Four Premier Leagues, four EFL Cups, two FA Cups, two Belgian First Division titles and a third-place medal at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
A truly decorated career, there’s very little Vincent Kompany didn’t achieve as a player, earning himself a reputation as one of football’s greatest-ever defenders.
But now, the Belgian is fast becoming one of English football’s most talked about up-and-coming managers.
“Don’t believe the hype and don’t believe the drama,” the former Manchester City captain and Burnley manager says. A phrase he repeats regularly to his players, as Burnley sit top of the Sky Bet Championship.
Vincent Kompany has learned from the best. The defender played under the likes of Pep Guardiola, Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Martinez during a decorated 17-year playing career, while also sharing the pitch with the likes of Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
But despite the former Manchester City skipper’s illustrious list of former managers and team-mates, the best piece of advice he’s been given, he wrote for himself.
“It’s true,” he says. “Don’t believe the hype, that’s the advice I always give to myself. Stay on course and stay humble. If you have a bad day, remember to take a deep breath and make sure you face people in the way that you would want to be led in those moments.”
No-one – not even Kompany himself – could have envisaged Burnley sitting top of the Championship at the midway point of the season. The departure of long-serving manager Sean Dyche was followed by relegation from the Premier League, as well as a number of player departures, leaving Kompany with a huge task upon arrival at Turf Moor, as the “rebuild” began.
But the 36-year-old’s appointment signalled the beginning of a new era for the Clarets. His key principles of “togetherness” and “hard work” have brought a fresh positivity to the Club, and with just two defeats in his first 26 league games, it’s definitely so far, so good.
But why Burnley for the former Belgium international?
“Burnley Football Club is a truly historic English side and it’s an honour to be appointed first-team manager,” Kompany said on his first day in the building. And since his appointment, it is evident that they were by no means just empty words.
What becomes increasingly clear the more he speaks is, in Burnley he has a project he believes in, a culture he believes in and a town he wants to make proud again.
“I took my time deciding what I wanted for the next step of my career, where I wanted to be and most importantly, who I wanted to work with,” he explains.
“Who I wanted to work with was much more important for me than the name of the Club. I thought a lot about it and this was something I wanted to do and challenge myself with.
“As a new manager, you want to come in and put your own stamp on things, but I wanted to protect at all costs the discipline there is here, the work rate and the togetherness of this Club. That type of culture takes so long to create and it’s something that was already here before me and the players understand that that’s what this Club is about.
“I don’t want to sound naïve, because I know this game is dependent on results, but as a manager, you try and anticipate all the possible scenarios that could happen – what happens if you win everything and what happens if you lose everything. Managers often lack time; there are enough good managers in the game, there just isn’t always enough time.
“That was a discussion I was able to have at Burnley and express my views on. I was able to have a conversation about what is rational, what is realistic and what is normal to expect. From there, it was an easy decision.”
Of course, relegation from the Premier League meant pressure was on Kompany the minute he walked through the door, but performances so far have quickly answered any previous questions asked of his suitability for the job.
“I’ve not lived many years of my life without expectation, though,” he says, smiling.
“I started as a ‘talented’ player when I was younger with expectation on me. Then, when I made it as a footballer, there was expectation on me to succeed at bigger Clubs. Now I’m a manager, there is a different sort of expectation on me.
“As a person, I’ve never known anything different but you have to use that as a positive. I know the tools I have, and I have to use them to succeed.”
His reputation as one of the most respected and successful players in Premier League history shows, and while he doesn’t want to be compared with other managers, there’s no doubt that Kompany comes into management having learned from some of football’s most successful figures.
In a matter of months, the Belgian has revolutionised Burnley’s style of play. Dominant in possession and the highest scorers in the division, these are exciting times for Clarets fans.
The secret behind this early success? “Togetherness, work rate and staying humble,” he answers.
“I’ve spoken about the togetherness of this Club, and the environment. That’s important to me. But as a manager, the most important thing I want from my team is a high work rate. I have an incredibly hard-working and honest team here, which is something I insist on as a manager. It’s a philosophy I believe in as a manager and it dictates the type of players I want to sign.
“My message to the players is, ‘if you have the ball, there’s no need to give it away’, especially if we think we can do something with it. That’s why we have more possession than any other team, because we enjoy being on the ball and enjoy doing something with it when we have it.”
