How times have changed. It’s not that surprising that a 32 year old footballer is rested by a club playing two games every week, but it still hints at a changing of the guard. Yaya Toure only made the bench for the visit of Crystal Palace at the weekend, but was introduced in the 2nd half, and the change in the team style and tempo was immediate. You sometimes don’t know what you’ve missed until it’s gone, though Fabian Delph helped us through it all.
Football fans can argue, and thus disagree about, anything. I’ve already seen a City fan dismiss Kevin De Bruyne as useless, after all. Raheem Sterling is both England’s greatest young talent and just a speed merchant who can’t even shoot straight. Don’t get me started on Jesus Navas. Many other players at other clubs provoke similar divides in opinion. However, has any player attracted the level of debate as Yaya Toure?
The answer’s no by the way.
He’s lazy, he’s slow, he’s overpaid. No he’s not, he’s misused, he’s misunderstood, he’s capable of genius like few others. He’s untouchable. Leave him alone. He’s arrogant. He’s a scapegoat. He should be sold. We’re less of a team without him.
City have, and have had, plenty of players that split opinion. It used to be easy of course – there was a certain consistency in our players, which is not necessarily a good thing, but now the bar has been raised so, so high, and so have expectations. There’s no time for a £50m player to bed in. But no one can dispute that Yaya Toure was excellent value for money, so why does he attract so much attention?
After all, it seems some players are close to untouchable. Sergio Aguero and David Silva can play badly for weeks and there is a wall of silence. Such form may often be fitness-related to be fair, something that is rarely the case with Yaya, though he is no spring chicken now so is surely just as prone to the same issues especially when playing twice a week. Maybe it is because they are “silky” players, who you know little about off the field and who exist without complication. We know what they bring to the table, we know where to play them. They have certain skills on the field that make all football fans go weak at the knees and question their own sexuality. Yaya on the other hand, is harder to bracket, a player with a rare combination of skills, as his career has shown.
Just what is his best position? What’s more, he gives off the impression that he is hard done by in life occasionally, and this may affect how people judge him on the pitch, not just off it.
Manuel Pellegrini thinks it is his languid style that deceives some to think he is lazy. It is certainly a factor. Some fans have even claimed the racism card for the flak he continually gets. Without proof of that, it is a spurious claim. What I do know is that it is certainly not all Yaya’s fault. To exaggerate a point, you wouldn’t criticise Sergio Aguero for performing badly at left back. So why criticise Yaya Toure when he is deployed in a role that neutralises his strengths and concentrates instead on his weaknesses?
“If Yaya Toure had Gareth Barry’s work rate” is a roundabout criticism I read of him recently. If my aunty had balls. If Lionel Messi was 6 foot 4. If, if, if. A pointless strawman argument, as he is not in the team to run around and cover, he is in because of a specific skill set, as is every other footballer in the world. Yaya Toure is a player with magnificent ball retention skills, almost impossible to tackle, world-class passing skills, a deadly long-range shot, a footballer with pure power and poise who has a knack of scoring crucial goals. He is a destructive not a restrictive player. They’re his skills, so utilise them.
We all know that Yaya Toure once played in central defence in a Champions League final, we all know he wasn’t a particularly destructive and offensive player at Barcelona (certainly not compared to his peak in 2013/14). But it is surely clear now that Toure does not specialise in going backwards. He does not prosper in a two man midfield against high-energy opposition, such as Liverpool and Southampton. The problem is he is at his best when close to the opponent’s penalty area, but City have stockpiled players to fill those areas. In fact, even without Toure, it could be argued there are too many. De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, Nasri – they’d all prosper behind a striker. I think only Sterling seems more at ease wide, but could see him centrally too. Should Yaya adapt his game to play more of a defensive role? Not really, though it’s natural to suggest he tries a bit harder when he is bypassed by a mobile, energetic opponent.
Anyway, if you think Yaya is lazy during matches, your eyes are deceiving you, perhaps because he doesn’t make those last-ditch tackles or rush back to track runners. Perhaps because of that languid style, a style that seems to produce a slow lumber across the pitch when it really isn’t the case at all. To pick two games where City fans were left frustrated, and one where Yaya was heavily castigated for his contribution in the first 80 minutes, we see that in both games Toure covered the 2nd highest distance of any City player. In last week’s frustrating 0-0 draw against Everton, Jesus Navas not surprisingly covered the most ground, clocking in at 11.81km. What might surprise you is that Yaya was 2nd with 10.91km. In the 2-1 defeat at Arsenal, Kevin De Bruyne covered the most ground at 11.42km, and once more the lazy “can’t be bothered” Yaya Toure was 2nd with 10.94km. Maybe he covered it all in the last 10 minutes?
