Popular perception isn't always to be trusted, but those who would guess that Vincent Kompany is a pleasant man to be around are entirely correct.
Urbane, intelligent and talkative, the Belgian warmly welcomes FourFourTwo while shooting an advert for his kit manufacturer Warrior, and proves himself very good company - no pun intended.
As the day wears on, Kompany holds forth entertainingly on a number of subjects from the art of captaincy to mental preparation, from his team-mates' matchday routines to his hopes for the season ahead.
In this, the first of three exclusive one-on-ones, we discover an interesting incident involving an unusual response to a traffic jam...
FourFourTwo: What does a matchday look like? Is there a difference between preparing for a game with Manchester City and one with Belgium?
Vincent Kompany: Oh yes, there’s a big difference. For instance, at City, some players like to have music in the dressing room. With Belgium, we can’t have music. But as an individual, I try to approach both in the same way: the same physical preparation with the physios, the same exercises. That gives you the feeling you start every game at the same level. So collectively, there is a difference but for myself I really try to do the same things.
FFT: What about your role as captain? You don’t see the Belgium players every week, do you handle that in a different way?
VK: Not really, it’s more or less the same. People prepare for games in their own, personal way and I don’t want to interfere in that, so the first few hours I leave them alone. But at the same time I want to be there to spur the players on ahead of the game, give them advice, share some opinions. But that is usually the last thing, just before the game.
FFT: Is that when you, as a captain, become the manager’s right hand man; his voice on the pitch?
VK: I don’t like that expression. Of course the captain plays his part, but you always have many experienced players in a team. Everybody has their part to play, you don’t want to do it on your own. You can only be a strong captain if you have other players beside you who support you with their experience. The same thing applies for the manager. You need the captain and those experienced players to help you instill your vision into the team.
FFT: You have a number of potential captains with Belgium. Does that go for Man City as well?
VK: You only have to look at the ages of the players, their experience. They have their influence. Not everybody always plays but those players are always the examples, who lead after the manager.
FFT: What techniques do you use to prepare in that last hour ahead of the game?
VK: I go from very relaxed to very sharp and focused. Until I get into the dressing room, I try to relax, not to play the game before it’s actually happening. But then just before the game I’m a bit like a Formula One driver: I want everything planned in my head, I want to know all possible scenarios, to know my opponents, their strengths and weaknesses, and use all that to my advantage. But that is really the last moments.
FFT: You always have a couple of jokers in every team. You used to have Mario Balotelli at Man City. But who are the players who stand out in the dressing room and make the atmosphere? Are you one?
VK: There’s a few. With Belgium, you have Romelu Lukaku and Adnan Januzaj, for instance. You always have a couple of players with strong personalities, who always have something to say. At City, we have Joe Hart and a couple more. It’s important to have those people in a group. From the documentaries on the Red Devils [a series called Everybody is a Red Devil] you can really see that we are a bunch of friends; that we laugh a lot.
FFT: What is the most insane thing you have ever seen with team mates ahead of a game?
VK: It wasn’t in the dressing room or one player in particular, but I’ll never forget having our bus blocked by parked cars when we were in Malta, preparing for the 2008 Olympics. We wanted to leave after training but there was a local game on and the bus just couldn’t move. In the end we had to get out of the bus and move the cars ourselves, literally lifting the cars up and putting them to the side!