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The end is coming for Vincent Kompany at Manchester City

Popular Figure

It is tough to imagine a more popular goalscorer than Vincent Kompany on Saturday. The Manchester City captain netted the opening goal in the 3-0 victory over Southampton at St Mary’s in just his fifth Premier League appearance of the campaign.

For Kompany, now 31, to play such a small part in City’s season would have been unheard of until recently. Since signing for the club from Hamburg in 2008, the Belgian has been central to everything the club has achieved on and off the pitch. Injury problems have always plagued him, but whenever he was fit, he was among the first names on the teamsheet, inspiring those around him and lifting trophies.

That was the story under both Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini. Manchester City are among the richest clubs on earth and have been since weeks after Kompany joined, but despite their ability to buy almost anyone they want, there are a few players who became, in some respects, irreplaceable. Kompany, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Joe Hart and Sergio Agüero provided the spine of the side, and if any of them were missing, the team would struggle to maintain their optimum level.

Everything has changed this season, though. Pep Guardiola has ushered in a new era at the Etihad Stadium, one that, if the club allows to progress, could take them to the very top of the footballing tree. The Champions League is the Holy Grail for the European elite, and City have never quite reached the heights of winning it despite their financial muscle and the pedigree of past players and managers. Guardia is the closest thing they could find to a guarantee of success on the continent, but his arrival has meant a change of the guard on the pitch.

Disbanding The ‘Famous Five’

Four of their famous five may still be at the Etihad, but it is clear the Guardiola era is leaving them behind. Hart’s situation is well documented, finding himself on loan at Torino and facing a summer awash with uncertainty at the end of the season, Toure may have forced his way back into the side after a public falling out with Guardiola, but his contract is up in the summer with no current prospect of a renewal. Agüero too has not seen eye to eye with his manager, and the emergence of Brazilian teenage sensation Gabriel Jesus, who scored three goals in two games after completing a move from Palmeiras in January, only to break his foot in his next encounter, has thrown the former Atletico Madrid man’s future into real doubt.

Kompany has not been overly linked with a move away from the club, but still he is being phased out. Silva is the only one to have maintained a harmony to his career with the two-time Premier League winners, but he is also 31 and Guardiola is a manager who is constantly looking forward, so the magic could soon end for the man they call ‘Merlin’.

Injuries have, as usual, been a constant menace in Kompany’s season, with a couple of false starts throughout the campaign. They are having a more permanent affect on him, too, perhaps because of his age. He became so popular with the Manchester City fans because he embodied the perfect defender and was at the forefront for the club’s greatest successes to date. Combining strength, pace and determination, he was certainly among the very best in his position in his prime, but he doesn’t seem quite as imposing as he once did. Guardiola has even alluded to thinking twice about picking him because he cannot be trusted to stay fit for long enough.

But the situation Kompany and the rest of the old guard find themselves is part of a much bigger movement. Hart and Agüero came under fire from Guardiola because they didn’t suit his style of play, the former because it was perceived he couldn’t use his feet as well as his boss demanded, and the latter for not pressing high enough in attack.

Guardiola doesn’t pride his centre backs on their tackling abilities or how battle-hardened they are, but instead, like every position on the pitch, he wants them to play a key role going forward, in this case by pushing up the field with the ball at their feet. John Stones was signed from Everton in the summer and is settled into the side in spite of some high-profile errors, so it begs the question: would a younger, fitter Kompany still be facing the axe just as Hart and Agüero are? Guardiola is changing City for the better, but people are getting left behind.

Sometimes good things must make way for greater things. City know they must follow their manager, because he has perhaps the most fierce track record of combining attractive football and winning at the highest level, winning 21 trophies in under a decade at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. But these players, especially Kompany, are adored, and it has been tough to watch them become less important as time has progressed.

Truthfully, though, the roles they had under Mancini and Pellegrini were becoming detrimental. Without them in the team, whether one was missing or five were, City lost their entire identity on the pitch and often capitulated spectacularly. Guardiola has introduced a culture of a system being central, not the players, and it is beginning to pay dividends.

Vincent Kompany’s opening goal against Southampton may have looked like his return to the fray at Manchester City, but this is wishful thinking. The team, and the club, are leaving him behind and striving forward. In reality, it was the beginning of the end of a legendary relationship.

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