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Yaya Touré’s rise as a footballer is one that often goes under the radar. He was by no means an outstanding young talent picked up by one of the academies of Europe's stepping stone clubs before forcing his into their starting XI, impressing and eventually bagging himself a move to one of the big clubs.
It wasn’t meteoric. It was a slow process and Touré put the work in. The midfielder began his playing career at Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas, where he made his debut aged 18. After impressive performances club in Europe started to take note and it was Belgian side K.S.K. Beveren who convinced the Ivorian to switch continents in 2001. The transition was seamless for Touré who started to dominate the midfield for Beveren and this caught the eye of even bigger clubs.
In the summer of 2003, Touré had a trial with Arsenal. In a pre-season friendly against Barnet he played just behind the striker in the first half and then as a striker in the second half. It has since been reported that Arsene Wenger saw Touré’s potential but had no idea where he’d be best playing and the player didn’t help himself by missing Arsenal’s best chance in a game that finished 0-0. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the player Wenger wanted to go ahead with the deal but passport problems held the move up and an impatient Touré opted to move to Ukraine.
“It would be up at the top [of my list of regrets]. But let's not forget that Yaya Toure had an agreement with us – and it's not because we did not want to sign him that he went to Ukraine. We needed to wait for his passport in Belgium. We have made mistakes but he is not a mistake, it's just the fact that he preferred to go to Metalurh Donetsk. He could go there without any passport.”
– Wenger on Touré’s trial in 2003.
Touré’s development in Ukraine continued and after just 18 months he was on the move again, this time his destination was Greece. Olympiakos paid £2 million for his services and he began to repay that fee immediately. His performances lead to him being labelled ‘the new Viera’ and he thrived in his slightly deeper midfield role. He won the double in his one and only season in Greece and after the Ivory Coast’s participation in the 2006 World Cup came to an end Touré headed to Monaco in a deal worth £5 million.
Touré’s easy transition from club to club came to an end with Monaco. He had a difficult relationship with Monaco manager László Bölöni with both the player and the team struggling in Ligue 1. Bölöni was relieved of his duties with Monaco second bottom in the league and it was an inspired move by the Monaco board. Laurent Banide was chosen as his replacement and the Frenchman put his faith in Touré who repaid this by playing a starring role in Monaco’s resurgent second half the season.
The powerhouse midfielder was on the move yet again in August 2007. Spanish giants Barcelona pipped a host of clubs to the signature of Touré who joined the club for a reported €10 million. His first season in Spain was successful on a personal note with manager Frank Rijkaard using the Ivorian in his favoured centre-midfield role and he made 38 appearances in all competitions. However, Barcelona finished 3rd in La Liga and were knocked out in the semi-finals of both the Champions League and the Copa Del Rey.
The 2008/09 season saw Pep Guardiola appointed as Barcelona manager and one of his first acts was to promote Barcelona B midfielder Sergio Busquets into the first-team and straight into Yaya Toure’s defensive midfield position. Guardiola had a style of play in mind and felt Busquets could execute it whereas Toure could not. It meant the majority of Toure’s 32 appearances that season came as a centre-back. The 2009/10 season followed the same path for the Ivorian as Guardiola began to implement sweeping changes to enable him to make his vision a reality.
In July 2010 Manchester City paid £24 million for Toure as they looked to kickstart their revolution. This move benefitted both the player and Manchester City in ways people could never have envisaged when the deal was announced.
Toure spoke to ONA FM about his time at Barcelona under Guardiola.
“Whenever I asked him something, he always gave strange answers. He pretty much ignored me until City's offer came in. That's why I eventually opted to leave. I didn't speak to Guardiola for a year. If he had talked to me, I would have stayed at Barcelona. I did not want to go and wanted to end my career at Barcelona. However, he had no faith in me.”
The Rise of Yaya.
Toure acclimatised to life at the Etihad with relative ease and in his second match for the club, against Liverpool, he put in a man of the match performance in a 3-0 win for the home side. As the season progressed City manager Roberto Mancini started to use him in an advanced role moving from a 433 to a 4231 formation with Toure as the man behind the striker. Perhaps Wenger had the right idea all along?
