“It had to be him!”
You hear it a lot. Lifted lazily from the commentator’s book of clichés, the doubtful post hoc rationalisation which makes every pivotal footballing event seem like it were never in doubt.
And most of the time it’s wrong. Games are won or lost, glory gained or dashed on dodgy lasagne, a pitch divot, or sheer dumb luck.
Statistical trends can be examined, possibilities pored over. Yet weekend experts, anxious fans and professional pundits alike have a chance in roughly the square root of Fernandinho’s career-completed rabonas in knowing what will happen – which is why we watch.
But Vincent Kompany’s unlikely bolt from the blue against Leicester, the biggest moment in City’s title triumph last season, couldn’t have happened any other way.
Kompany is an anomaly. A commanding centre-half who loves getting his head on it, yet a well-read scholar with a masters in business. Always composed and clinical on the pitch, sometimes tearful off it. Another foreign signing in a new city, but with a genuine sense of integration and married to lifelong City fan Carla Higgs.
City’s chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: “He defines the essence of the club. For a decade he has been the lifeblood, the soul, and beating heart.”
His unusually thoughtful, colourful interviews are even shaped by a subtle Mancunian twang.
His post-match words were telling: “You know, being in this city, that’s what kept me alive.
“The moment that ball went top bins I knew I was done. I couldn’t do better.
“I’ve given everything. I’ve got nothing left.”
After such an unforgettable parting shot, he returned to his roots with boyhood club Anderlecht as player-manager.
However, you suspect if you cut him open his veins would run sky blue rather than Belgian purple. Some might say bluer than Duncan James and Eiffel 65 combined.
Upon arrival in 2008, he went from deputy defensive midfielder to captain, leader to legend.
He later received a six-year contract in 2012, the longest of its kind in the club’s history – all this despite receiving 37 injuries in his first eight years at the club, totalling 878 days on the sidelines.
Across the three seasons from 2014-15, even notoriously clumsy Frenchman Eliaquim Mangala made more appearances, while the campaign before last John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi were first choice at centre-back.
Then Pep broke their club transfer record on Aymeric Laporte. Surely 57 million reasons to expect Vinnie to be backup, a ceremonial role as club captain, good in the dressing room but little else.
Last season was still his joint lowest in appearances made for City with 17, but he was instrumental again. It was him making the desperate slide tackle to deny Liverpool totem Mo Salah in January’s crucial 2-1 win against Jürgen Klopp’s side.
He just about got away with it, but even if he did mistime the tackle it was the right decision, a captain’s decision. Prevent the goal, take the card (whatever the colour) and go from there.
If you wanted the 2018-19 title race encapsulated in one freeze-frame, it might be Salah and Liverpool – lightning-quick, tirelessly pressing, ready to pounce on any mistake – facing the desperately outstretched toe of Kompany and City.
That Liverpool clash was a key game in determining the league title. It was his moment against Leicester in the real decider as well, to deliver the first back-to-back Premier League title in a decade.
Lest we forget Manchester’s Midas scored the winner with a thumping header against noisy neighbours Manchester United and put one blue hand on the title in 2012 too, though this finish was not quite the same.
“I’ve scored goals like that in training,” laughed the veteran, with enough of a pause to suggest his tongue was firmly in his cheek.
“Today it was necessary. Only I could beat Kasper on a day like today!
“Things sometimes are meant to happen.”
When you hear him talk about necessity and fate, you have to believe him.
After all, it was his side’s 159th goal of the season in all competitions, and his first. He hadn’t scored for more than a year, and none of his previous 20 goals for City was from outside the penalty area.
The goal itself was notable for its jarring discordance with essentially every other goal City scored this season.
The angles, the patience, the subtlety. The death by a thousand cutting passes, tiki-taka, pass and move. Everything is repeated and methodical and inch-perfect and all of it doubtless schemed up by Guardiola’s genius. His football is chess, surgical and calculated.
Aguero begging him not to shoot was begging him to stick to the plan. It could have just been perfectly rational instinct. There were certainly better options on for him, as there always are with Pep and City.
City could be the best footballing team this nation has ever seen, masters of the aesthetic. A near peerless partnership between an avant-garde Catalonian coach paired with a bottomless Gulfian wallet.
So the fact they needed an industrial wallop from a stubborn old stager to get them over the line feels particularly satisfying.
“I’ve done enough in my career not to have young players tell me what I can and cannot do.”
For a moment, the ham-fisted and the heavenly combined, and City were every single village team in the country, opposition standing off and silently urging defenders to act on their rash impulses.
Kompany was the least likely player on the pitch to smash it in from that far out, including Ederson.
Long shots are a sign that you’re desperate, you don’t really trust your team-mates, and care nothing about the health and safety of blameless observers.
You see it almost every week, always missing from highlights reels. A lazy attacking press and suddenly Sotirios Kyrgiakos transmogrifies into Koeman, Gary Caldwell into Carlos, Peter Ramage into Riise. Let them shoot from there all day long.
What is it that persuades a Steady Eddie defender with a hitherto inglorious record of success from long shots that this time, it might be different? As hasty ducks from Row Z punters attest, 99 times out of 100 it’s not.
But 20 minutes from the end at the Etihad, when a 33-year-old received the ball in a small pocket of space an improbably long way out, it was different.
And it just had to be him.