Yaya does it again for City
MAY 8 — Of all the multi-million pound signings that Manchester City have made in the last three years, an unstoppable force of nature that goes by the name of Yaya Toure is quite possibly their best capture.
The powerhouse midfielder’s brilliantly taken two goals at Newcastle on Sunday afternoon propelled his team to within one win of the Premier League title: home victory against QPR on Sunday afternoon will secure City’s first championship since 1968 (unless Manchester United win by nine goals at Sunderland... which they won’t).
Although plenty of City players have impressed this season — particularly Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero — I believe Toure surpasses all of those terrific performers as their single-most important player: the heartbeat of their team and the man who best embodies their style and their spirit.
When City need a lift, Yaya is invariably the man who provides it by embarking on a rampaging run through the heart of the opposition midfield — just as he repeatedly did during last week’s decisive home victory over Manchester United, a game which Toure took by the scruff of the neck midway through the first half and never let go.
And when City need a goal in a really big game, he is often the man who scores it — just as he did at Newcastle on Sunday, and just as he did in both the semi-final and final of last season’s triumphant FA Cup campaign.
Yaya’s trademark is his ability to run with the ball with pace and power through the middle of the pitch, leaving opponents bouncing off him and trailing in his wake as he marauds purposefully towards goal.
But there’s far more to his game than sheer physical strength. As he demonstrated with his two goals against Newcastle, especially the wonderful first, he is also an extremely accomplished technician, capable of producing touches of finesse just as much as blasts of power.
And now he’s close to taking his team to the pinnacle of English football — I certainly wouldn’t want to be QPR’s Shaun Derry or Joey Barton, given the task of shackling him when their relegation-threatened team travels to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
Unlike his older brother and City teammate Kolo, who moved directly from the Ivory Coast to Arsenal in his early twenties and was quickly fast-tracked into the Gunners’ first team by Arsene Wenger, Yaya took a relatively long and meandering route to the top.
He first moved to Europe in 2001, at the age of 18, to join middle-ranking Belgian club Beveren, where he spent a couple of seasons before making the seemingly backwards step of joining obscure Ukrainian side Metalurh Donetsk.
But it didn’t take long for Toure to step out of the murky Ukrainian shadows and return to the mainstream of European football, thanks to a move to Greek giants Olympiakos in 2005. A year later, impressive performances against Argentina, the Netherlands and Serbia in the World Cup finals led to another upwards step, this time with a move to Monaco in the French top flight.
By now, at the age of 23, Yaya Toure was making a big name for himself as the football world started to realise that Kolo’s younger brother might prove to be an even better player than his sibling. After an impressive season in France, Yaya got his big break with a €9 million (RM35 million) transfer to Barcelona.
Toure was a partial success at the Nou Camp. Although he was a regular in the starting line-up during his three years with Barca, he never truly established himself as an automatic starter and his all-action playing style didn’t suit the more measured approached instilled by new coach Pep Guardiola, who took over from Frank Rijkaard a year after Toure’s arrival.
Indeed, Toure’s biggest achievement with the Catalan club — winning the 2009 Champions League final against Manchester United — saw him line up in the unfamiliar position of central defence after suspensions and injuries decimated Barca’s usual back line. Without those disruptions, indeed, Toure probably wouldn’t even have played in that Rome final.
By the following season, Guardiola had settled on Sergio Busquets as his first choice defensive midfielder, with Xavi, Iniesta and a burgeoning young Lionel Messi occupying the more attacking central roles. Understandably, that quartet proved to be pretty tough for Toure to break up, and he started in only 50 per cent of Barca’s matches in his final season in Catalonia.
It was apparent that his long-term future lay away from the Nou Camp, but he was still a highly regarded talent and City had to fork out a reported £24 million (RM120 million) to lure him to the Etihad.
The rest is history: 2011 saw Yaya score the winning goal in the FA Cup final and become the first midfielder in more than a decade to claim the African Footballer of the Year award. 2012, very probably, will see him become a Premier League champion.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.