Vincent Kompany is unequivocal when placing the Manchester derby in football's constellation of great matches. "I know what it means to the people and it's impossible not to know the history," he says. "It's impossible not to know about the derbies. Before you join the club you find out about the victories and I guess it has become, after el Clásico, the biggest game in the world in a league competition. After Real Madrid and Barcelona, it is the biggest game in the world.
"When it comes to this, we have experience of these big games. But it's crazy, and you don't want to know that there will be 400 million people watching the game. It's the phone calls as well, it's everything. Not just from here but from China, America, all over: it's ridiculous the amount of people who are into this game, you can't imagine."
For Kompany what was a once private feud for parochial bragging rights has become a squabble with global reach. "This game has become much bigger than just people locally because City supporters in Indonesia will have to face the United supporters in Indonesia, lose or win – it's much bigger than just about Manchester," he says. With this view Kompany echoes Sir Alex Ferguson's declaration that City versus United, a fixture that will be played for the 162nd time on Monday, has replaced United-Liverpool as the champions' greatest challenge. But Kompany disagrees with the Scot that the clash is a "shootout" for the title. City would edge ahead courtesy only of a superior goal difference if they win. The captain points to a topsy-turvy title race in which his side lost the lead after seven months, and United have let slip an eight-point advantage in recent weeks.
"We lost points because other teams played well and they were difficult to play against," he says. "The same thing happened to United. So I'm more of the opinion that it won't stop at Monday. I hope after that we're talking about [the following weekend] and how big that game will be, and how big the QPR and Sunderland games will be."
Those are City and United's final matches when Roberto Mancini's team host the Hoops, and Wayne Rooney and company travel to the Stadium of Light. Kompany is reluctant to say whether City's run of three consecutive wins at an aggregate score of 12-1, just as United have dropped five from their last nine available points, suggests the Blues have the momentum. "I'm very neutral. I've said to myself whenever I see a competitor play, whether it's United or Tottenham, I try not to care about their result – so it doesn't have any effect on my morale."
City humiliated United 6-1 at Old Trafford in October but were knocked out of the FA Cup 3-2 in January by their rivals, with Kompany sent off at the Etihad after 12 minutes for a two-footed challenge on Nani. An intelligent man who tweeted earlier this week about the French elections and who is currently taking a business course, Kompany discoursed on his Facebook page regarding the wider implications of his red card. Pre-empting the furore earlier this month when the red card received by Shaun Derry for lightly touching Ashley Young was upheld by the Football Association on the same day Mario Balotelli did not receive a sanction for a lunge at Alex Song, the 26-year-old wrote in January: "I wonder if we are now going to see an unprecedented wave of red cards on match days because we sanction 'if's' and 'maybe's'?"
The post was entitled A Moment of Reflection and Kompany's move came after Ferguson claimed the defender had made similar challenges before. Now he says of the Scot's comments: "It's part of the game. My reaction is that's it's in the past and I want to look forward." He is equally disarming when reminded of the United coach René Meulensteen's claim that City were only a collection of individuals. "It's going to be like this," Kompany says. "You win the mental war when you have success, you lose it when you don't have success."
Two of several tweets from Kompany, a Belgian whose father is Congolese and wife is from Manchester, on the French election were: "Two candidates for president: @fhollande doesn't like the rich and @NicolasSarkozy doesn't like the foreigners … I'd be in trouble there!"; and "as to @NicolasSarkozy he's an unstable two faced character and his politics are dangerous as its based on exploiting the fear of people."
This interest in politics is one more way to keep the grey matter fresh, Kompany says. "Whether it's before a game or after a game, I just [like to] keep myself occupied with loads of things." Of his business management course, he adds: "I don't want to talk in depth about it because I don't want the pressure of it. I need to perform here and now, at this club. I'd like to succeed or fail [at the course] and not have the eyes on me when I'm doing it. Everybody is different. Some players need a lot of rest and just be at home. For me it's the total opposite and for the past four years I've been performing like I have been because I've always kept myself occupied outside of football."
Kompany leads a dressing room whose disparate characters include Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, who is again available following his three-game suspension. "I won't deny it's not a challenge," he says. "I wouldn't name individuals, but the team generally is one full of great characters – I love the team for this reason."
Balotelli has been a central figure in many of City's reported bust-ups this season, which have included alleged fallings-out with Yaya Touré and Mancini. "I've not played at any club, successful or not, where there has been no tension at some stage in training," Kompany says. "We usually find out about it later, via the press, apparently there's a problem between us guys – but it's never like this." The captain will be expected to bring them together on Monday night.