Kompany on principles, pre-season & pressing ahead of Burnley's PL return

Vincent Kompany puffs out his cheeks and narrows his eyes. He has just been relayed a light-hearted claim from an upcoming docu-series in which his assistant manager, Craig Bellamy, says the Burnley boss ‘doesn’t sleep’ because he is too busy relentlessly preparing for the next match or training session.

The comment was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but has the Belgian found time to enjoy the success he’s had at Turf Moor so far? ‘All I can say is that I do get the importance of sleep as well!’ he says.

It was a typically serious response from a manager that takes his craft incredibly seriously. It is easy to forget in the 37-year-old’s company that this is just his fourth season as a manager, such is the conviction and sureness in which he speaks about his philosophy and the demands he places on his players.

But it was that self-confidence that persuaded Kompany that Burnley was the right step to take in his career 12 months ago. The Clarets had just been relegated to the Championship following a six-year stay in the top flight and 10 years under the stewardship of Sean Dyche.

Kompany inherited an ageing squad and owners that were in the infancy of club ownership. The Belgian signed 16 players, five of which were loanees. After a slow start, the Clarets transitioned away from the more pragmatic style of play supporters had grown accustomed to under Dyche. By May, Burnley were promoted with seven games to spare, losing just three times in the entire campaign and amassing 101 points.

It could be easy to get carried away, but Kompany is aware that his side face an almighty task to survive in the Premier League and says his players must remain on an even keel throughout the campaign.

‘I think you prepare every season by making sure your group fully understands how you’re going to behave and function in different moments,’ Kompany tells Metro.co.uk ahead of Sky’s new docu-series Mission to Burnley which documents the last 18 months at the club.

‘I can now already tell my players what we’ll do if we win the first five games or if we lose the first five games. In the end if we win the first five, we’re still not good enough and if we lose the first five, it’s okay, we can better.

‘It’s the same for your job. If you want to be the best journalist you can be it’s not going to happen because you say it, it’s going to happen because you put in the hours. When you make a mistake someone can help guide you through it and eventually, with time and experience, you can become the best. That’s the same process for football players, and coaches like myself.

‘What makes people deviate from getting better is the emotions of it. The panic. The outside opinions. The outside forces. What I try to do is insulate the group from that distraction and always remind them what makes you better. Whether you have 20,000 fans outside the stadium gates screaming at you or whether they’re all celebrating because you won, it doesn’t really change. This is how you get better.’

Those doubting Kompany are in short supply around Turf Moor now, but one win from the side’s opening five matches last season had many questioning the potential for a quick return to the Premier League and whether the Belgian could change the ethos of the club.

But Kompany’s composure and calmness in the face of adversity is striking. It’s no wonder it took little time to win the doubters round. ‘Don’t believe the hype, don’t believe the drama,’ says Kompany.

‘I believe so much in progress for everybody and in every line of work but you have to have the right environment. If I have a leadership position I get to make that environment happen and so long as the team progresses we will win more games than at the beginning. I said all along that my team will get stronger throughout the season but I’m not bluffing, I’m saying something very logical to me. What’s difficult is to maintain the course, with all the emotion and outside forces – for us it’s protecting that environment and to keep pointing people towards the basics and the habits that they have to do to improve.’

Burnley host Manchester City on Friday night as they kick-off their return to the Premier League with a visit from Kompany’s old side to Turf Moor.

One of the main challenges that promoted sides typically face is the transition from winning most weeks in the Championship to being underdogs in the majority of fixtures in the Premier League.

Despite the barnstorming way in which the Clarets earned promotion, Kompany feels his side developed a number of different ways of playing and revelled in the ‘ugly’ side of matches.

‘What you can’t underestimate is that we’ve been a team that loves, loves, loves different sides of the game,’ Kompany explains.

‘It’s not just about having the ball, we’ve loved pressing. I thought last year we were really impressive and good at that. It’s making them ready for whatever the game demands in the Premier League, ready to do the running, ready to be brave, ready to be smart and creative when we need to. The team knows that we’ll have to get better but that’s the case for a lot of teams.

‘I think what you have to adapt to – and quickly – is getting better, faster. That’s the challenge and that’s the challenge we want to embrace. In the end you are successful because of who you are and what you do, and what you do has to get better, not necessarily different.’

After three years with Pep Guardiola at the end of his career in England, it’s no surprise that Kompany takes a hands-on approach to management.

The Belgian enjoys taking his own training sessions, and says this summer’s pre-season – which began all the way back on June 5 – has been an invaluable opportunity to work on improving his players.

‘Pre-season has been exactly what you’d want pre-season to be as a manager,’ he says.

‘It’s getting time to work on the details, you get time to individualise a lot of the work you do because you have more time with the players in pre-season and you get a good base for the players to be fit for the season.

‘But obviously the one thing that is never perfect for managers is that whilst this is happening, there’s a lot of change in your squad still so you’ve got to deal with that and the integration of new players.’

Burnley returned to pre-season training five days before the Champions League final was played:

That change Kompany refers to is another summer of significant comings and goings at the club. Following an unprecedented ‘churn’ of signings in 2022, Burnley are experiencing another lively off-season with nine in and nine out at the club since their promotion.

Kompany is under no illusions as to Burnley’s position in the football hierarchy and says the club needs to be in a permanent ‘guerrilla mode’ to gain the slightest advantage on bigger clubs.

‘It makes it easier for me because at Burnley everyone is aware of the bigger picture,’ he says.

‘I don’t step on anyone else’s role or responsibilities but just the fact that everyone understands the squad design and what we’re trying to do on the pitch. Myself and the recruitment team we all understand the restraints that we’re living in. So it’s not a case of the manager just making demand after demand, it makes it more collaborative.

We can’t operate like Arsenal, Tottenham or Manchester City. We have to be in guerrilla mode all the time

‘I think for the health of the club if you can operate that way – which is not easy in football – then you have an advantage. At our level we need every advantage we can get. We can’t operate like Arsenal, Tottenham or City. We have to be in guerrilla mode all the time and operate differently to have a little bit of an advantage.’

The likes of Brighton and Brentford have provided a template for promoted teams to establish themselves as Premier League outfits, with their shrewd recruitment and distinct playing styles.

Kompany admits they are inspirations but that Burnley want to blaze their own trail.

‘We just want to be us but what these clubs have done well and Burnley have in the past is to have clarity in what they do,’ he continues.

‘They’ve been able to outperform the resources available to them. If you made a ranking of the teams based on resources they’ve done far better than that.

‘I think the interesting thing nowadays is that for us to grow we’re not suddenly going to get hundreds of millions pumped into our accounts so the way for us to grow naturally is to create value and I think we’re on that way of creating really, really good value for the club to help us grow naturally.’

With Kompany at the helm, Burnley already have their most valuable asset.

Mission to Burnley launches at 10pm on August 10th on Sky documentaries and Now as a boxset and weekly episodes.

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