Vincent Kompany deserves moment of glory and can still offer City something
The image of Vincent Kompany celebrating his goal in Manchester City's 3-0 win over Arsenal in the Carabao Cup final will have brought a smile to the faces of both City fans and neutrals alike. The captain reacted to touch Ilkay Gundogan's drive into the net -- and set about sprinting towards his side's supporters in the corner of the Wembley pitch, arm aloft and beaming with joy.
He may never get back the career that he looked like he was going to have in years gone by, but few can deny him that moment after overcoming injury for the umpteenth time.
The celebration was a Kompany classic. It was a carbon copy of how he rushed towards the corner flag to fist-pump in front of supporters when he had given his side the lead in the Manchester derby in April 2012. That finished 1-0 at the Etihad and was the crucial result that turned around the season to put City back in control of the title race over their rivals.
Just under six years on and there has been a lot of water under the bridge for both the club and its skipper. Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini had spells in the dugout, players had come and gone, and Kompany had been injured time and again.
Since he joined for a barely believable fee of around £6 million from Hamburg in August 2008, the Belgian has had 41 separate problems. The vast majority of them have been in the last three-and-a-half seasons, though he was already considered at risk of pulling up with a muscle issue in the closing days of Mancini's tenure.
Each time he did have to go off, though, he came back and put his injury behind him for a sustained spell. It was his return in Pellegrini's 2014 title-winning campaign that saw the defence settle down and that helped overturn Liverpool's lead at the Premier League's summit.
But as the years rolled by and the injuries became more frequent, more and more people lost faith in the skipper. Even Pellegrini, and Pep Guardiola after him, had doubts Kompany could ever be the influence he once was. It seemed the only person who believed he would be able to play a part in a successful City team again was Kompany himself.
Yet Guardiola knows just what influence the Belgian can have on the team. His replacements -- John Stones and Aymeric Laporte -- were both fit and available for Sunday's match at Wembley. But when push came to shove, both were named on the bench and the manager went with experience.
For a long time, City fans were terrified when the defender wasn't in the starting XI; the back four always looked a lot shakier without him. However, in more recent years, that's transformed into nerves when he is included -- with the doubts that one wrong move could result in an early exit, forced off with yet another muscle problem.
Any City fan that tells you they have never -- and, frankly, still don't -- fear for the defender's long term future is lying. There is too much history suggesting that Kompany's body will let him down again to change those nerves.
But after living through hell for what should have been the prime of his career, Kompany more than anyone in that City team deserved an afternoon to remember at Wembley and he can't be begrudged his man-of-the-match performance, crucial goal, and his lifting of the trophy from the Royal Box.
He must have felt 10-foot tall when he sat down in the dressing room, winner's medal around his neck. Not just for the goal, but for the performance that went with it. He could have scored minutes earlier, when his deflected effort spun just wide, and he also won the corner from which Kevin De Bruyne found Gundogan, whose shot was diverted past a helpless David Ospina.
But he rolled back the years with his defending, too. Watching him keep pace with Aaron Ramsey to slide in with a perfectly timed challenge early in the first half was only bettered by the moment he went shoulder-to-shoulder with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the striker looked through on goal. Kompany dispossessed his opponent and calmly passed the ball out to a teammate to start a City attack.
Don't be under any illusions: Kompany isn't going to be a regular for City any more. It's sad to say given the quality of performance he can put in and the service he's given to the club, but at some point his body will fail again. He knows he's playing on a game-by-game basis and he's an added bonus to the squad when he's available.
But how and when the captain leaves should be on his terms. He's earned that right.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney