Vincent Kompany, Burnley and the double-edged sword of his success

Ian King
Burnley manager Vincent Kompany

Burnley have been given a new lease of life under Vincent Kompany, and that will inevitably mean other clubs come sniffing around him. Will he resist?


Since beating Norwich City on October 25, Burnley have been top of the Championship.

Beaten only twice in the league all season, they’re already on 80 points with ten games to go. Considering their form since relegation from the Premier League, with just two league defeats all season and only one since the second week in August, the biggest question at this stage in proceedings isn’t whether they’ll get promoted, but whether they’ll manage to break the 100-point barrier. With 20 points and 10 games remaining it’s on, and they’re still in the FA Cup too, having already eliminated one Premier League club.

Even the clouds on the horizon don’t seem likely to swell into anything serious. There was a momentary flap when it was confirmed that the club had been put under a transfer embargo, but the reason for this seems so benign as to make this an irrelevance. It has transpired that Burnley were late filing annual accounts for the 2021/22 season with the EFL, who have a March 1 deadline. A statement from the club said that draft accounts and financial information had been given to the EFL’s financial reporting unit and the delay was down to a change in auditors taking longer than expected.

There’s no reason to disbelieve the club over this. Changing auditors mid-season is exactly the sort of disruption that might cause the late submission of accounts, although it should be added that November was an unusual time of year to be changing auditors when the accounts had to be completed by the end of the following February.

And the penalty that they’ve received could hardly be less exacting. A transfer embargo put in place in the middle of March, more than six weeks before the end of the January transfer window, seems unlikely to do the club any harm, presuming it can be lifted again before the end of this season. Under other circumstances, financial difficulties have been the reason for the late submission of company accounts, but there’s nothing to suggest that this has been the case.

That this was leapt upon by supporters of rival Championship rivals as evidence of some form of ‘cheating’ says something for the gap between Burnley and the rest in this division. With 10 games to play they’re 13 points clear of second-placed Sheffield United, 16 clear of third-placed Middlesbrough, and 25 clear of seventh-placed Norwich City.

So enormous is the gap that they’ve already opened up on the rest that only two more wins will guarantee their place in the play-offs even if they lose the other eight, and there’s little sign of that happening.

This all amounts to a spectacular start to life as a manager in England for Vincent Kompany, the former Manchester City and Belgium defender who arrived at Turf Moor towards the start of the summer after a three-year sojourn back in Brussels with Anderlecht. He did reasonably well – third was Anderlecht’s best league finish since 2018 – but nothing earth-shattering.

That he was the right decision as a permanent replacement for Sean Dyche is just about beyond debate now, but Kompany’s achievement in getting Burnley into this position was not guaranteed. For better or for worse, the club lost a lot of experienced players upon relegation from the Premier League, and whoever came in was always going to have to significantly rebuild the team.

Kompany has not only managed that, but Burnley have shot to the top of the table playing a style of football that is extremely easy on the eye. Goals have been shared around – they’re the division’s top scorers with 71 but only one player, midfielder Nathan Tella, has got into double figures – while the defence has been parsimonious, with just 28 conceded in 36 league matches. It’s all a long way removed from the siege mentality instilled by the later Dyche years, when the presumption at the start of each season was that anything above 17th made for a successful season. It’s fun.

It is certainly a curiosity that the managers of the clubs leading both the Premier League and the Championship are protégés of Pep Guardiola. Mikel Arteta and Vincent Kompany may have had different paths within or around Manchester City – Arteta joined the coaching staff after retiring from playing, while Kompany spent 11 years with the club as a player and ended up with a statue of himself outside The Etihad Stadium, but only had the last three years of that career with Guardiola – but both have produced resilient teams with a winning habit who play attractive football.

There is no suggestion that Pep Guardiola is going anywhere, but it is tempting to wonder whether the race to succeed him may involve these two potential candidates. They do both come with reasons for some degree of caution. Arteta may well be a Premier League-winning manager by the time the position becomes available. Would he even have much interest in leaving Arsenal, considering what he’s building there? Considering their trajectory this season, where might they be by the time Guardiola leaves City?

And while Kompany may have passed his training exam in Brussels and taken Burnley well clear at the top of the Championship, this is a very different world to the top of the Premier League and the expectations that would come with managing a club of City’s stature. Such is the size of that gulf that even getting Burnley into the Premier League and keeping them safe there might not be considered definitive ‘proof’ of his suitability for that particular position. And as several others have proved in the Premier League, being a big name as a player is not necessarily a guarantee of ability as a manager.

They’ll have a chance to eye up his progress in more forensic detail when Burnley travel to the Etihad Stadium for their FA Cup quarter-final at the weekend, and it should be added that any success below the Premier League may encourage interest from other clubs too. Of course, this is just football’s food chain in action, and there is nothing to suggest that he won’t stay and continue this job into the Premier League, but in the hair-trigger world of modern football management, little can really be taken for granted.

The paradox of having a successful manager when you’re a smaller club is that it automatically makes you more vulnerable to their departure, arguably all the more so when the manager concerned is a ‘big name’. Kompany has already been connected with the Belgium job, but the matter was dismissed in somewhat florid terms by the Belgian journalist Pieter-Jan Colcoen, who said that, “He wants to stay and blend body and soul into the process initiated at Burnley.” He may take the same attitude over big club jobs for quite a while longer, too.

But those are questions for another day, and Burnley supporters should be glad to be living in this sort of present. Relegation from the Premier League following a stay of several consecutive years can be a difficult pill for a club to swallow, especially considering that Burnley had undergone a change in ownership a year before.

Vincent Kompany’s greatest achievement at Burnley so far has been steadying that ship and giving the team a completely new identity in the Championship. It didn’t look likely at the end of last season, but Burnley are marching back to the Premier League, and they seem certain to return looking very different indeed.