Some things in football seem inevitable. Erling Haaland breaking a scoring record. Gianni Infantino putting his foot in it. Jurgen Klopp blaming the wind for a defeat. You can add Vincent Kompany taking charge of Manchester City one day to that list.
City’s legendary former captain will get a chance to audition for his dream job on Saturday as his Burnley side travel to the Etihad Stadium in the FA Cup quarter final. Taking on the reigning Premier League champions is a tall order, but Kompany is no stranger to a big ask.
Burnley were seen as a certain type of club when Kompany took the reins at the start of this season. After a promising rather than rip-roaring start to managerial life at Anderlecht, the retired defender was hired to guide a tonal shift at Turf Moor. Burnley had been the kingdom of one man for nearly a decade.
Sean Dyche turned a team with one of the smallest budgets in the division into a Premier League mainstay. The football was rarely exhilarating but it was usually effective, as Dyche’s canny Clarets survived and even thrived in the top tier. But the problem with a playing style that isn’t easy on the eye is that it is only tolerated as long as results hold up. With Burnley circling the drain last season, Dyche was let go with eight games remaining. They would be relegated under caretaker Mike Jackson.
Normally a relegated Premier League team tries to keep as many constituent parts in place in the Championship to ensure a swift return to the top flight. But Burnley not only parted ways with their manager but several of their finest players. Nick Pope, Dwight McNeil, Nathan Collins and Maxwel Cornet were among the big name talents to leave the club.
Kompany was charged with a ground-up rebuild. Dyche was gone. The cream of the playing staff were gone. So the Belgium international set about redefining Burnley as a club. Out went Dyche’s successful but agricultural football, in came a slick, attacking style that won over neutrals as well as diehards.
As well as being fun to watch, Kompany’s new-look Burnley have been dominant in terms of results. The Clarets are 13 points clear of second-placed Sheffield United with nine games of the season remaining. They also find themselves in the last eight of the FA Cup, where Kompany will reacquaint himself with the club that made him a great of the English game.
Is a City return on the cards for Kompany, this time in the dugout? Current manager Pep Guardiola certainly thinks so. Speaking ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup tie, Kompany’s former coach said, “After seeing his team, I’m more than convinced he’s going to come back. When? I don’t know, but it’s going to happen."
Right now at least, the move seems to make complete sense. Guardiola looks far from done at the Etihad, with Arsenal challenging his side’s supremacy. If that doesn’t light a fire under the former Barcelona boss, City’s ongoing search for a first Champions League trophy certainly will.
Kompany will have a few years yet to learn his craft while Pep takes care of unfinished business in Manchester. Barring an almighty collapse, the 36-year-old will be leading his team in the Premier League next season. It will be a great chance for Kompany to demonstrate his credentials as a future Manchester City boss. But at the same time, it could be a double-edged sword.
Take the example of Steven Gerrard. The Liverpool icon looked nailed-on to occupy the Anfield hotseat even before he’d retired. Clinching Rangers’ first Scottish Premiership title in a decade only bolstered his managerial credentials. But a disappointing spell at Aston Villa has now punctured Gerrard’s hopes of securing his dream job. The damage may not be fatal, but the former midfielder’s destiny is no longer set in stone.
Kompany could yet incur such damage himself. But ultimately in football that is the nature of the beast. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You cannot stay still and wait for opportunity to come knocking, particularly as a young coach for whom there is no guarantees. What if City were to go for an A-list replacement for Guardiola? What if an attractive job were to come around between now and Guardiola’s departure? Football doesn’t stay still and Kompany shouldn’t either.
But it does seem like an obvious marriage. Like Pep’s former assistant Mikel Arteta blossoming in the Arsenal role, there is something about Kompany at City that feels like a good fit. Arteta arrived at the Emirates with far less managerial experience than even Kompany has, but some patience and some time has seen him start to come good. Burnley’s current head coach could be the next manager to benefit from such an approach should he move to the Etihad.
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