Toure relished this new positional change and it was though he’d finally been unshackled. He finished his debut season in England with 12 goals in all competitions and wrote himself into Man City folklore by netting the winner in the FA Cup final to land Khaldoon Al Mubarak the first trophy of his ownership.
Manchester City won their first Premier League title the following season with Toure scoring 9 goals in all competitions. A key turning point in the title race was Manchester United’s trip to the Etihad. A Vincent Kompany header decided the tie but it was Toure’s dominant performance in midfield which caught the eye of the media.
He netted another 10 goals in throughout the 2012/13 season but it was It was the 2013/14 season which saw Yaya Toure really announce himself as not just a goalscoring midfielder but an unstoppable force of nature.
His 20 goals helped Manchester City pip Liverpool to the title as the Citzens became the only second team in the history of the Premier League to score over 100 goals. In the process he became the second midfielder, alongside Frank Lampard, to score 20 goals in the league. He stepped his game up. He was dominant, controlling, influential, commanding and above all a leader as City started to wobble at one stage. He was scoring a variety of goals and the opposition had no answer to the problems his presence caused.
At this stage of his career Toure was undoubtedly one of the best midfielders in the world and the £24 million City paid for his services looked like a relative bargain.
From Destructive to Disruptive? The fall of Toure.
The wheels started to come off after Toure’s most productive season to date. Towards the end of May he took to social media to inform the world that no-one from Manchester City had wished him a happy birthday and the club had took their time offering him a new deal. His agent told BBC Sport Toure was very upset. There was talk he’d be on his way out of Manchester with Serie A his likely destination but the move never materialised.
In football so much depends on the perfect storm. When everything aligns there’s a boom and that’s what happened to Toure in 13/14. The environment was right for him to flourish and it was a season that highlighted what he could do under the right circumstances. People started to expect that from him even though the dynamic of the team had changed. He was a victim of his own success.
Toure finished the 2014/15 season with 12 goals in all competitions and 8 goals throughout 2015/16. While his output remained consistent his influence on the team started to wane. Some Manchester City fans started to feel he was more of a hindrance and his inclusion in some matches was to the detriment of the team. City manager Manuel Pellegrini didn’t help matters by choosing to play him in a midfield two, a position that highlighted his now poor defensive discipline. Teams started to overrun the City midfield and it was left to Fernandinho to man for the fort.
Many thought Toure would be shown the door when Pep Guardiola was appointed as Manchester City manager but to the surprise of many he was still there when the transfer window shut. But then the bad blood between the two reared its ugly head yet again. Guardiola didn’t name Toure in the Manchester City Champions League squad and Toure’s agent decided to speak to the press.
“If City don’t win the Champions League then I hope that Pep has got the balls to say that he was wrong to humiliate a great player like Yaya. He is a professional and so he will do everything he is asked to do. Perhaps Pep will think he is good enough to play in the final 10 minutes of a League Cup game against a third division team – and, yes, I am joking. But what I can tell you is that Yaya will spend the season at City. He will not be leaving in January.”
Guardiola wasted no time in asserting his authority and said until he received an apology from Dimitri Seluk Toure would not be considered for selection. It looked as though it would be a stalemate and Toure would see the remainder of his Manchester City career (his contract expires in June 2017) in the reserves but the the player himself took to social media and tried to mend the relationship.
“I wish to apologise – on behalf of myself and those who represent me – to the management team and all those working at the club for the misunderstandings from the past. Those statements do not represent my views on the club or the people who work there. I have nothing but respect for Manchester City and only wish the best for the football club. I am immensely proud to have played a part in the club's history and want to help City succeed further. I live to play football and entertain the fans. On that note, I would like to thank all of the fans for their messages through this difficult period. This means a great deal to me and my family.”
Will Yaya Toure rise from the ashes and help Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City win the League title and add to his legend with the club before he moves on in the summer? It’s unlikely but it would be naive to discount both Pep and Toure.
Toure grafted his way to the top. For a man accused of being lazy his career path is anything but that. He was instrumental in helping Manchester City’s long-term project come to fruition. Toure’s tale is one that’s familiar to many ageing footballers. They’re judged, in the short-term at least, on their last performance. History counts for nothing in the perpetually changing world of football. While he should be lauded for his achievements, especially during the 2013/14 season, instead he’s being judged on the seasons that followed.