ETIHAD STADIUM, MANCHESTER — Kickoff was still more than two hours away at the Etihad Stadium as a steady stream of visiting Burnley fans — mostly young children with a parent behind a camera phone — posed for pictures with the statue of their manager Vincent Kompany, which stands imposingly outside Manchester City’s home ground.
Kompany is an institution on this side of town, having captained the club to 10 major honours over the course of 360 appearances. He’d have chalked up many more but for recurrent debilitating calf injuries, but those struggles simply endeared Kompany to the City faithful even more.
The orderly photoshoot next to this symbol of Manchester City’s towering and dominant present day was interrupted by two drivers smashing into one another in the adjacent car park with no one else anywhere near them. A piercing alarm would not stop, just in case you hadn’t noticed the whole caper.
It felt like a slightly on-the-nose metaphor for the pre-Kompany City — an organisation that repeatedly made a self-sabotaging spectacle of itself, with onlookers unable to avert their eyes from a potent combination of tragicomedy and embarrassment.
MORE: Man City vs Burnley final score, result, highlights from FA Cup quarter final
Why do Man City fans love Vincent Kompany?
Signed from Hamburg for £6 million, Kompany joined City at the very end of that era on August 22, 2008. On September 1, the Abu Dhabi United Group announced its intention to buy the club, then-manager Mark Hughes was furnished with Robinho for a club-record £32.5m and nothing in English football was ever quite the same again.
Season after season of talismanic performances are the main reason why Kompany is so loved at City, but the timing of his arrival is also important. Success and riches were yet to be guaranteed, but he came anyway. When he departed after winning the 2019 FA Cup, the last remaining playing link to the before times was gone.
Kompany took Manchester to his heart. He married a City fan and there’s every chance his children were cheering as their dad absorbed a 6-0 FA Cup quarterfinal loss on Saturday. He teamed up with Mayor Andy Burnham in an initiative to temper the homelessness crisis in the city. His vowels even became pleasingly flat. It’s the little things as well as the big trophies that make a hero.
Burnley arrived shortly after 4 p.m. local time and Kompany was straight out to the turf he graced so imposingly for more than a decade, quickly approaching City’s head groundsman Lee Jackson for a catch-up.
Familiar territory pic.twitter.com/ZjkHdHE8Bt
— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) March 18, 2023
Another former City player led Burnley’s warmups. Kompany’s ex-teammate Craig Bellamy was among the first batch of post-takeover signings in January 2009 and proved a popular player during a brief and occasionally tumultuous stay. The former Wales forward prowled the pitch with intent, some of the old menace still palpable.
By this point, Kompany’s statue had a claret-and-blue scarf tied around one of its outstretched arms. Before the teams came out, both sets of fans were singing his name. A new banner was unveiled in the South Stand bearing Kompany’s image and 1894, the year of Manchester City’s formation.
A buoyant cup atmosphere was in full swing by the time Kompany emerged from the tunnel to rapturous applause, having stopped off to exchange pleasantries with Mike Summerbee, a City great from their previous golden era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. A warm embrace with Pep Guardiola followed, and the Burnley manager struggled to deliver some final instructions to Vitinho above the din of his City anthem to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson.
MORE: Why Kompany, Arteta and Xavi hint at clear Pep Guardiola legacy
How did Man City beat Vincent Kompany and Burnley?
The whistle went and it was all business, with Kompany rarely away from the edge of his technical area and never missing an opportunity to present alternative viewpoints to the fourth official. Guardiola was a comparatively less visible touchline presence during the early knockings and he slumped in his chair with some thinking to do.
Burnley’s players responded to their cajoling coach, pressing City intelligently and repeating a ploy that worked for Brighton and Arsenal this season by pressing the Premier League champions man-to-man. Top scorer Nathan Tella forced a scrambling save from Man City’s Stefan Ortega and was then denied by a magnificent last-ditch Ruben Dias tackle.
