Back in 2003, Vincent Kompany was on the wanted list of many of Europe's big clubs. As a central defender with pace and composure, Chelsea, Manchester United, Lyon and Inter Milan were among his suitors. He was 17 and starring for Anderlecht in the Belgian league, but Kompany did not have his head turned by the big time or riches like many of today's young prodigies,. He claimed he would be "playing Russian roulette" with his career if he left, saying that he was not mature enough to be playing two big games a week. Refreshing honesty from someone so young and, when the time came to move on, he chose the lower-profile Hamburg and the Bundesliga.
Injuries halted his expected progression, but after impressing in the Emirates Cup tournament in August, Manchester City moved quickly to sign him, a deal that went almost unnoticed in Real Madrid's pursuit of his teammate Rafael van der Vaart. Those at Hamburg say Kompany was as crucial as the classy Dutchman and City are finding that out now as he provides a solid base as a defensive midfielder rather than the heart of defence where he still plays for the Belgian national team.
As he prepares for a return to Germany for tonight's Uefa Cup test against Schalke, the City manager, Mark Hughes, will continue to use him there - at least until he can strengthen in the January transfer window and now that Gelson Fernandes is out for three weeks with a hamstring injury. "Vincent himself enjoys midfield and that's where he is for us because it is a position where we are a bit light. That's where he will stay for the foreseeable future. People may forget how young he is in years and experience, but he has played a good deal at the top level throughout Europe, and he has a few big games under his belt. Playing in the Premier League will help him develop as a player."
Kompany is a key link to City striking the right balance as they have been a major attacking threat, but look vulnerable in defence. With nine-goal Robinho ruled out tonight - along with Elano and Pablo Zabaleta - with an ankle injury, it is even more crucial the backline remains steady. They got it right in the 3-0 win over Arsenal and the captain, Richard Dunne, is hoping they can follow it up against Schalke, where a win will take City through to the next phase - something Hughes feels is important for "a club of this stature".
Dunne added: "Getting the balance right is difficult, but the way Stephen Ireland and Robinho have been playing has been brilliant. "It must be a joy to watch for the fans, but for a defender the joy is in keeping clean sheets. Unfortunately there have been individual errors and collective mistakes." Tottenham pair Roman Pavlyuchenko and Vedran Corluka are cup-tied for their clash against NEC Nijmegen in Holland but Jermaine Jenas should be fit.