Vincent Kompany: The biggest challenge is to qualify. It’s a tough group. But more importantly we have to get away from that mentality that you haven’t qualified for a long time, that you weren’t good enough. We have to break that barrier, probably like we had to do at City as well, and then qualify. With that self-belief we will definitely shock the football world.
You’re quite unusual in that you stayed in Belgium to finish your studies. Do you think there is enough emphasis on young English footballers finishing their education?
It would be very judgemental for me to say that. It’s difficult to point education as one issue. England produces a lot of great footballers. Study is not a measure of intelligence. I’ve seen a lot of players without studies who are very intelligent players. I don’t think it has much to do with education. Probably sometimes it is an issue of what people look up to when they are growing up. When I was a 10-year-old boy, whenever I saw the future or dreamed about it, I always saw myself lifting cups and playing in full stadiums, scoring goals, defending well. I can’t remember a single memory from my dreams that was about a car or a girl. It was never my motivation. I could never put a number on what that cup was worth. I think sometimes, and it’s not just in England, that our society tends a little bit towards young kids at an early age having more of a feeling that material stuff [is important], that the job is a way to get material stuff rather than the opposite.
As a young player, and a second generation [Congolese] immigrant, how were you received in football back home in Belgium?
I guess we are going back to racism. Racism is felt most in grassroots football. We can talk on and on and on about the Premier League, but ultimately what we decide and do has an influence on grassroots football. When I was a kid it was very common for us to go places and be racially abused from six, seven, eight, nine, all the way up until you got into the first team. But it’s more regulated in the first team. I suffered a lot less racism there. I don’t really like to use the word suffered as I didn’t feel like the victim. I more felt sorry for those portraying the acts of racism. I have seen it and it was revolting. But it is grassroots football where you see the impact and maybe too much tolerance of racism.
How do you see the issue in England compared with Belgium?
The great thing about England is that people do talk a lot about it. If something happens it shocks the whole country and the whole country has an opinion. That is a sign that it’s not something that is accepted so that is a great thing. The fact people talk about it is a reflection that this country is a lot more evolved than other countries. England is a lot further than people might make out it might be. But you can always improve.
What is your relationship to Congo today?
I have a very strong relationship with Congo. I’m not half Belgian and half Congolese; I’m 100 per cent Belgian and 100 per cent Congolese. It’s a wealth to me to have those two cultural backgrounds. The charity work I do is never something I do because I felt I needed to do it to make myself feel good. It’s a priority in my life. It’s as much a priority as being a good footballer. Always has been. One enables me to do the other. I’ll keep trying to be a good footballer so it makes the impact I have when I go out there all the better.
The owner of Manchester City gives very few interviews. What is Sheikh Mansour like and what was it like being in the eye of the storm at the world’s richest club?
They are genuinely very involved in what is going on at Manchester City. I guess the one thing that impressed me was the depth in which they decided to transform the club. It would have been very easy to come in and buy the players and gain success that way. What I like about this is it goes along the way I envisage big projects. You go for the harder challenge, looking at the whole operation and try and produce young local players. You’ll never be able to take away the fact people are only looking at the money side of things. But I look at something much deeper than that. Something that has a huge influence on the dynamic of the city and of the lives of young players. It’s an incredible project and I’m proud to be part of it.
What are your plans after football? Is coaching an option?
I don’t know yet. I doubt I’ll just be doing one thing. I like travel so I’ll keep that in my life. The other thing, which has given me balance in my life ever since I signed for Manchester City from Hamburg, is that I had all these other challenges that run parallel to my career and helped me to keep my focus on my job. I would like that balance to stay in my life. Whether a manager’s job is possible like that, the sky’s the limit. No restrictions. I’m not scared of the end of my career. I know a lot of players who dread it. I’m not scared at all. I know exactly what my options will be. A very young career will begin once I’ve finished my old career in football.
Interview by James Montague
This interview appeared in the December 2012 issue of World Soccer.