Raheem Sterling added a late brace, Gabriel Jesus had a double of his own and Kevin De Bruyne had turned in a virtuoso substitute performance.
Manchester City ransacked Watford 6-0 in Saturday’s FA Cup final to complete an unprecedented domestic treble before a buoyant sea of sky blue at Wembley, a fanbase with heroes everywhere they chose to look.
Yet it wasn’t any of the goalscorers, or even the irrepressible and immaculate Bernardo Silva who had their name sung longest and loudest throughout the 90 minutes and deep into the celebrations.
“Here’s to you, Vincent Kompany. City loves you more than you will know.”
A terrace chant howled vaguely to the tune of Mrs Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel, the relationship between City fans and their long-serving captain is somewhat at odds with the tempestuous existence endured by the famed American folk duo. That is not something about to change after Kompany announced his 11th and most decorated season at the Etihad Stadium will be his last.
Here’s to you @VincentKompany
— Manchester City (@ManCity) May 19, 2019
Numerous strands contribute to players reaching a level of unconditional adoration with a fanbase and Kompany pulls an impressive number of them together.
Primarily, he is a very, very fine central defender – one of the best to have graced the Premier League. It is tempting to wonder how truly great he might have been had debilitating calf injuries not increasingly lurked around every corner.
Kompany last completed more than 30 league games in a campaign when he led City to their first title for 44 years in 2011-12. In some respects, this acted to burnish his legend. Despite his body seeming to be increasingly ill-suited to the demands of elite football, Kompany relentlessly hauled himself back into the fray.
City’s 2016 and 2018 EFL Cup triumphs over Liverpool and Arsenal respectively were games where Kompany was not sure to start. He did and was named man of the match on both occasions, scoring in the latter and peeling off to celebrate manically before his adoring public – a picture of utterly unbridled joy repeated recently when he sent that thunderous strike into Kasper Schmeichel’s top corner.
Such moments painted a picture of a man committed to the cause beyond reason, something the fan who spends inordinate chunks of their wages and time on following a football team will instantly recognise and relate to.
The Belgium international discussed each struggle and triumph eloquently in weighty, flat Mancunian vowels. He married a local woman – lifelong City fan Carla Higgs – and laid down roots in Manchester with their three children. He dedicated his testimonial year to tackling the city’s homelessness crisis.
In an era where it can feel like most players are just passing through, Kompany was a constant for a club going through fantastical change. He got it, whatever ‘it’ is.
— Vincent Kompany (@VincentKompany) February 24, 2019
“This is no goodbye. It’s a see you later,” he wrote to sign off the statement announcing his next chapter will be as player-manager of his boyhood club Anderlecht.
City supporters will dearly hope that is the case because, in bidding farewell to Kompany the player, they have lost something that the next slew of transfer market millions will not replace.
Another chant ringing around the victorious half of Wembley on Saturday was “We’re not really here”, City’s famous ode to their season languishing in English football’s third tier in 1998-99. The navy and luminous away shirts from that season’s play-off final win over Gillingham were well represented 20 years on at the national stadium.
This is a past still proudly worn by many in the City fanbase, largely because it really wasn’t that long ago. Division Two, as it was then called, was a reality as unbelievable as their present one. A Macclesfield Town and Lincoln City nightmare to precede the Abu Dhabi dream.
Of course, Kompany is not of the 1990s “Cityitis” era, tales in which he became well-versed, but he was the last remaining player on Pep Guardiola’s staff to have signed before Sheikh Mansour’s seismic takeover in 2008. He could not be promised the world as everyone one of his excellent team-mates have been, but he came anyway.
As a player and a person, Kompany has carried himself immaculately through all that has followed. A leader to admire through the clatter of UEFA investigations, needless PR blunders and reportage suggesting the unprecedented scope of the City project threatens football’s very soul. And that’s only the past week.
Whether you loathe City’s petrodollars as a symbol of all that is wrong with the modern game, or presume the next trophy-thirsty dynasty will merrily sweep this one away soon enough, it is impossible not to respect Kompany – the giant of their biggest achievements and a master of all the little things that keep the sparkle in supporters’ eyes long after the gleam of the latest trophy has faded.
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