Erling Haaland existed on the margins for the first half hour, but the best players always use this time to gather information. When the Norway striker won a long punt from Ortega, he timed his run to collect Julian Alvarez’s return ball and outfoxed Burnley goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell with a deft one-touch finish. Three minutes later, Haaland dispatched Phil Foden’s exquisite cross and it was game and tie over. Kompany knew what was coming next.
“I’ve been many times in the other dressing room, preparing for exactly these types of games. I think the mindset of every [City] player is they expect these type of games against Championship teams,” he said. “In the end, the first 45 minutes, you obviously want to do better on the goals we concede, but you have to give the blokes some credit as well.”
City went through the gears after halftime as Haaland added another matchball to his bulging collection and Julian Alvarez scored two goals courtesy of Kevin De Bruyne assists. Komany’s old teammate for club and country conducted matters masterfully as City followed their 7-0 humbling of in-form Bundesliga side RB Leipzig with a 6-0 mauling of runaway Championship leaders Burnley.
Sorry @VincentKompany but very good to see you back at the Etihad, legend! 💙 pic.twitter.com/skBVxgtb4p
— Kevin De Bruyne (@KevinDeBruyne) March 18, 2023
MORE: Watch every Premier League match live with fuboTV in Canada
Kompany compares Erling Haaland to Cristiano Ronaldo
It was not time for major recriminations and, when it came to Haaland, Kompany knew from experience that his centre-backs Jordan Beyer and Ameen Al Dakhil were on a hiding to nothing.
“I’ve played against the greats of this time — Messi, Ronaldinho, Zidane, all these guys, Cristiano Ronaldo. In the end they are part of a very, very special elite,” he said.
“I think even the very best find it difficult to stop those guys. No matter what you say [you’re going to do] to stop them, they’re going to find a way. Someone like Erling will keep finding a way.
“The biggest thing for me is that his game can still improve and he looks to me like a superstar who is still willing to improve and that’s exciting to see. His goalscoring record puts him in a certain category. It’s the hardest part of the game. His game has improved since he arrived six months ago and if he going to be… it’s not something you experience a lot.”
6 – Erling Haaland has scored six hat-tricks this season at the Etihad Stadium, which is more games than he has failed to score in at the venue this term (5). Mind-boggling. pic.twitter.com/sPIdDcgby7
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 18, 2023
There was still professional pride at stake and Kompany and Bellamy were in deep, furrowed-brow conversation after Alvarez made it 4-0. The home fans chanted their old captain’s name again. It felt like a plea for detente that Cole Palmer did not heed as he made it five. De Bruyne’s pass and Alvarez’s finish for number six were brilliant. Kompany was still at it on the touchline, wringing all he could out of a surreal day.
“Coming here as coach… it feels like I’ve been coaching for 10 years,” he said, having returned to boyhood club Anderlecht, initially as player-coach, in 2019. “But then you see the opposition team, they’ve all been my teammates. It’s always a place where I’m proud to come back, but I’m proud to come here with Burnley.”
It speaks of his stature as man, the affection in which he is held at his former club, and the bold ambition of his current side that, after a 6-0 loss and another Haaland hat-trick, it still felt like Kompany’s day.
MORE: Erling Haaland stats: Man City teammates reveal secrets behind incredible record-breaking feats
There was even a sense of relief that the scoreline might slightly temper the talk of him being a future City manager “I’m not going to be able to stop people from saying what they say, but I’m a Championship manager in a Championship club,” he added. “I’m so happy with what I have to do now. It’s the only thing I’m focused on.”
Shortly afterwards, he was gone, eliciting a cheer from young fans outside the media room not old enough to remember all his finest deeds as a player. Nightfall and persistent rain had driven the amateur photographers away from the Kompany monument by the end of a day of celebration.
They’ll be back and so will he because his hardest days to come in this stadium probably reside a few years down the road in the other dugout.
“The reception showed how VIncent is for this club and this institution. I admire his courage to come here and play man-to-man. They had the chances,” Guardiola said. “I have the same feeling after playing against his team that one day he will be sitting here, talking about representing Manchester City.
“One day it is going to happen. I bet you whatever you want. I will win the bet.”