VINCENT KOMPANY may have Burnley playing the sort of swashbuckling stuff he enjoyed at Manchester City.
But one thing he never wants to change at Turf Moor are their “legs, hearts, minds and spirit”.
The Clarets punched above their weight in the Premier League under previous boss Sean Dyche based on all those qualities in his team.
It was the cornerstone of the club finishing seventh in 2018 and qualifying for the Europa League.
City and Belgium legend Kompany took over in the summer following the club’s relegation after six consecutive seasons in the top flight.
But he quickly transformed Burnley into a possession-based team unrecognisable from the industrial stuff they played before.
And today they sit FOURTEEN points clear of third-placed Blackburn ahead of their home clash with Coventry.
Kompany told SunSport: “I think the football side of things is what people see most — but what I definitely kept were the legs, hearts, minds and spirit of Burnley.
“This has been an extremely successful club when you compare it to the resources they’ve had. To be as long as they were in the Premier League and to have achieved what they’ve done has been outstanding.
“But I had a different approach to the game that I wanted to bring.”
Most read in Championship
That approach is attacking football and it has reaped huge benefits with Burnley’s 52 goals being the highest in all four of the top English divisions.
This is despite Kompany saying at the start of the season his team was not blessed with out-and-out goalscorers.
The goals have been spread around. Jay Rodriguez is top on nine with Nathan Tella netting eight, Manuel Benson seven, Josh Brownhill and Anass Zaroury five each and Ian Maatsen four. Another eight players have also chipped in.
And their exploits have taken Kompany by complete surprise — revealing that promotion this season was NOT even the target.
HOW TO GET FREE BETS ON FOOTBALL
He said: “The biggest thing I like is a team who scores goals. That’s how I approach every phase of play, every situation. I know how difficult it is to have goals in the team. I couldn’t have predicted that they were going to be so prolific and that we’d have done quite as well as we have.
“The target was to just have a season where we didn’t entirely collapse after relegation, then improve from there and eventually be in contention. It wasn’t the plan to do it over the course of this season.
“Burnley is a very patient place. We don’t get too involved in the rollercoaster of outside noise. Here we’re in a protective bubble.
“From day one, it’s been just about improvement, making the squad better and more healthy. We wanted to get players in that would excite the fans and then be convinced that by the end of it we would become good enough. But the time frame was not this fast!”
I asked Kompany if his eventual hope is to get the club into contention for a European spot and look at teams such as Brentford and Brighton as great models of what can be achieved at so-called unfashionable clubs.
He said: “The key point is at one stage those clubs were similar to where we are now — and to three quarters of the Championship today.
“What has made them so special — and Burnley in the past — was the consistency and calmness they went about with their business. Everyone else lives in the fast lane. These clubs live in a lane on their own, where they are trying to be rational, objective, learn from mistakes and improve what they would be allowed to do in any other job but not football for some reason.
“That side lives very strongly here. We didn’t make big statements saying we were going to win the title or promotion this year. You just want to keep consistently improving and make sure that happens.
“We could’ve been mid-table now — but as long as we were consistently improving the future is the right one.”
Kompany — who was named SkyBet Championship manager of the month for December this week — is used to being in the position Burnley are today, having won four Premier League titles in his 11 years with City.
But, with the team looking so nailed on for Premier League football, how does he now guard against any complacency with 20 games left.
He said: “I’ve been fortunate to being in such positions and the most important thing is not to focus one second on the league table.
We’ve got to improve even more and that is what we focus on. I want every game to be a challenge, to see if we can be better than the previous match. If you don’t do that, you just end up standing still. Our only ambition is to keep improving.”
“You must focus only on improvement and my thing is we’ve got to get better. Eventually we’ll come up against teams that are better than us.
“We’ve got to improve even more and that is what we focus on. I want every game to be a challenge, to see if we can be better than the previous match.
“If you don’t do that, you just end up standing still. Our only ambition is to keep improving.”
Kompany is only in his third season as a manager — having spent the first two at Anderlecht.
And the former City star revealed going into management was not such a huge leap because he been preparing for it in the latter stages of his playing career.
He said: “I was pretty much shadow-playing the manager’s role without doing it.
“I’d for example cut my own games up on a piece of software that the video analysts use. I’d be in my own bubble and play all these scenarios out. Then, when I got the opportunity, to manage it didn’t feel like a big leap.
“And then before I came here I made sure I spoke to people who had managed in the Championship so I’d know more about it before we kicked a ball.
“There are the top managers that I played for that I can call if I need to.”
The way Kompany is going, he might well be one of those top managers very soon.
Who’ll win the Manchester derby, Vincent?
I’M still very much in favour of Man City winning.
But I must be honest, we played against a very much improved Man United side recently in the Carabao Cup to what I saw at the beginning of the season.
The coach Erik ten Hag — who is very good — is definitely getting his ideas across and I think it’ll be a tough contest.
But if there is one thing you can trust Man City to do, it’s to turn up on the big occasion. It’s one to look forward to for either side and the neutrals.