Vincent Kompany has rejected claims Manchester City have enjoyed an unfair advantage over the last decade thanks to their Abu Dhabi owner or that the club’s extravagant spending has been bad for football.
The 32-year-old Belgian arrived at City in August 2008, a week before Sheikh Mansour, Abu Dhabi royalty and the half-brother of the United Arab Emirates’ president, bought the club from ex-Thailand president Thaksin Shinawatra.
Ten years on, and billions of pounds in investment later, the club Kompany joined has been transformed.
The scale and speed of that transformation, though, has prompted criticism from jealous rivals, increased media scrutiny and attracted the attention of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play investigators, with the latter imposing a 60 million euro fine on City for breaching spending limits in 2014.
Kompany, however, does not accept the idea City’s trolley dash in the transfer market has damaged the wider game.
Speaking at the state-of-the-art City Football Academy, he said: “Any investment by City recently has been to overtake other clubs’ 20-year advantage.
“The alternative is you go to Germany and you have Bayern Munich who obliterate the league every year because they’ve got 11 million fans. So what’s the alternative?
“What is fair about the status quo? Should City be in the third division (as they were 10 years before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover) and say ‘we’ve got awesome fans but we’re not allowed to have success’?”
Prior to joining City, Kompany played for Anderlecht and Hamburg, two sides who used to compete for European honours but now find themselves outgunned financially.
Asked if he thought City’s state-backed spending was partly responsible for their decline, Kompany pointed to the 1995 Bosman ruling as the real catalyst for change in European football, as it enabled out-of-contract players to move to other European Union clubs on free transfers.
“Belgians know that story very well because the reason why we couldn’t compete anymore in Europe is we couldn’t retain our best players,” Kompany said.
“Bosman was good for me as a player but Anderlecht used to have Dutch stars and the best Belgian players and would go to the latter stages of European competitions.
“But with free movement everybody went to where the bigger teams were, the ones with the most resources, and that made the power of England bigger.”
Kompany also believes Abu Dhabi’s investment in Manchester City has benefited Manchester the city, as well as the entire north west, which is difficult to argue with when you see how much east Manchester has changed.
But nowhere is that sense of revolution felt more sharply in the city than on the pitch, where the club once dismissed by Sir Alex Ferguson as the “noisy neighbours” now set the tone.
For Kompany, who married his City-supporting Mancunian girlfriend in 2011, a key moment in City’s Manchester takeover came when he led his side to a 1-0 win over United in the FA Cup semi-final in the same year.
“It was the biggest game in City’s history for a long time,” he said.
“You go to Wembley and there are 90,000 fans, all from Manchester, well, some from London, but most from Manchester, and they were a big, successful United team, they were the favourites.
“And then you win it and it hits you. We didn’t win any trophies that day but which game gives you more belief than any other? Probably that one and the QPR game (to clinch the Premier League title in 2012). Everything else has been part of the process.”
As the reference to fans from London suggests, Kompany has been in Manchester long enough to know how to needle United supporters, but he is not without sympathy for their current difficulties.
“I have compassion for the neighbours because Sir Alex Ferguson was such a big personality, you cannot take somebody like that out of a club and think everything is going to continue like before,” he said.
“You need a transition period. Manchester United is still a big club, it competes for everything, but it’s still dealing with the post-Ferguson era – it’s as simple as that.”
United also have something City lack. Kompany and co may have won seven domestic trophies since Abu Dhabi started fuelling them but the 1970 Cup Winners’ Cup remains the club’s only European title.
The space in the trophy cabinet is what former Barcelona and Bayern boss Pep Guardiola was hired to fill two years ago, and winning the Champions League is the goal that is driving Kompany on.
“It’s simple to explain: the one thing you haven’t had, is the thing you want the most,” Kompany admitted.
“The Premier League is still a massive prize to achieve, so they are equal priorities, but your mind says what you haven’t achieved yet is what you want the most.”