Vincent Kompany exclusive: 'The Premier League doesn't daunt me... it feels like I'm coming home'
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Vincent Kompany made a statement of intent on the morning of Monday June 5, when newly-promoted Burnley returned to 'pre-pre-season training' at Barnfield, just 29 days after their final Championship game of the season against Cardiff City.
As the majority of footballers jetted off abroad for a well-earned summer break, Burnley's admin on Twitter posted a video of several first-team players arriving for their first day back in the affectionately-named Costa Del Lancashire. It became a much-talked-about topic.
Some were quick to criticise their decision to return so early, especially after such a demanding campaign that featured 54 games across all competitions. But after achieving promotion to England's top flight in early April, the hands-on Kompany wanted to get a head start.
“For us, it made perfect sense," he tells SPORTbible ahead of their opener against champions Manchester City on August 11. "We were the first team to finish the season, so we had to be in. A team still needs to progress when you get promoted… and I don't see how you can progress on your holidays?"
Kompany, wearing a full Burnley tracksuit and cap, delivered that final question with no hint of a smile. "Fair point," was my quick, yet slightly hesitant, response.
It only takes a matter of minutes to understand why the four-time Premier League winner has achieved so much success. In the words of Burnley chairman Alan Pace, who made a brief appearance during our interview, Kompany's determination and will-to-win is "infectious".
Every answer from the former defender is delivered with the utmost professionalism. He rarely gives much away but on the odd occasion, he gives us a wry smile; especially when his reputation on the 2008 version of Football Manager is mentioned.
"Before I was a professional footballer, I would play the earlier versions of Championship Manager but when I started studying, I had less time for it," he grins. "I have a version of it on my laptop but it's the real-life one."
As the Belgian sits just meters away from the Turf Moor pitch, Kompany speaks about a number of subjects, including coming up against his old boss Pep Guardiola and the Mission to Burnley documentary; a fly-on-the-wall series featuring behind-the-scenes footage of last season's heroics.
After months of preparation, we will finally get to see if Vincent Kompany can help his team deliver on a Premier League touchline. “I'm the manager now but it feels like coming home," he says. "It's not something that daunts me."
Given the task at hand when Burnley suffered Premier League relegation in May last year, you could have easily seen the appointment of Vincent Kompany as a risky one. His lack of managerial experience was an obvious flaw; not to mention their need for a huge transformation, both on and off the pitch, following a host of departures.
An easy answer would have been to hire someone with a wealth of experience in handling those kinds of tricky situations — a seasoned veteran with knowledge of how England’s ultra-competitive second-tier works.
But Clarets chairman Alan Pace was convinced by Kompany, even after their first encounter. “I think the most impressive thing about Vincent was that there was so much we could actually relate to when he was describing his vision regarding a football style, as well as what he wanted to accomplish," Pace tells us.
“There was just such a great alignment of thinking, and also a passion around where he wanted to go. It was almost infectious. You didn't want to stop talking. We were only supposed to spend a limited amount of time together and we spent a lot more than I think either of us probably had planned.
“It was just completely natural and engaging the whole time.”
Kompany would soon mirror those thoughts. "I was just absolutely convinced that it was good and healthy for me," he says. "I never really took a break after my career. I just went straight into management but one of the people I got the chance to meet was Alan.
“I had made a conscious decision that I wanted to be in an environment with good people and I felt that Alan was exactly that. From there, we just exchanged, debated, talked and convinced each other on certain things. We went for a version of what you see today.”
A year later and no team in Championship history has sealed promotion quicker than Kompany's Burnley; a feat achieved with seven games of the campaign to go.
Kompany, who was followed by cameras throughout last season ahead of Mission to Burnley - a documentary that launches on August 10 – says his highlight from the previous campaign was their wins against local rival Blackburn. Rather foolishly, I ask why.
“Have you ever been to this part of the world?" he laughs. "It's a pretty decent rivalry... But in the end, I think those games were played out in two perfect ways for us. And we won the league away at Ewood Park. That will be remembered for generations.”
In terms of managerial style, the modest Kompany struggles to find a way to describe his carefully-refined philosophy. But from the outside looking in, we have already seen a significant change to Burnley's style of play.
Under previous manager Sean Dyche, they would tend to rely on counter-attacks in a defensive, compact formation. Now, they tend to dominate games by playing a fluid system with aggressive, attacking forward runners.
For the first time in years, Burnley fans can say their team play aesthetically pleasing football on a regular basis. It’s something that has been worked on meticulously at the Barnfield training centre.
"I am who I am," he says when asked about his style. "I want to be a good teacher and a good leader. Maybe other people are better placed to describe it. It's difficult. I know what I want football-wise. I know what I want each player to do on the pitch, at any time in any phase."
Kompany, who instilled a very possession-based system during the early stages of his reign at Turf Moor, says the influence of those he previously worked under helped shape his vision.
"You take a collection of the best things they've done, and also the mistakes they've made," he says. "I've been very fortunate to work with some incredible managers. That's always a healthy starting point."
Pep Guardiola, of course, is one of those managers. With his aggressive counter-press and use of attacking full-backs, the Spaniard has not only changed the way we think about football but transformed English football on the whole since bringing his philosophy to Manchester City.
"You learn from observing; from watching… from being in that place," Kompany says about Guardiola. "He is unique. You become a little bit of a collection of all these ideas. And then you trim it down to what matters to you. He is a special person.”
On the evening of August 10, last season's Championship winners will come up against the reigning Premier League champions. Kompany will bump into Guardiola again but this time, three points are on the line.
A positive start to the season is crucial. "The reality is, I'm not really coming up against Pep," the Belgian says. "You can ask me that question for the next 30 years when I play against City. It's always going to be a special game but the main thing for me is, I know the players we have and they’ve got a chance of doing something special on the night.
"I want to try and help them achieve that for the club and for the fans. It's something we've all invested a lot in. I hope we get a good night at Turf Moor.”