first_img 6 “It wouldn’t have been a great sign of intelligence on my part if I was still doing tricks as a defender,” he continues. The name David Luiz hangs in the air, although no one actually says it. “It’s just not something that benefits my team at the moment. If ever needed – maybe at the back end of my career, if I go a step down – I can still do it. The one thing you will always see is just a level of focus. If I’m looking at a great defender now,I’m looking at how focused he is in moments where maybe they don’t have the ball, or in moments where he’s just given the ball away. What is his movement right after that? Where is he looking when someone drives towards him? I see the face of a defender and I can kind of judge whether he’s a good defender.“What I know and what I’ve realised is that, actually, to be the best defender, I need to be something else. So what you do is you kind of evolve and understand what you need to do. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo are a good example, you know? You see Ronaldo for Manchester United, and you see Ronaldo now. Some people will always say they prefer the Ronaldo doing all the tricks and stuff. But, in reality, the best ever Ronaldo for his team is the Ronaldo that you see in the past two or three years – and that is intelligence. For that, he needs to decide that he’s going to be in certain positions, getting the ball at certain times, managing his body in a certain way and stripping out certain things that weren’t giving him those statistics.”Cities rebornFC Bleid-Molenbeek were a small team, struggling in the lower reaches of Belgian football. They still are. But with a new name, BX Brussels, and a new owner in Kompany, the club is now a social project as well – one that brings football to thousands of young players across the Belgian capital.“I’m really proud of it,” says Kompany. “My mother used to work helping people come into jobs, so she was the first to tell me. She said: ‘Look, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to get the job as someone else, so put this in your head.’ BX is just a way to make sure that those kids understand that we’re there to support them and give them opportunities as well, without taking away the fact that sometimes it’s not a bad thing that they have to work harder.”Kompany has a social conscience – it would have been hard for him not to, with a political activist for a father and a union leader for a mother. But how does he level his work in the community he came from, as well as his charity work in his father’s homeland, with the billions splashed by Manchester City?“I can see both things working hand in hand,” he says. “Clubs like Man City, people can talk as much as they want about money, but the reality is that it puts a lot of people to work, that money is coming into an area where it would never have come if it wasn’t for those outside investors. What Man City spends is one story, but the real story behind it is what opportunities have come out of this for everyone around it. It’s making this place probably the most famous place in the world for football, and you can see the impact on a city like Manchester – thanks to football, it’s huge. If you’re abroad, nobody knows what Birmingham is; everyone knows Manchester. It’s only when you come to England you find out Birmingham is the second biggest city.” Pierre worked as a taxi driver to put himself through university, and then found work as an engineer. Vincent has clearly inherited some of that drive because, by his own account, when Kompany first started playing football, he wasn’t very good. His first goal was at the wrong end.“I was six,” he says, by way of defence. “I’m just incredibly stubborn and I just want to learn. That’s one of the biggest pieces of advice I always give to kids. Very early on people were telling me: ‘This is what you’re good at.’ I was already strong and probably a bit taller than the other kids. So they would say: ‘Do this, do that.’ I never really accepted it.“I wanted to do what the smaller kids were doing. I wanted to be as technical and as gifted as they were. They had it naturally, but with hard work I eventually developed a really good technique and started becoming a very complete footballer. I kept always thinking: ‘What someone else can do, I can do.’”Again, it’s a family matter. Kompany’s mother passed away when he was 20, but she has had a strong influence on his life.“My mum was very passionate, and from a region in Belgium where the most hardworking people come from,” Kompany explains. “We don’t like defeat, and if we do lose then we always come back somehow and try and see if we can do better. It’s a mindset in the whole family.”Driving on“You don’t start being a captain once you get given the armband,” Kompany insists. “It’s a symbolic thing, but that’s not what makes you a captain. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been driving on, thinking maybe I could have a bit more of an impact on the team by saying the right thing – or doing something that would seem a bit out of the box, but could actually help the team gel together.“There are many ways to look at captaincy, but for me it’s always been about, first of all, of course you perform for yourself; but second, make sure you always think of the others before yourself. Understand that if they are stronger, maybe you become stronger and the team becomes stronger.” 6 This interview appears in the current edition of Sport magazine. Download the free iPad app here, and follow on twitter @sportmagukYOU CAN LISTEN TO LIVE NATIONAL RADIO COMMENTARY OF MANCHESTER UNITED v MANCHESTER CITY ONLY ON talkSPORT FROM 2pm ON SUNDAYVincent Kompany spent last Tuesday night belting out songs like a karaoke singer, in front of a crowd of thousands. The Belgium and Manchester City captain led celebrations as the Red Devils confirmed their place both at Euro 2016, and at the top of the next set of world rankings released by FIFA.“For us it was a historic moment,” the centre-back tells us in an exclusive interview before facing Manchester United on Sunday. “It’s not about being the strongest nation in the world, because we’re not yet. But somehow we ended up being number one in FIFA. For a country like us it might never happen again, so being there was really important.” 