Vincent Kompany is going back to the start.
After 11 years and a drawer-full of medals at Man City, the Belgian is returning to Anderlecht – the club where it all began – to become a player-manager.
Lifting the FA Cup as part of a domestic treble was his last act in blue.
Kompany has described his move to Anderlecht as the “return of the prince”.
He made his debut for the Belgian club as a 17-year-old, played 73 times for them between 2003 and 2006 and won two league titles before eventually moving onto Hamburg and then, of course, to City, where the rest is history.
Back then, he was widely considered one of the brightest young defenders in Europe – I even recall him being one of the must-have wonderkids on LMA Manager 2004 – alongside his friend and Anderlecht teammate Anthony Vanden Borre.
Now there’s a name you haven’t heard for a while, right?
Some of you might remember Vanden Borre at Portsmouth, where he played in the Premier League for one season in 2009.
His unremarkable spell at Fratton Park is perhaps best remembered for his sending off in a 0-0 draw to Blackburn Rovers, which Chris Kamara failed to notice while reporting on the match for Soccer Saturday, claiming he thought “they were bringing on a substitute, Geoff!”
But other than that, we seldom think of the man once tipped to be the future of Belgium football.
Kompany and Vanden Borre were each teenage starlets for club and country, and both were tipped for greatness early on.
In fact, Vanden Borre remains Belgium’s second-youngest player of all-time, with former international Paul van Himst once describing him as “the greatest talent I’ve ever seen in my career.”
Indeed, while compared with Kompany, many regarded Vanden Borre to be the more talented of the two.
But while the future City defender kept his head down and did his talking on the pitch – eventually earning his move away from the Belgian league – AVB seemed to have a bit of an attitude problem that would plague his career, often overshadowing his natural talent.
Vanden Borre eventually left Anderlecht at the age of 20, signing for Fiorentina in 2007 – one year after Kompany’s departure – but he failed to break into the Italian side’s starting line-up. He left for Genoa one year later, but failed to make much of an impact there, either.
While he was chopping and changing, it was around this time that Kompany was establishing himself in City’s first-team as they began to eye qualification for the Champions League.
Vanden Borre was still looking for that definitive step.
In 2011, Kompany lifted the FA Cup – City’s first major trophy for 35 years – and finished the season in the PFA Team of the Year, while Vanden Borre was on the move again following a failed stint at cash-strapped and eventually relegated Portsmouth.
He opted for a return to Belgium with Genk, where he underwent a rebirth of sorts in a side inspired by a young Kevin De Bruyne.
But like his moves before, it didn’t last.
Despite a league title and a standout campaign in defence, a bust-up with his manager at the end of his second season saw him cast out of the team.
He eventually ended up in Ukraine with Tavriya Simferopol for a short-term spell, before returning to Anderlecht in a last desperate attempt to reignite his stagnating career.
Consider his return a career re-set, of sorts.
Things began to look up for the maverick defender at his old stomping ground.
His good form for his club earned him a place in Belgium’s squad for the 2014 World Cup, although he was more of a defensive back-up to the team rather than a main-player. Not like Kompany, who was one of the first names on the team-sheet as captain.
Sadly, he only made one appearance for the Red Devils in Brazil, starting in their final group game against South Korea and suffering a fractured calf bone in the closing minutes, ruling him out of the rest of the tournament.
Having been kept out of action for the start of the new season, he finally made his return to club football in a Champions League group clash against Arsenal, duly scoring twice in a thrilling 3-3 comeback.
His ability to dazzle on the biggest stage still evident.
But off the pitch, he clashed with authority once more. In a public outburst, he reportedly used homophobic language in a scathing criticism of his teammates. After two years in Brussels, he was shipped out once more.
A season in France with Montpellier yielded a handful of appearances, before a brief, four-month stint with DR Congo outfit TP Mazembe. In 2017, he finally hung up his boots, aged just 29.
On hearing the news of his retirement, then-Anderlecht boss Van Holsbeeck summed up the former wonderkid’s disappointing career, saying: “My memory of him will be one of a huge waste. When I came to the club, there were two players who were head and shoulders above everyone else: [Vincent] Kompany and him. Vincent became one of the best players in the world while Anthony always had problems, often off the pitch. It’s a shame.”
For two young players who started out on such a level playing field, Kompany and Vanden Borre are ending their playing day’s worlds apart.
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