Vincent Kompany leads by example in Manchester City success
Despite the creativity and flair that has defined Manchester City's retention of the English Premier League title this season, it was their irreplaceable defensive rock that that inspired the success for Pep Guardiola and his assembled squad of world-class talent.
Vincent Kompany turned 33 last month, and his age is not a good combination with the injuries that have curtailed his appearances in recent seasons. Although his availability has been sporadic and largely limited, his presence around the team alone has been as important as the performances of those taking to the field for the treble-chasers each and every week.
It is Kompany's leadership qualities that leave Manchester City with a huge decision to make. The immediate focus may be on Saturday's FA Cup Final against Watford at Wembley, but the next priority will be the future of the Belgian international. He intends to continue playing at the highest-level possible next season, but it is difficult to see his future being at the Etihad Stadium.
Kompany joined the club back in 2008 and has witnessed the club emerge as one of the biggest in the world game over the course of the last decade. He has played a key role in that rise, and his enthusiasm for the project has brought an element of stability and familiarity in an ever-changing dressing room.
Guardiola has already said that his Manchester City team will be better next season, and the tough competition from Liverpool in the title race has brought a fresh energy to the man from Catalonia. The challenge from Jürgen Klopp's side has offered a new dimension to the competitive environment for Guardiola, and there will be no room for sentiment next season.
It was Kompany's stunning goal in the 1-0 win over Leicester City a week ago that effectively ensured the Premier League trophy would remain at the Etihad. With frustration growing as the minutes ticked by, Kompany scored a crucial goal for the club, and not for the first time in his career. It was a defining moment in the title race.
On Saturday, Kompany has the chance to lift the FA Cup for the second time, and there is every reason to believe that the tears that will inevitably follow from the emotional captain will be based on an acceptance that his time at the club has finally come to an end. He knows his physical capabilities will fall short of what a club like City need next season, and he will not want to drift out of contention on the basis of sentiment.
The defender has already established himself in Manchester City folklore, and he will forever be remembered for the defining part he has played in the evolution of this club. While others have set incredible technical standards, Kompany has shown the passion and emotional attachment needed to produce when things are not going to plan.
Of course, Kompany is an exceptionally talented defender in his own right, but given the nature of the Premier League, Guardiola will appreciate the need for stability and consistency at the back. Kompany's injury problems are likely to only increase as he moves closer to retirement, and the manager will not want to put his natural leader through the same frustrations as he has in recent years.
An intelligent figure away from football, Kompany will not let his heart rule his head this summer, even though he wears it on his sleeve when it comes to representing the club he loves. Any offer on the table is likely to be the last, and should he stay then his opportunities will be limited as Guardiola plans a summer recruitment project to ensure his side do not drop below the incredibly high standards set.
The last few weeks have already felt like Kompany's final games in the colours of Manchester City, but talk of his future has become the elephant in the room. It has been the subject of speculation in the media, and the few official lines that have come out on the subject give little away, other than to confirm that nothing has been agreed for the next campaign.
But while Kompany is replaceable on the field, at a high price, he is irreplaceable off it. He is not ready to remain at the club as part of the coaching staff, even though it seems an inevitable position in the future and his character is not one to take a big contract playing at a lower standard. Kompany wants to continue to compete against the best, but it is difficult to see that happening in sky blue.
What Kompany brings to Manchester City is a quality that money cannot buy. He is the foundation behind an unparalleled era of success and silverware, and his uncompromising desire to win has been an infectious strength in a squad of superstar players.
Replacing him as a collective unit will be impossible, but his departure from the club he loves this summer will be the price of progress for Guardiola and Manchester City. It is only fitting he leaves as a champion.