City is Winning, But Yaya Toure is Still Not Playing Football. Here is What’s Going On
When Yaya Toure moved from Barcelona to Manchester City in 2010, he quickly became a “colossus” in the premiership. More than that, he became the engine that helped rack in five major trophies, i.e., two Premier League titles, two League Cups and one FA Cup. He proved himself worthy to be called one of the greatest, if not the greatest player in club history.
However, it appears the tide has turned at City. And the arrival of his former and now current coach, Pep Guardiola is not helping. Toure was left out of City’s Champions League squad for the group stages and is yet to play a single minute of Premier League football.
There is history between the two. In Barcelona, Toure was forced to leave because Guardiola favored Sergio Busquets in the midfield. Just like now, Toure was reluctant to go six years ago.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“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,”[/perfectpullquote]
History appears to be repeating itself. But in the media, Guardiola offers a more positive take on Toure:
“I spoke with him, and he said he wants to stay.
“Ok, if he wants to stay, I am happy. There are a lot of games. Everybody needs to play. I know his quality. For example in the last 20 minutes against Steaua Bucharest he played as a striker and played amazing. Of course, I know him very well, and his behaviour from the beginning was perfect. When his behaviour is OK, everything is going very well.”
So what’s going on? And why is he still not playing? Wendo Abuto, a soccer aficionado, and editorial illustrator offers the big-picture point that at 33, Toure, quite simply cannot play in Guardiola’s possession system.
First, according to Abuto, Toure plays well in a counter attack structure. He was excellent in Frank Rijkaard counter attacking Barcelona formation. The aging midfielder may have a reputation for being a box-to-box midfielder, but the fact is, he hasn’t truly occupied that role in years.
Late last year, the Arsenal Legend Thierry Henry said on a Sky Sports post-game show that, “tracking back is not his (Toure) forte anymore. It was never actually his forte.” Structurally, the Ivorian has often benefited from being positioned at the attacking midfield with two holding players behind. But that won’t work in a possession obsessed structure. “Guardiola’s possession game relies on them winning the ball back in 5-6 seconds,” Abuto says. “Something Toure can’t do at his age.”
Second, before the start of the season, Phillip Lahm, who played under Guardiola’s leadership at Bayern Munich advised that: “The first thing they (City players) will have to know is this: keep your position. That is what he places greatest value on.” Over the years, Toure has shown a decline in mobility. While that declining attribute may push some midfielders backward, Toure has shifted in the other direction hence creating holes in the midfield. It’s something he has gotten away with on multiple occasions, but that won’t fly with Guardiola as per Lahm’s account.
A “Yaya-size hole” in the midfield goes against Guardiola’s philosophy. Currently, City is the only team in the league with a perfect 15 points from five games. Guardiola is clear on why his team is playing so well:
“Our behavior without the ball is what we did [well],” he said. “That means play like a team in the second league, the third league, in the Conference league, playing with honesty. If we do that, the people will be proud of us. That’s what I want.
“I know the quality of the players. They are still making mistakes sometimes with the buildup, with the position in the middle. That is normal. There’s a lot of time to improve it.
“The desire when the opposition has the ball, in saying ‘No, I want that ball for me’ and how we go to pick it up, if we continue that to the end of the season, we will be a good team. I am pretty sure of that because the quality of the players that this club have bought in the past and the new players who came in this year is high. If not, you cannot produce in a short time the performance we managed against Borussia Mönchengladbach.
“Maybe you don’t know them, but I know Mönchengladbach really well, and I know that in the few moments we arrived a little bit late with our pressure, we were not good. That’s happened. Fortunately, it only happened a few times, because we were so aggressive without the ball, and with the ball we created chances.”
(Photo Credit: Matt West/BPI)
Isn’t Guardiola being a bit unfair? It’s easy to think so for any concerned fans. Recently, Dmitri Seluk, Toure’s agent told ESPN FC that he thought his client was humiliated when he was left off the Champions League squad. A reaction that sums up most Toure fans.
Also, Guardiola’s history with Toure and other players, most notably, Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be taken into account.
“Whenever I asked him something, he always gave strange answers,” Toure said about his time with Guardiola at Barcelona. “He pretty much ignored me until City’s offer came in. That’s why I eventually opted to leave.”
Similarly, Ibrahimovic once said after his spell with Barcelona, “I didn’t have a problem with anyone. Nobody can say I did anything wrong. The first months were going so well and then something happened, and I still don’t know what as I’m still waiting for the answer. A few months after [the start of the year] ‘the philosopher’ didn’t speak to me anymore.”
Surely, Guardiola’s isn’t the best-buddy-type-coach. However, it all boils down to this – football is a business. And just like Seluk would say later on, “Yaya is a professional, and so he will do everything he is asked to do.”
So what happens next for Toure? Two things. Thing one, even now, Toure is not just a quality player. He is a great player. So he has options. Just this summer, Roberto Mancini, Toure’s former coach at City and longtime fan shared with Corriere Dello Sport that “Toure, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, is one of those players who can make the difference, who can change the outcome of a season by themselves like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.” He will still get offers from top clubs in Europe, China or the USA.
Thing two, as per his agent Seluk, the Ivorian will stay and earn his position on the squad because he wants to. He may have proved this by rejecting offers from Inter Milan and a Chinese team that could have made him the highest paid footballer in the world. According to a Mirror article, Guardiola “admits that Toure has been training like a demon, his commitment is beyond question. He is desperate to play, week in, week out.”
So maybe, just maybe, we have not seen the end of Toure’s story at City. He is still a great player. And greatness always surprises.
Illustration by Wendo Abuto