Vincent Kompany will return to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening with a range of emotions but the Burnley manager will be fully aware that he has a job to do. The former Manchester City captain has been somewhat of a revelation at Turf Moor this season, yet this will be the biggest stage of Kompany’s managerial career to date.
The work that Kompany has undertaken at Burnley, since taking over as manager last summer, has been rather remarkable. He has transformed the way the team play, bedded in new players and got the Lancashire club riding high in first place in the Championship, 13 points ahead of second-placed Sheffield United and destined for an immediate return to the Premier League.
Kompany’s impact has only emboldened the claims that he is capable of one day becoming City manager. Burnley have had an “unbelievable season” according to Pep Guardiola, City’s current manager, and he went further saying that Kompany’s “destiny” is to take over at City. “Sooner or later, it’s going to happen”.
The Etihad crowd know Kompany all too well, a serial champion with the club who set high standards in terms of professionalism throughout his 11 seasons at the club. He lifted the Premier League trophy four times and also won two FA Cups and four League Cups.
City supporters may know Kompany the player and Kompany the person, but what about Kompany the manager. Well, they will see part of that this evening.
Shift in style most visible impact at Burnley
Burnley play a variation of Guardiola ball that seems unfathomable to the spectators who watched the team at a low ebb last term, drifting into the Championship. There were also questions surrounding the club’s finances which the new manager had to contend with.
The first sign of Kompany’s imprint came in the opening night victory across the Pennines at Huddersfield Town. There were eight new signings and a whole different ball game compared to the way in which Burnley left the Premier League only weeks earlier. It demonstrated the instructions and tactics Kompany had managed to quickly impose.
That 1-0 win in August kickstarted a campaign in which Burnley have lost just twice in the league, to Watford and Sheffield United — both coming before the turn of the year. They have improved as the season has gone on and look set to become the sixth team in the division’s history to break 100 points.
To date, Burnley have navigated their FA Cup run with similar ease. Bournemouth were saw off in round three, it took a replay to eliminate Ipswich Town and Fleetwood Town were dispatched to book this quarter-final against City. Few would begrudge Burnley the chance of a first FA Cup semi-final since 1974 but that is the tallest of orders.
Despite Burnley’s fine form under Kompany, City are a different level of opposition compared to what they have faced so far this season — something Kompany knows too well. He has attended a few City games this season when Burnley haven’t been playing and the former captain still lives in the Manchester area and is married to a Mancunian — he is regularly regaled with City’s travails.
“It’s undeniable, it’s a club with a special place in my family’s heart," Kompany said. “But I can move past, move forward to appreciate what it means to just coach there. To bring a team there who hopefully do the fans proud. It’s an event for the club and for them to enjoy.
“It’s the first time so it’s obviously different but my mindset is to just do my job and be prepared. The core message for us is to go out there and work hard.”
Kompany has long possessed a strong work ethic and that forms the basis of his methods, which have transformed the club but also the town. Burnley supporters haven’t ‘enjoyed’ watching their team as much for a long time.
It’s his personal touch that has also made this season such a success for Burnley already. The collegiate atmosphere is palpable around the club’s Barnfield training centre. One City fan on work experience was thrilled recently when Kompany made time to have a chat and sign a shirt.
The 36-year-old has the five-man leadership group concept that Guardiola employs at City — a lobby of players he regularly conducts meetings with to discuss harmony. A Christmas party for the squad and their families at the training ground, organised at his behest, involved a live reindeer.
Kompany also has an eye for a player too. In January, amidst a hectic schedule, he flew over to Belgium to watch Lyle Foster play for Westerlo and then days later signed the 22-year-old forward for £11 million. He is settling in nicely having been influenced to join by the manager.
An eye for detail is also clear. Kompany has arranged for the players to stay at the Crow Wood Spa, only the other side of the M65 from Turf Moor, before home matches and organised the installation of Sky Sports in all the rooms to alleviate any boredom.
All leading to comparisons with Guardiola, who said of Kompany: “He was an exceptional captain, a top human being, and I’m really pleased [for him]. Maybe he won’t agree with me but, after seeing his teams, I’m more than convinced he is going to come back.”
Kompany’s return may be doused in nostalgia and reminiscing, but the 90 minutes of football — irrespective of the result — could also showcase what’s to come for City.