Vincent Kompany will get a first taste of life in the dug-out at the Etihad Stadium when he takes his Championship team Burnley to face Manchester City in the FA Cup quarterfinals on Saturday (stream live on ESPN+, 1.45 p.m., U.S. Only.)
“Vinny’s destiny to be manager of City is written in the stars,” Pep Guardiola said earlier this month after his side were drawn against Kompany’s club in the last eight. “It’s going to happen, I don’t know when, but it will happen.”
It was a bold statement by Guardiola about a 36-year-old who is in only his fourth season of management after his first three were spent in Belgium with Anderlecht. But the City boss had good reason to suggest that Kompany will, at some point, become one of his successors.
– Stream on ESPN+: FA Cup, LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
Kompany is the most successful captain in City’s history, winning four Premier League titles, four EFL Cups and two FA Cups during 11 seasons at the club. In his first campaign as Burnley manager, he is now just three wins away from achieving promotion to the Premier League.
When he arrived at Turf Moor in the summer, Kompany, who in 2017 graduated from Manchester Business School with a master’s degree in business administration, told ESPN he had taken over at a “very delicate and dangerous time” due to the club needing to offload players and cut costs to service a £55 million loan.
But despite the obvious pitfalls and risks of putting his reputation on the line at Burnley, Kompany has transformed the club and the team’s playing style. He has overcome the odds to move within touching distance of promotion. Now Burnley travel to City with the confidence that they could shock the reigning Premier League champions. So when Guardiola speaks so highly of his former captain, it is clear to see why. Kompany is a rising star in management and Burnley will face a battle to keep him sooner rather than later.
Yet whether Kompany’s career path ultimately takes him back to City is down to him not only maintaining his upwards trajectory, but also about being strategic in his choices. One bad move could scupper his hopes of managing City forever. Football is littered with managers who were “destined” for a certain club, only to have their ambitions derailed by making the right choice at the wrong time.
Steven Gerrard was building a clear path towards the Liverpool job by making such an impressive start to management in Scotland with Rangers, but his move to Aston Villa in November 2021 turned out to be more of a trapdoor than a stepping stone, and he was sacked after less than a year at Villa Park. His prospects of one day succeeding Jurgen Klopp at Anfield appear to have gone up in smoke simply because he made a bad choice by leaving Rangers for Villa.
Patrick Vieira was also earmarked to become a future City manager, having spent eight years within the City Football Group as player, youth-team coach and then the coach of New York City FC in MLS. But after an unsuccessful 18-month spell in charge of French club Nice, the former Arsenal captain is now in a relegation battle at Crystal Palace; the days of being tipped to manage City, or Arsenal, appear to be long gone.
The list of former Manchester United players who were identified as obvious successors to Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford — Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs among them — has become a similar tale of hopes being dashed by poor choices and bad results.
Frank Lampard is perhaps an exception, having been appointed as Chelsea manager in 2019 after just a year in management with Derby County. But had Chelsea not been under a worldwide transfer ban, and therefore unappealing to the game’s elite coaches, it is questionable as to whether Lampard, a Chelsea legend, would have even been offered the job.
Lampard, like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United in 2018, was handed a route back to his former club because they were in trouble and in need of a figure from the past, whose reputation as a player could spark a revival and instill some kind of feelgood factor. That may be the only way for Gerrard to end up at Liverpool — a sticking plaster appointment rather than being at the top of his profession.
Mikel Arteta was handed the Arsenal job in 2019 in similar circumstances, and the former Gunners’ midfielder has grasped his opportunity and made it work, but he is a rarity in doing that.
Right now, Kompany is yet to be tainted by the failure that has damaged the ambitions of some of his contemporaries, so his future options remain alive. He could prove Guardiola right by one day taking the City job, but it won’t be his achievements at Burnley that convince the club’s hierarchy he is the man to take charge at the Etihad. It will be his next move, and maybe even the one after that, which dictates whether he is on course to manage City.
Being a club legend helps when it comes to management, but it only takes you so far and Kompany has plenty of road to cover before reaches the Etihad. He will need to continue to win, but also be astute with his choices along the way, to avoid the setbacks suffered by Gerrard, Vieira and all those former United players.
Beating City and knocking them out of the FA Cup this weekend certainly won’t harm his prospects.