There’s so much to admire about Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany. Tall, lean, powerful, organised, intelligent and inspiring. On his day, he’s an almighty figure to have with you, and up until the end of the 2011/2012 season he deserved the accolades he received in being labelled one of the finest defenders in the world.
And before this argument expands too much further, that should be emphasised. On his day, Kompany is an outstanding player, and more so, a fantastic captain. But since City’s first Premier League title in 2012, those good days have been few and far between.
And this is what confuses. Kompany is still renowned in most media circles as the best centre back in England – the Guardian’s ‘top 100’ of players ranked him the 28th best player in the world in December, while in-depth tactics magazine FourFourTwo put him 38th, and the only Premier League defender in their ranks. Why is England so blind to his shortcomings?
The penny finally dropped in City’s 3-2 defeat to Liverpool at the back end of last season. Re-watch that game and Kompany was directly responsible for all of Liverpool’s goals in an appalling fashion. His one saving grace is that he was only returning from injury at the time, but it’s hard to imagine Martin Demichelis getting off this easily. It went under the radar completely because City went onto clinch the title in wake of Liverpool’s collapse, but that shouldn’t mask Kompany’s weaknesses.
What actually confuses most is his tendency to come hurling up the pitch into challenges to leave his defenders exposed to counter attacks. Gary Neville assassinated David Luiz in his early Chelsea days by likening him to being controlled by a twelve year on a game’s console for doing just that- but ultimately there’s little difference between Luiz and Kompany in this regard.
When Kompany abandons those around him in such a positionally naive way, he risks placing his team in all kinds of trouble. Francsesco Totti’s equalising goal in Roma’s draw at the Etihad earlier on this year was the finest example of that. Kompany was about 30 yards up the pitch when the 39-year-old slotted past Joe Hart in the space he should have been covering. Granted, he may be a converted holding midfielder, but that doesn’t really justify such irrational movements into that zone.
It should be a concern because he keeps doing it, which serves to question whether Manuel Pellegrini is completely ignorant to it, or more worryingly, Kompany just ignores his manager’s instructions.
But it seems especially unfair on Demichelis too, who had an atrociously bad start to his England career. It’s a basic tactical observation, but your sweeping defender, the one who drops deeper out of the pair when fielding attacks, should be your fasted, not your slowest, because he’ll be more susceptible to pace in behind. Re-watch last weekend’s action and you’ll see how Laurent Koscienly followed Sergio Aguero into deep positions to prevent Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace from being exposed.
Interestingly, it should also be noted that Kompany’s hardly fielded a partnership with anyone. Joleon Lescott formed City’s best defensive duo with him in that first season, but since then Lescott, Stefan Savic, Martin Demichelis and Majata Nastasic have all been deemed inferior to him. Eliaquim Mangala is next in line to take up the burden of operating with him, and it will be interesting to see how he settles after an inconsistent start.
In all, the Belgian seems totally immune to a change in reputation or perception – seemingly he can get away with anything and City’s shortcomings will be blamed on someone else. This weekend, after all, he clumsily gifted Arsenal a penalty and should have been sent off for a late challenge on Alexis Sanchez.
The question now is twofold. Firstly, will Kompany continue in this inconsistent form, a far-cry from the world class player he was two years ago, or regain that aura once made him so good.
The more interesting question is that if he goes down the path of the former, how much longer will he continue to deceive the public. Only time will tell.