RSC Anderlecht's Vincent Kompany has become the hottest property in Belgian football.
By Berend Scholten
The revelation of the Belgian season has not been an attacker or a midfield player, but a 17-year-old central defender - RSC Anderlecht's Vincent Kompany.
With team captain Glen De Boeck injured, the strapping youngster has enjoyed a senior debut and so impressed Anderlecht coach Hugo Broos that he has remained in the first team for Belgian First Division and UEFA Champions League games.
Even De Boeck's return to action has not shifted Kompany from the starting lineup, and to add to the excitement, the centre-back received his first international call-up at the age of 17 years and six months. That made him Belgium's youngest player since the great Paul Van Himst was selected in 1960 at the age of 17 years and 17 days.
Kompany is 1.9m tall and very quick, and scouts from top clubs have been flocking to watch him play. His Champions League displays have seen Arsenal FC, FC Bayern München, Juventus FC and AFC Ajax take an interest, while Manchester United FC's chief scout Martin Ferguson has also travelled to see Kompany in action.
Such interest in one of their finest talents has got supporters worried. They well remember the aftermath of the 2000/01 season, when Anderlecht reached the second group stage of the Champions League only to see Jan Koller, Tomasz Radzinski, Bart Goor and Didier Dheedene leave the club, heralding a slump in their fortunes.
However, Anderlecht seem to have learned from that mistake. The club moved swiftly to improve the terms of Kompany's current contract, which runs until 2006, and when he turns 18 on 10 April 2004, he is set to sign another deal which will keep him in Brussels until 2008.
Indeed, the club's president Roger Vanden Stock was even keener to keep Kompany under contract, and was rumoured to have said that the defender could immediately sign a 20-year deal if he wanted one. "That was a figure of speech," he said subsequently. "I could have said 40 years. But five years is the maximum that is allowed. We have better financial means than three years ago, and our intention is to keep our best players now. Our intention is to win trophies, not to get rich."
Kompany himself believes his interests are best served at Anderlecht for a while longer. "Don't you worry, I will stay here," he said. "At the moment the zeros in my contract are not so important. If I wanted to leave, I would have been gone already."
In part, the club have Kompany's Congolese father to thank for that. Pierre Kompany has been answering the phone for his son and making it abundantly clear to other clubs that the defender is staying put. "All those clubs - I hope they leave us alone for a while," he said. "Vincent has not even played half a season yet. My son is no merchandise. He is not for sale. People get real, he is still only 17 years old."
Anderlecht's honorary president Constant Vanden Stock would approve. "I would not want to lose him," he said. "He should not make the same mistake as Enzo Scifo, who went to Italy when he was too young. Even when Kompany is 20 years old, he would not be ready for a big league like that."