Little about Vincent Kompany is ordinary.
An accomplished central defender who is as comfortable on the ball as he is at denying opponents the same luxury, he has proved himself a leader of rare quality on and off the pitch.
The 33-year-old Belgium international is also equipped with academic intelligence and a social conscience borne out of a testing upbringing which has shaped not only his career in football, but his preparation for what lies ahead when he eventually hangs up his boots.
His decision to leave Manchester City after a glittering 11-year stay signalled the end of one era, but the world is likely to hear more of Vincent Kompany.
He was born in the Brussels suburb of Uccle in April 1986 to parents Pierre, who had been sent to a labour camp as a student in his native Democratic Republic of Congo after joining an uprising against dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and Jocelyne, a white Belgian union leader who worked for Brussels’ government employment agency.
His father completed his engineering degree while driving a taxi at night to support his family – Kompany has a brother, Francois, and a sister, Christel – and they sent their children to school aware of the challenges they would face because of their mixed race heritage, but armed with the tools to fight discrimination.
Kompany told the Guardian: “My dad wasn’t accepted in the family at the beginning.
“My mother comes from the most rural village you can imagine and when she arrived, in the 70s, with my dad, straight from Africa, it was a shock. It was ignorance. My dad always ended up being accepted because of his personality.
“It was normal for us to go to youth tournaments and be called monkeys; parents shouting it. That would nearly cause a fist fight with my mother. We were taught to be stronger.”
That strength of character appears to be a family trait – Pierre Kompany was elected Belgium’s first black mayor in October last year, a source of huge pride for his children.
The Kompanys spoke French at home and Dutch in school and the Manchester City skipper’s language skills have since developed to include near-faultless English and German and a passable grasp of Italian and Spanish.
He was always marked out to be a footballer, joining Anderlecht as a six-year-old and working his way through the ranks at both club and international level, although his outspoken tendencies saw him thrown out of school and the national set-up as a teenager.
He said: “I had an edge, a different way of dealing with things. My parents always revolted against inequality or unfairness, so you can imagine that when my teacher would punish someone – or me – for something that wasn’t fair, I wouldn’t take it.”
His teenage years were not without incident – he underwent knee surgery, perhaps a forewarning of what was to come in his career, his parents divorced and the family found themselves facing eviction from their inner-city home – and had he chosen a different path, the drugs and gang culture which surrounded him could have provided a very different outcome.
Kompany’s career, however, went from strength to strength and having been capped by his country at senior level as a 17-year-old, he won a big money move to Hamburg, where he excelled before being snapped up by City in 2008, the same year as he lost his mother to cancer.
His 11 years at the Etihad Stadium earned him 10 major trophies, a torrent of plaudits from team-mates and opponents alike, although as injuries, and particularly muscle problems, took their toll – he managed just 84 appearances for the club over his last four seasons – his presence both on the pitch and in the dressing room was valued highly by successive managers.
What it also brought him was wealth beyond the wildest dreams of his childhood, although he has never lost sight of the difficulties of those less fortunate both at home and in is adopted country.
Kompany, who is married to a Mancunian, Carla, and the father of three children, and graduated with a Masters degree in business administration in 2017, has established the Tackle4MCR charity in response to the homelessness problem in Manchester and BX Brussels, a football club for youngsters in Belgium.
In addition, he has worked with SOS Children’s Villages to create a village for orphans in Kinshasa, the capital of his father’s homeland.
His step into coaching at Anderlecht represents a new phase of his career, but it is unlikely to be the last with his interest in business and social justice representing avenues for further exploration, although he has indicated politics is not for him despite his passionately-held views on inequality and lack of opportunity.
It would be foolish to bet against such an articulate, committed and socially aware man replicating his success in football in whatever he chooses to do after it.
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