Here's To You, Vincent Kompany - The Header That Changed Everything For Man City

Looking back at the Man City legend's defining winner against Man United in 2012
16:00, 30 Apr 2020

“I felt like we were carrying the weight of a Blue nation on our shoulders. Forty four years of not hitting the same standards as what the club had done in the past.

“That goal was almost like the emotions of all these people inside that stadium and outside the stadium that support Manchester City.

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“I remember the exhaustion after the celebration.”

On April 30, 2012 Diego Maradona was in Manchester. The Argentine legend knew all about being able to create an iconic moment or two. That Monday evening however, he was there with 50,000 others to witness Manchester City captain, Vincent Kompany, produce his own.

For City fans, that night their brilliant, behemothic Belgian created a moment to even surpass The Golden Boy’s best.

Kompany rising high in one of the most significant Manchester Derbies in memory allowed ‘AguerooooooOOOO’ to happen. It allowed Manchester City to win the Premier League title over their neighbours. It allowed over four decades of hurt to be over. It allowed City to assert themselves as one of the dominant forces in the English game.

As Kompany later noted, it set the template for what was to come: “We thought we were on an equal level now and knew that progression was inevitable.”

The header that turned the tide of football in Manchester
The header that turned the tide of football in Manchester

When Kompany left Manchester City in 2019 after eleven years, 337 appearances and ten major trophies, no other goal or performance by himself, or arguably by any player in the club’s history, had been as important as it was that night.

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Signed originally as a midfielder from Hamburg on 22 August 2008, Vincent Kompany made his first-team debut in Blue just two days later, the epitome of the modern-day, hard-working, motivated and motivating player. Likeable to a fault and philanthropic, he invested his all into City and into Manchester.

Kompany endeavoured as a Manchester City man to stretch his position well beyond being a commanding captain on the pitch, but a fantastic ambassador for the club off it. In 2018, he formed an alliance with Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to form Tackle4MCR (the ‘4’ also being Kompany’s City shirt number), a campaign that tries to combat the ever-growing problem of homelessness in the city.

In February 2019, four months before his departure from City, Kompany used his own testimonial dinner celebrating his decade in Eastlands with a fund-raising awareness event, an occasion that brought the two clubs of Manchester together. Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and first team coach Mike Phelan were in attendance for the night that raised a total of £216,000 for the cause.

Kompany also channelled the bleed blue mentality, do-or-die on Derby Day attitude of a man who predated him as club skipper, the notorious Mike Doyle. By that 11/12 season, such was the level of investment in the four years since the takeover, only one player in the squad, academy graduate Micah Richards, had made more first-team appearances than Kompany. He knew what that game in April meant to the club and to the fans in each half of the city of Manchester.

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‘I think it was important to win the title when [Sir Alex Ferguson] was in charge [of Manchester United]. Somehow it would have been different if it had never happened,” he later recalled in a 2018 conversation with another great defender - from across the divide - Rio Ferdinand.

The pressure going into such an important match had increased exponentially. Going into that game, in the title race City remained mathematically on the backfoot. Their most successful season in recent memory still had the potential to end trophyless. The 6-1 at Old Trafford the October prior, the unblemished home record throughout the season would have counted for naught. Instead, it was very different.

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Incumbent Premier League champions Manchester United had been willing to take a draw at the Etihad to move closer to fulfilling their ambitions of back-to-back-titles. Two minutes injury time were added onto what was looking likely to be a goalless first half, and so far adhering to Man Utd’s aim to at least share the points. In the dying moments towards the interval, however, Kompany put his head to the ball and left Man Utd goalkeeper David De Gea bemused.

‘Cometh the hour, cometh the captain!’, the club commentator screamed.

Kompany had lept slightly higher than Chris Smalling to latch onto a corner kick from teammate David Silva, a reward for Man City’s tireless efforts in the first half and ultimately their overall better, more controlled performance. 

When the final whistle blew, thanks to their talisman, City had clawed back into the title race. After the advantage had been traded throughout the season, United had blown an eight-point advantage they had with six games remaining. Kompany - by then undeniably one of the EPL’s very best defenders - had been the one to strike the determining blow. 

That goal can be seen as the moment Manchester City won their first ever Premier League title. 

Right at that moment, Kompany was representing every Blue in Manchester, in the country, in the world, and duly produced a celebration to match, roaring at the top of his lungs.

Watching a retrospect of his career as he was preparing to leave City, Kompany reminisced, “To be against our rivals, to be as solid as we were as a team, and then [for me] to score the winning goal, it was a special moment. I remember feeling exhausted after the celebration. If you shout as hard as you can and you let all your power out at once it’s just exhausting. I remember walking back very slowly thinking ‘I need to catch my breath here!’”

Thanks in part to their captain, City’s fantasy about being champions of England for the first time since 1968 was becoming a reality. Just like the year before when City felt they had already won the FA Cup after defeating United in the semi-final at Wembley Stadium, it was their time.

The last hurdle for Roberto Mancini’s team would be a trip to St. James’ Park to face an ambitious Newcastle United side who were aiming for a Champions League spot. City eventually overcame the Toon in a 2-0 victory in the north-east, thanks to a brace from their midfield stallion Yaya Touré.

With a far superior goal difference over their neighbours, Manchester City were champions-elect going into the final day of the campaign on 12 May 2013. City hadn’t lost a league game at home all season, and the visitors for the final day, Queens Park Rangers, were doing their best to be relegated (they would eventually be saved from the drop by a single point).

Beloved by City fans, it was the season, pinpointed by that Manchester United goal that Kompany became arguably their first certifiable legend since Paul Lake and Georgi Kinkladze, and ultimately the first one in several generations to marry it with tangible success.

Here’s to you, Vincent Kompany.