Being appointed Burnley manager was not part of Vincent Kompany’s plan. The Belgian returned to his first club, Anderlecht, in 2019 to start his coaching career after a decade of success at Manchester City and was supposed to transform the team and leave Brussels with a glut of trophies. There was a rebuilding job required but despite green shoots of hope the Kompany era was more evolutionary than revolutionary and his tenure ended three years into a four-year deal.
Finishes of eighth, fourth and third showed progress but not enough for the board, whose tenure was going to end one way or another this summer. There was no shortage of admirers for Kompany, who has the reputation as one of football’s most intelligent and eloquent men. But despite “more appealing offers” Kompany decided the next chapter would be trying to return Burnley to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
There are similarities between the situation he found at Anderlecht and the one he walks into at Turf Moor. A new side needed to be built in Brussels after the best players were sold and there was a desire to create a more youthful team, one that focused on local players because the club lacked the money to buy.
Burnley have a skeletal playing staff and have lost James Tarkowski and Ben Mee. Players such as Nick Pope and Maxwel Cornet are expected to depart and those who remain may find it hard to adapt to Kompany’s tactics. He will need a new captain and centre-back pairing as a priority.
Anderlecht was a long-term project cut short, whereas short-term results will be needed at Burnley to avoid the club’s financial situation becoming perilous.
Kompany used his contacts to bring players to Anderlecht that some would see as out of reach for other clubs of similar standing. His former teammates Samir Nasri and Nacer Chadli joined and youngsters from Manchester City and Bayern Munich were recruited.
“As there was no money at Anderlecht he spent most of his job bringing in youngsters from the second team and abroad that he knew well,” says the former Anderlecht and City goalkeeper Geert De Vlieger. “With his contacts he tried to motivate players to come and play for Anderlecht to show them the bigger picture.”
Those players were targeted for their ability to fit into a team with a high-intensity style. It is a philosophy Kompany will aim to implement at Burnley and is far from what Turf Moor is used to after a decade of Sean Dyche. Burnley have a £65m debt to pay, which could limit summer spending. It is likely Kompany will look to his former club City to borrow players to give them Championship experience.
Kompany stuck to his philosophy in the good times and bad because of his belief in how he wanted to play, even if it was detrimental in the short-term.
“There was a touch of Pep in his way of playing the game,” De Vlieger says. “He was ready to take on the challenge to make it not just an Anderlecht challenge but also a big Brussels challenge, meaning that all the young players from Brussels would get their chance in the first team and play his way of football and make the best out of it.
“The slogan was to ‘trust the process’. At moments it looked OK but the problem was when there were good young players like Sambi Lokonga they had to let him go to Arsenal because they needed the money. That was a very difficult thing for Kompany: to try to realise something with young players while knowing if they did well they would have to sell them.”
The desire to play exciting football with a group of young players was exhilarating for Anderlecht but performances were inconsistent. There was reliance on finding the next talent from the academy whenever a rising star was sold. At Burnley, there is not a successful academy to use so Kompany will have to search far and wide to find his new team.
Kompany is not the finished article as a manager – to reach the top he will need to be more pragmatic, especially in a league as competitive as the Championship. The arrival of Craig Bellamy to the coaching staff could provide the necessary second opinion Kompany requires.
“I don’t think he made big mistakes,” says De Vlieger, “but I think the big difference for him is that he has a philosophy of playing the game, the way he played with Pep and City, but he did that with some very talented and quality players. If you try to do the same you need quality players and if you do not have that level of player you have to change your style a bit because you are playing more against yourself than your opponents. Sometimes his own team was a bigger problem than the opponent.”
Kompany’s return to England is convenient considering his wife is from Manchester and his three children were born in the region. It offers a logical path back to the Premier League and an opportunity to prove he could one day manage City, where his statue stands outside the stadium. It will, however, not be easy to start from scratch.
There is no doubt Kompany has the ability to get things right but he will need time and resources and they may be luxuries Burnley, like Anderlecht, cannot afford.