Sorry Yaya Toure – but here's why your time is still up at Manchester City
Pep Guardiola’s decision to bring Yaya Toure back into the Manchester City fold last weekend was a huge surprise to one and all – not least the away supporters at Crystal Palace, who only got wind of it just before kick-off.
For close to three months, the 33-year-old midfielder had been persona non grata in his manager’s plans, in effect becoming the invisible man Blues love to sing about but whose only appearances have been on back pages.
In his six years as a City player Toure has often shown a flair for the dramatic, driving fans to the point of exasperation with a string of apathetic performances or yet another strop, only to redeem himself
While his team-mates absorbed their new coach’s exacting methods with varying success on the pitch, Toure had been reduced to playing the reluctant star in a tawdry soap opera of his agent’s making as the long-running feud between Guardiola and Dimitri Seluk finally erupted into all-out war.
Or rather it was a war for the latter, a brash Ukrainian whose relationship with his player is so familial that Toure refers to him as ‘Papushka’. On discovering in September that Toure had been omitted from City’s Champions League squad, Seluk reacted in the only manner he knew – not for the first time firing a slew of verbal sewerage at both club and coach. He questioned Guardiola’s integrity. He claimed his talented money-maker had been ‘humiliated’.
The more cerebral Guardiola also remained true to type: the chess aficionado – close friend of former world champion Garry Kasparov – kept his cool before eventually issuing an ultimatum in which he insisted that Toure would be exiled from the first team until an apology was forthcoming. It amounted to an ugly checkmate.
As the weeks dragged by it became increasingly clear that Yaya’s reign at Manchester City was over, his legendary status at the club forever secured but tarnished by a series of disputes that bordered on the farcical. Some took the biscuit. Then there was the cake.
MEANWHILE IN MANCHESTER
After languidly leading his side to two league titles and three domestic trophies – not to mention half-inspiring that song – his time was up; this, despite losing 8kg during the stand-off and reportedly knuckling down in training; despite ceding to Guardiola’s wishes and releasing a statement saying sorry for “misunderstandings from the past”.
So news of his first Premier League start since last April came as a genuine shock. The press room swiftly became chaos while fans at the ground and elsewhere refused to believe their first source, even if that was the BBC or the club’s social media account.
What was much less unexpected was the Ivorian then going on to score... twice. Toure has often shown a flair for the dramatic in his six years as a City player, driving fans to the point of exasperation with a string of apathetic performances or yet another strop, only to redeem himself with a commanding display or crucial goal.
This trade-off of talent and flaws has led to a particularly perplexing contradictions: that Toure is unquestionably one of the most divisive players in the club’s recent history, yet also a shoo-in for most Blues’ greatest-ever XI.
Roll the credits
These two goals, then, were just the latest examples of that ability to redeem himself. More pertinently, they were probably his last.
And that mainly explains the bedlam that greeted his triumphant reminders of true capabilities. It was a farewell of sorts, and one that nobody present dared hope would be afforded to them. Toure’s second goal prompted a mini-pitch invasion, while the City support accompanied the final whistle with one of the most rousing renditions of his song in memory. The jubilation was shared by his team-mates too – the popular Ivorian was reportedly given a round of applause and bear lifts as he walked down the tunnel.
This was a last hurrah, a fitting and emotional thank you to a stonewall legend, and all that was missing was stirring music striking up as the credits rolled. The end.
Except now it isn’t the end. Now the narrative has changed, and thanks to the charged excitement of the perfect Hollywood moment at Selhurst Park, there is talk of a sequel.
Guardiola has put forward the possibility of Toure being reinstated into his Champions League squad should City progress to the knockout stages. The player himself has stated that he wants to wipe the slate clean and to carry on. Fans are busy debating among themselves about how best to capitalise on his return: is he better utilised as an impact sub or should Pep deploy him in the big games where his experience could prove invaluable? Perhaps the most telling noise of all is the unusual silence of Dimitri Seluk.
There is even talk – in some quarters at least – of a threequel, a far-fetched contract extension stretching beyond next summer.
It‘s entirely understandable if some are letting sentiment get in the way of logic, but it would be equally remiss not to point out some unfortunate truths: that Toure has been brought back in from the cold but only to the fringes; that the sure-footed bulldozing we saw in south-east London was only a glimpse of what he once was, like an aged man briefly recalling his wedding day; that his increasing ineffectiveness in the heart of midfield that was starkly evident last season will only worsen – and especially so amid the slick, fluid football that Guardiola demands.
Last Saturday illustrated beyond doubt that the king isn’t yet dead, but he has undoubtedly been usurped by a string of younger, hungrier pretenders. With a fiercely competitive title race lying ahead, City simply cannot allow themselves to get slowed down by sentiment.
Sorry Yaya, but your time is still up – settled dispute or otherwise. But thank you for an afternoon of nostalgia. Thank you for everything.