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 By David Mooney

Kompany fit again but Guardiola still faces crucial decision over City skipper

Planning for Manchester City's next season will already be well underway. Director of football Txiki Begiristain will have already discussed what parts of the squad need addressing in the transfer market with manager Pep Guardiola, and the decisions about which targets to move for will be close to rubber-stamped, if they haven't been already.

There are more decisions to make with the players currently in the squad, too. The manager has said all season they will wait until the end of the campaign to look at the futures of the first-teamers who are out of contract in the summer, though it appears that one or two of those calls have already been made.

Jesus Navas is reportedly being offered a new deal while Pablo Zabaleta's recent Twitter usage suggests he could be on his way.

But there's one decision the next few years at the club could hinge on. The elephant in the room when it comes to the City's underperformance in the last two-and-a-half campaigns has been their captain. When Vincent Kompany has been on the pitch, by and large the team looks a lot more stable.

Alongside the Belgian, Eliaquim Mangala, Nicolas Otamendi, Aleksandar Kolarov and John Stones have all seen their performance levels raised. The skipper's communication skills, reading of the game and his leadership qualities have inspired those around him to play better than they are.

It can't be a coincidence that City's chase of Chelsea in 2014-15 -- and the title "challenges" (using the term quite loosely) in both Manuel Pellegrini's final and Guardiola's first seasons -- have been below par at the same time as one of their most influential players has been dogged by injury.

There have been other issues in that time. City's attack has been wasteful throughout this season, while Pellegrini's stubborn refusal to adapt his tactics to even try and combat what his opposition were going to do have both been problematic.

But few can deny the defence has looked shakier than a house of cards in a stiff breeze during that period. The number of goals City have conceded has steadily risen season-by-season since winning the Premier League in 2012 and it's been considerably more in the time Kompany has been out.

When he first joined the club, then-manager Mark Hughes used him as a defensive midfielder. Following the sale of Richard Dunne, after a below-par final season at City, and the lack of a partnership between new signings Joleon Lescott and Kolo Toure, Roberto Mancini moved Kompany to centre-back when he took over as manager in December 2009.

The defender quickly earned the fans' trust, despite them not always being so comfortable with him playing out from the back. Quite where the suggestion that Kompany isn't good enough with his feet to play for Guardiola has come from is baffling -- he looked ready-made to slot in to a Barcelona defence as soon as Mancini dropped him deeper.

Vincent Kompany and Manchester City celebrate the opening goal.
Vincent Kompany is back in the Manchester City side but his future is in doubt.

For seasons, the supporters would be so much more at ease when their captain was named in the starting lineup, though that trust has now been eroded. Nobody doubts Kompany's ability to perform, but every time he slides into a challenge or crunches into a 50-50 with a bustling centre-forward, there's not a City fan that doesn't wince.

What if he picks up another injury that keeps him out for another three months? It's difficult not to wonder if that doubt will ever go away. In effect, he's got to earn a whole new type of trust and is starting from scratch.

The 31-year-old had been a sporadic performer in Guardiola's team up until his shock inclusion for the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea in April. He's played six of the last seven games -- only missing the 3-1 success over Hull, three days after that trip to Stamford Bridge -- and that includes a sapping 120-minute display against Arsenal in the 2-1 FA Cup semifinal loss.

In playing the last five games, Kompany has equalled his longest run of consecutive 90-minute appearances since March 2015. That's roughly the last time the club's defence looked competent for any great length of time, too.

The decision facing Guardiola about the captain's future isn't an easy one. Given his recent history, the Catalan can't afford to put all his eggs in the "keeping-Kompany-fit-basket", but it's undeniable the effect the Belgian has on the team. On a football level, it's a no-brainer, but City can't afford to have another campaign of waiting for Kompany's injury problems to pass.

With three games of the season left and providing he can stay fit for the duration of them, Kompany's latest return may have just saved his future at the Etihad.

David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney


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