Kompany’s attention to detail is admirable. No stone is left unturned in match preparation and the relationship he has with each of his players has impressed everyone around the Club.
The never-say-die attitude he has instilled on his players keeps getting stronger too, and has been seen numerous times this season, with Burnley coming from behind to win games on multiple occasions this season.
As a result of Kompany’s leadership, values and footballing philosophies, the Clarets are playing some of the most attractive football in the division. But more importantly, his dressing room has a sense of togetherness that makes it look like his side has been playing together for years.
He adds: “I’m a happy person and that’s never too much related to results – I think that’s valuable in this job. I want to create an environment where people can always speak their minds.
“When we debrief a matchday, I tell the players that it’s a privilege to be on the screen in the room of the debrief. With a squad of 30 players and only 11 starting, most players in the matchday debrief are watching someone else perform, so I tell them it’s a privilege when their name gets mentioned, even if it’s mentioned because of a mistake that’s been made.
“But that also helps everyone else improve and to improve as a group, I like to coach this way. I don’t ever want anything to feel personal, I want every player here to do well. My goal and our goal is for every player to succeed and creating an environment where people can speak openly and communicate effectively allows for that improvement.”
As a manager, he comes across as open, honest and communicative, but one thing is clear: he is as demanding in the dugout as he was as a captain on the pitch. His players have jobs to do and if they are not executed with maximum effort, then they are not for Burnley Football Club.
After falling behind to Sunderland earlier in the season and a miserable first-half display, Kompany delivered a half-time team talk that made the headlines.
“You’re not in London or Madrid,” he said to his players. “You’re in Burnley!”
He explains: “The main reason for me saying that was because I was hammering home that I cannot have a team that doesn’t work hard. If I don’t have a team what works hard, I’d rather go home and shut the door behind me. And I’d say the same to the players too.
“I’d say, ‘leave, shut the door behind you, go home and try again another day.’ It’s absolutely pointless if the basics aren’t there in the team and that game against Sunderland was the first time this season I’ve seen that from my team. That’s when they get to see who I am and what I’m about.
“I’ll defend them if they perform well, I’ll defend them if they lose, but if the basics go then you’ll see another side to me.”
With an estimated population of 88,000, Turf Moor is the heart of the town, and Kompany recognises that.
“There are very few Football Clubs like Burnley,” says Kompany. “If you look at Burnley as a town, every family in the area supports Burnley Football Club. That’s quite special. If you go to Manchester or most other cities in the world, you’ll knock on a few doors and people will support different teams or at least have a choice of who to support, but not in Burnley.
“Literally every door you knock on, behind it is a Burnley fan. That creates a very different type of pressure but also a very different type of meaning to what we’re doing here. It’s something that maybe doesn’t mean much outside of Burnley, but in Burnley it matters more than anything. That’s very special and something that’s very different to what I’ve experienced before. They are proud supporters and we want to make them proud.”
It feels like something special is happening. It can be sensed by those inside the Club and those supporting it.
And it comes as a surprise, not least to Kompany himself, whose managerial debut in English football is going better than even he could have predicted. While the Championship is a notoriously difficult division given its competitiveness and unpredictability, it also continues to be a breeding ground for young managers of the future.
“The Championship is a blast, isn’t it?” he remarks. “It’s a real joy and a fantastic environment to learn and develop. Everyone knows we’re in this mad, mad division that’s a real rollercoaster. You get your head down, work hard and battle out results, then before you know it, you’re having a beer with the opposition manager.
“We’re all living in this mad division but you learn so quickly here. There are so many games, it’s so unpredictable and you learn so much. Outside of Europe’s top leagues, there’s nothing better than the Championship – there’s nothing like it and you feel that in every single game.”
With 12 Club trophies to his name, Kompany’s decorated career puts him among some of football’s finest talents on the pitch, but while he is no doubt able to draw on those past experiences, he is a manager now and his focus is solely on Burnley and what lies ahead.
“Any type of experience to have as a manager is an advantage,” he claims. “You have to use all experiences in a positive way. As a captain, I led teams in many situations, through good and bad, and I do the same as a manager.
“My focus now is on helping players get better and helping players achieve something. I want every player to succeed. We need to be stable first, then grow and progress as a team together. That comes with patience, staying humble and hard work.”
This feature originally appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of the EFL Magazine.