The former City skipper looked on as Martin Petrov caused problems for a famous punditry duo and Benjani outdid a certain Italian striker
A packed Etihad Stadium paid a warm tribute to Vincent Kompany on Wednesday as his Manchester City Legends played out a 2-2 draw against a Premier League All Stars XI.
The four-time Premier League winner saw the funny side of a hamstring strain keeping him out of his own testimonial, the new day job as player-coach of Anderlecht meaning he could not risk lining up alongside an array of past team-mates.
“For me not to play this game because of an injury… surely the irony has not escaped anyone?” Kompany chuckled before the match – his 11-year stint as an inspirational and decorated captain at City having been frequently peppered with injury lay-offs.
Given a guard of honour onto the field before kick-off, the man of the hour was serenaded by the masses and embraced by fellow club greats Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee and Tony Book.
He then gave way to those fit enough to take part, and there was much to enjoy as plenty of famous faces came together to raise money for Kompany’s Tackle4MCR homelessness charity.
Painful night for Neville
Gary Neville’s work as a property developer is already well noted in Manchester. The former United and England right-back probably didn’t need to labour the point by granting Martin Petrov his own postcode for the opening goal. Jamie Carragher blamed his defensive colleague, Neville disagreed and the debate will probably continue in Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football studio.
Neville willingly played the pantomime villain, even taking a corner to soak up boos before pinging a hamstring and departing before half-time.
Dad’s Army stands firm
Okay, so it might have only been for 27 minutes in a friendly, but Neville, Carragher, Michael Carrick and Ashley Cole became the first defensive unit to stop Sergio Aguero scoring this season. Somewhere, Sven-Goran Eriksson was beaming with pride.
Aguero would have loved the chance to renew his old strike partnership with Mario Balotelli. However, speaking earlier on Wednesday, Kompany foresaw problems. “I think Mario is coming, he should be,” he said. “But with Mario everything can go wrong.”
Balotelli did indeed turn up, resplendent in a black hoodie, sunglasses and a studded baseball cap. However, he did not warm up and City supporters chanting for his introduction did so in vain – Benjani handily distracting them with a gleefully received equaliser.
Apparently, the Italy striker’s new club Brescia had no idea he was in Manchester and he has training at 9am on Thursday. Never change, Mario.
Still got it
Paul Scholes ran through the repertoire. The Manchester United great hacked repeatedly to bring Samir Nasri down during the first-half, while he followed a delightful outside-of-the-foot pass with a deft scoop shortly after the interval. Carpet slippers in possession, hobnail boots out of it.
Nigel de Jong showed the slide tackle remains his preferred method of navigating a football pitch and Stephen Ireland – arguably the great “what if…” of City’s Abu Dhabi era – produced some silky moments. Robin van Persie put the All Stars ahead with aplomb.
They were all arguably outshone by Petrov, who looks somewhere close to his fighting weight five-and-a-half years since last turning out professionally for CSKA Sofia. There remained too much of a turn of pace for Neville and Carragher, while the left foot that rifled the opener into the roof of the net is still an absolute wand.
Lads, it’s for charity!
For a moment, Robbie Keane seemed disgruntled by De Jong giving him a flashback to LA Galaxy’s training pitches circa 2016, but the only time the friendly atmosphere truly threatened the fray was when Nicky Butt renewed acquaintances with Craig Bellamy.
Butt clattered through the back of his fellow shrinking violet, who seemed keen to prolong the argument.
End of an era
The biggest roar during the early stages came when Pablo Zabaleta performed an inch-perfect tackle on Cole. The sight of the talismanic Argentine lining up with De Jong, Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and the rest once again underlined how much road has been travelled since City’s first Premier League title in 2011-12.
Pep Guardiola’s slick winning machine is obviously adored in these parts, but it is clear how much that first flush of success – when everything seemed possible, but Carlos Tevez went on strike and Balotelli hosted pre-match fireworks displays in his bathroom – will always mean.
That Kompany, indomitable and in the form of his life, held it all together goes a long way to explaining the enduring affection he enjoys.
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