6 Vincent Kompany That’s particularly important at a club like Manchester City, with big-name players from all over the world. “You know, you’re talking about players who have a huge backing from around the world,” says Kompany. “A lot of people tell them how good they are, and they are kind of special talents as well. I would say that there’s a different approach to every dressing room. At City, we’ve experienced every phase of it from being 10th in the league to going and being champions.”Kompany joined City from Hamburg for a reported £6m, shortly before the money started pouring in. He has been the backbone of the club’s new era. Does he see part of his job as captain to help tie the team together, to help balance the egos?“I think the ego thing is overestimated,” he replies. “There’s a lot of good players, really good players. And they know it. [Laughs] A lot of them already know what they have to do on the pitch. So it’s not an ego situation – you just have to know what to say to them and say it at the right time. What I’ve found is that, if you just try and be generally concerned about what’s going to make the team better, then you’re already halfway there to being a good captain. By thinking, you kind of always improve as well because you try stuff, and then you try something else and eventually you build experience of saying the right things and doing the right things.”Playing smart and hardKompany is one of football’s most articulate and intelligent players. He’s in the final stages of an MBA at Manchester Business School, although he doesn’t talk too much about that because he “doesn’t want to jinx it”. He’s also strong, aggressive and physically intimidating on the pitch; he looks taller and more imposing in person than even his 6ft 3ins on paper would suggest.Two years ago, playing for Belgium against Serbia, he went up for a header and came down with a concussion, a broken nose and a fractured eye socket after a clash with the goalkeeper. He played on for the rest of the match – another hour. So, is he a cultured interceptor like Paolo Maldini, or a battlehardened face-blocker like John Terry?“I guess it’s changed over the years,” he says. “Now I would say probably my reading of the game [is my best quality], and that’s come with experience. I find the game easier now than two or three years ago. When I was younger, I was very aggressive. I was fast and mobile – but it was just a lot more skills, and a lot more things that defenders probably don’t do. I was actually a very, very skilful defender, and you kind of strip it out and you go back to what’s going to make your team stronger.“There’s no one that benefits from me doing stepovers if David Silva or Yaya Toure can get the ball early and pick an unbelievable pass. So you strip it out, and what’s left is just a very aggressive defender who’s always going to put his head where people would not put their feet if they have to – and someone who wants to dictate the game without necessarily having to be on the ball all the time. Sporting success can bring disparate elements of a country together, the same way a good captain can bind a dressing room full of clashing characters. For a country such as Belgium, which has one of the largest foreign-born populations in the world, and an entrenched split between the Flemish and French-speaking areas, it was particularly sweet to see the crowd united behind a multicultural, world-class team. The chance to be a part of that might explain why Kompany reportedly risked his club manager Manuel Pellegrini’s wrath to be there, having missed City’s previous five games with a calf injury. He disagrees, though.“Forget about the different languages,” says the 29-year-old, who speaks them both, plus three others. “We’re a small country and our people never really used to believe that they could make it – never used to think that they could be the smartest, be the strongest, be the fastest. That’s changing now. The national team is one little bit that has helped change the mentality.”Belgium hasn’t always been so united. “It’s a bit of a country with two faces,” says Kompany, who was born in Brussels, the son of a Congolese father and a French-Belgian mother. “On one side it’s a wealthy country compared to the average around Belgium, but on the other side you still have poverty and you have to face discrimination. I always felt where I came from we had to face discrimination, and I always felt we had to work harder to get opportunities.”Kompany grew up in what he has called a “pretty rough” area of Belgium’s capital, and learned to play football in the streets with his father, Pierre, before joining Anderlecht’s youth system at the age of six.“My dad used to play in Africa,” he tells us. “He was playing for nothing, but he was playing in front of stadiums filled with 60, 70, 80,000 people sometimes. He was a student, but he had to make a choice and he decided to carry on with university – sport was not a way to make money back in the day.”Pierre Kompany came to Europe fleeing government oppression. “He came as a political refugee, and he’s had a lot of ups and downs in his life,” says his son now. “He still talks about Congo as a being a great country, but he was forced by the regime at the time to leave the country, fearing for his life.” 6 6 6 So, from a country united by football, we come, finally, to a city that will be divided by it during this weekend’s Manchester derby. Kompany has experienced the highs and lows of the fixture – an own goal, a red card, and a late winner that helped City seal their first Premier League title. At 17, “in a different life”, Kompany could have signed for United, if not for his mother’s insistence that he stay in Belgium to finish his studies.There’s no bravado from City’s captain, no cross-town jibes before a game that could eventually prove pivotal in the title race.“I’ve learned one thing with the derbies,” says Kompany. “You kind of don’t want to talk too much about it before the game, because it’s such a special game and it always fires back. When you don’t talk, you win. And, when you talk too much, you lose.”last_img read more