their way, and in terms of current success nobody in England can touch them.

And that trophy haul is not just City’s, but Kompany’s. Alongside Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, he has helped transform the Blues into what they have become today, from the first FA Cup in 2011 to Saturday’s treble-crowning triumph, yet only Kompany and Silva have been part of every trophy City have won in the modern era.

He has been as big a part of City’s story as anybody. On his day he was one of the best central defenders in Premier League history, too, but even when he has been out of the team he has led by example.

Indeed, never mind his impact on the pitch, his towering headers (not least against United in 2012), his last-ditch tackles (and fouls), and even the 30-yard screamers - the sheer indomitable spirit he has shown to fight back from so many serious injuries will have changed the mentality around the club.

The cycle of injuries and set-backs has suffered in recent years would have broken lesser sportsmen. He still found it hard to nail down a regular place in the City team - part of the reason why he is moving on, in fact - but to have even got to where he is at this moment is an achievement.

Think back to Manuel Pellegrini’s final season at City, when Kompany was spending time in America, changing his diet, waking up at 6am to do anything to get his body ready to return to football, only to get back on the pitch and injure himself again almost immediately.

That happened three times in that pre-Pep Guardiola season and, ironically, were he not recovering from groin surgery when the Catalan arrived he could well have been sold; the new boss keen to shake up the team, as he did by shipping out Joe Hart.

Yet Kompany has been proving Guardiola wrong for the past three years, to the extent that he only finally established himself as the Catalan’s go-to man for an extended period in April. With City needing to win every single game to get their hands on a second consecutive title, Guardiola chose Kompany ahead of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi for seven of City’s final eight games of the season.

“I don’t think you can replace Vinny,” Kevin De Bruyne said on Friday. “It is impossible, but every team has an evolution.”

What Guardiola has done at City in terms of instilling an identity and belief in their own playing style is proof of his genius as a manager, but Kompany’s departure will still be keenly felt.

City tried everything to at least keep him tied to them in some capacity, whether as part of Guardiola’s coaching staff, as a player at New York City, or as a club ambassador, but he was determined to follow his passion back home in Belgium.

The loss of his influence in the dressing room, ahead of a summer when City are planning to ship out some of their reliable squad members in the search of fresh blood, will be sorely missed.

If any team can evolve it is City - they are looking to sign a new centre-back and could even play Fernandinho further back, moving the club one step closer to Guardiola’s ideal team of 11 midfielders - but they would surely have loved Kompany to be around, if not on the pitch then just there, in the dressing room, in the gym, in the canteen, setting standards like he has been doing since the start.

Kompany has long since been a genuine City legend, and will surely one day get a statue in his honour outside the Etihad. His name will be sung by fans forevermore and at least he will know that, for everything he has given to the club, the supporters appreciate it even more than he could imagine.

“Here’s to you, Vincent Kompany, City loves you more than you will know.”