Friday, July 19, 2024

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Vincent Kompany at Bayern Munich

It's tempting to suggest that a little of Pep Guardiola's reflective magic stardust may just have landed in Munich with the arrival of Vincent Kompany, to take up his former master's mantle at Bayern after a season which saw his previous employers relegated to the Championship. The question is, is there more to the decision for him to step in and replace Thomas Tuchel? 

 



The parting of the ways between the club and their now former gaffer reads something like a “can't live with or without” relationship. Tuchel was even invited back, but refused, opening the door for the man whose biggest success to date is probably guiding Burnley back into the Premier League, however short their return stay may have been.



But how did he go from seemingly not even in the running to leading it and ultimately leaving Lancashire behind? Evidently the Clarets saw enough in him to offer a return to the north of England after ending his playing career back in Belgium at Anderlecht, having previously served Manchester City with distinction. Taking charge of the Purple and White on the same day on August 17th 2020, fourth place in the league in his first season, not too shabby a start as he set about building the reputation Bayern have seemingly brought into…



Returning to these shores on June 14th 2022, having been identified as the man to take Burnley back up following relegation under Sean Dyche, he would implement something of a reform. Ushering in a somewhat faster paced, more attacking brand of football and scouring his contacts book for younger, often foreign players- sixteen of whom arrived within his first few months of taking office. 



This may point to exactly why he now finds himself at the Allianz Arena. After all, it's not exactly a stretch to imagine this might appeal to a club who by their own high standards often found themselves looking over their shoulders more so than is considered normal, especially domestically given the massive success enjoyed by runaway Bundesliga winners Bayer Leverkusen!



Talk of such similarly huge leads over even their nearest competitors seems an opportune time to consider another feather in Kompany's cap, given just how extensively his newly-energised Clarets bossed the Championship in that first season under his charge. The title wrapped up, with what remains a record seven games to spare, after a 2-1 win away at Middlesbrough, the goals courtesy of Ashley Barnes and Connor Roberts. 



The story of such rampant success was somewhat fittingly started by Ian Maatsen, who nabbed the winner away at Huddersfield on the opening day of the season after arriving on loan from Chelsea. He would prove, alongside several of his fellow season-long recruits, to be a cornerstone of the climb back into the Premier League...



A 1-1 draw at home to fellow end of campaign success stories Luton was followed by one of only three league defeats suffered all season, as they fell 1-0 away at Watford in mid-August. The other rare defeats came towards mid-season, away to eventual Championship runners-up Sheffield United in a shocking 5-2 loss, and near the end of the campaign, a 2-1 reverse at home to QPR, by which point it served as the tiniest chink in the armour as they'd already put in the majority of the hard work in eventually reaching 101 points, ten more than nearest challengers Sheffield United in second!



Top scorer in all competitions, on nineteen goals, was Nathan Tella, another loanee- via Southampton- whose first two came in a pulsating 3-3 home derby draw with Blackpool, Josh Brownhill also helping himself. This came prior to a first real statement of intent the following week, as the short trip to Wigan yielded a five goal hammering of the Latics, another two for Brownhill and a solitary goal for Tella adding to an opener from hometown hero Jay Rodriguez and a first of the season for Samuel Bastien, one of Kompany's finds from scouring the Jupiler League and his fourth permanent signing, from Standard Liege for a fee of £685,000.



Working within such a tight budget was a nagging by-product of the leveraged takeover of the club by ALK Capital, their 84% stake as acquired in December 2020 largely financed on borrowed money- £170 million to be precise! The end result seeing Burnley going from footloose and debt free to struggling under the weight of around £100 million in the red, transferred to the club by its new owners...



Probably a good thing then that the new boss had something of an eye for a bargain- another of his finds, Vitinho, who arrived from Cercle Brugge for an undisclosed fee, would start repaying it with his first goal in front of his new home crowd against Millwall on August 30th, possibly the best demonstration yet of the complete transformation undergone post- Dyche as some slick pass and move undid the Lions. Another Belgian Burnleyite, in Manuel Benson, came off the bench just before the hour and made a nuisance of himself following a £3M move from Antwerp.

 

He wouldn't have to wait long for a first goal, either- barely five minutes into a home game against Bristol City three weeks later, he and Rodriguez adding another three points to what would rightly be recognised as an impressive haul come the end of the season, especially given the financial constraints faced by the men in claret. 



Tella also carried on showing the sort of form that had Leverkusen come calling by the end of his stay at Turf Moor, with goals in a 1-1 draw at Cardiff and 1-0 away win over Coventry, two weeks apart and either side of another Vitinho strike in a home draw with Stoke.



Even at this early-ish stage of the season it was becoming apparent that the momentum was with them, and so it proved right until the death, the promotion-clinching win at Middlesbrough hardly followed by a drop in standards as four wins and two draws helped Burnley rub more than a few noses into the dirt.



Having tasted such success then, it's probably only right to consider how and why their return to the Premier League bombed quite so badly as it did- after all, on the face of it such a young and hungry team should've been raring to go, you might think? Second from bottom, again above Sheffield United, on twenty-four points to their sixteen having picked up just five wins all season, is at least on the face of it hardly the sort of record that should get you admiring glances from Bayern, even if they are wounded.



It's hard to pick a hole in The Athletic's contention that almost from kick-off on that fateful first day back, "Kompany's tactical naivety, stubbornness and inexperience" were what shone through from his first true test of managerial mettle. The young side so lauded at Championship level gutted of its loanees, recalled to their parent clubs while the imports struggled to make the step up and around twenty new signings ahead of the return to the top flight mostly flattering to deceive. Another loanee, Jacob Bruun Larsen top scored with just six goals before hot footing it back to Hoffenheim.



And so the adventure was over, the Independent deeming it the result of a club-wide failure to wake up from the Championship fever dream- "naive in the transfer market, naive on the pitch and, by extension, naive in the boardroom". A harsh lesson, yes, but hopefully one heeded by ALK Capital and the next man they appoint to set the bar, the reported £10.2 million received from Bayern in compensation no doubt going some way towards softening the blow of Kompany's surprise departure as well as offering opportunities for shrewder investment in those he left behind.

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