Yaya’s bursts have decreased, the turbo button growing rustier by the month, so his movement is more consistent across the 90 minutes perhaps. He certainly can’t cover 11km by ambling back into midfield twenty times a match, though perhaps we should expect our midfield players to cover the most ground. He is criticised because there are no desperate lunges, no manic sprints, no last-ditch clearances. But then there never have been. It’s just that when he’s not winning the league or scoring 20 goals from midfield, it becomes more of an issue.
When the next 8-tiered birthday cake is flown in this May, Yaya will be celebrating his 33rd birthday. Plenty of midfield generals have had to adjust their game as time caught up with them. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and more. They weren’t fed to the lions by their own fans, those fans realising they were in the twilight of their career and thus they couldn’t do everything they used to. The solution of course is to use such players more sparingly, but that isn’t the case with Yaya, often the first name on the team sheet, though he is at last being substituted more often, and now rested. Again, is this his fault for being picked? Would he really strop and tear up his contract if given a lesser role?
City don’t rely on Yaya Toure now. That’s the truth of the matter. It is the cyclical nature of football that the man that contributed more than anyone to our success in the past four years is no longer a vital cog in the machine. He’ll move on at some point, and so will we. He still has a role to play, but it is not as an automatic starter every week. He either accepts that under a new manager who won’t automatically stick him in the team every game, or he can move on. Simple really. What’s also simple is that he is close to irreplaceable. When he goes, City’s style may change as he has a skill-set close to unique, certainly unique to his current club.
Now of course he isn’t helped by his off the pitch antics and his personal spokesman.
I’ll not hold any grudges or resentment against the antics that became known as #cakegate as his younger brother was dying, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how horrible that period of his life must have been. We know his agent likes to shoot off with whatever drivel pops into his mind that particular day, but Toure is not going to dispose of a man who is a close friend and after whom Toure’s son is named. We must assume, though it is just that – an assumption – that anything Dimitri Seluk says has gone through Toure first –it’s Yaya’s drivel, so to speak. Do you really think he lets his agent freely say whatever he wants? We must also assume therefore that Toure is the most precious of footballers. He’s not alone in that respect of course. He and his peers demand recognition for their feats beyond wealth and trophies – hence the pointless Ballon D’Or ceremony every year. Getting rid of his agent as many demand will not only never happen, it would change nothing. Then we’d have a new agent saying the same things. And do you care? Apart from a tiresome transfer saga every summer, it’s not highly relevant to fans how precious a player may or may not be.
I have some sympathy for Yaya’s grumblings. African football is not always appreciated, Yaya himself, as we have all seen, is not always appreciated. He’s done it all, but you wouldn’t know this if you perused online for a few minutes. He wants his place in history. Get used to it Yaya – City players don’t get player awards.
Any player can take the attitude of being worried at the rumoured arrival of a new manager. No player knows what this new man wants, who his favourites will be, how he’ll shape the team, though educated guesses can be made. But most level-headed players would welcome the challenge, rather than having sleepless nights.
Hence, Seluk’s recent outburst, desperately trying to paint Pep Guardiola as some kind of managerial fraud, was the protests of a worried man. His client is worried. Very worried. What is Yaya if not the main man? If not a vital cog in the machine? There’s no point being a big fish in a small pond. Toure is now used to being a big fish in a big pond, and it’s hard to give that up. He left Barcelona because he didn’t feel appreciated, and he will probably leave City the same way.
It will be a shame if when the time arrives for Toure to leave, it is not done in a friendly manner. Something deep inside tells me it won’t. It will be a shame because whatever happens in the future, we shouldn’t forgot for one moment what happened in the past. The cup semi-final winner. The cup final winner. The other cup final goal. The two goals at Newcastle. The twenty goals in 2013/14. And so much more. He’s a club legend, and he always will be. It’s such a shame then that some fans can’t even decide if he’s even any good any more. And if his exit is acrimonious, his deserved legendary status will be tainted for some. But never for me.