As he approaches his final home game as a Manchester City player, Yaya Touré reflects on the greatest achievement during his eight years at the club. It was, the midfielder says, putting Manchester United in City’s “shadow”.
“To be honest, yes, that’s true,” Touré says. “When I came to City for them to be a big club we had to put them [United] in their shadow… That was the purpose – to come to City, to put United in the shadow although that would be difficult. But the semi-final was a big part of it.”
That semi-final was the meeting between the two clubs back in 2011, during Touré’s first season at City, as they reached the last four of the FA Cup. City went on to win and then beat Stoke City in the final. Both matches ended 1-0. Touré scored both goals. And the Abu Dhabi era at City had lift-off with its first trophy.
“United were in our way,” he explains. “We had to remove them, they were such a force, they won the league that year. To come to the game, they had such confidence, they thought they were going to beat us. I’ll never forget it; they missed big chances. At half-time we were nearly fighting in the dressing room. Go out and play like men – or we go home again and say to [City chairman] Khaldoon [Al Mubarak]: Thank you, we’ve eaten the money but we move on because this club will never achieve.’”
That trophy and the three Premier League titles and two League Cups that followed fully vindicated Touré’s decision to leave Barcelona and join City in 2010, although he is disappointed they have not won the Champions League. It also, he says, silenced the critics who argued he had moved to the Premier League club only for financial gain.
“Some of your colleagues said I came here not to win trophies, but was more impressed by the money,” Touré says.
Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak unveils a Yaya Toure-inspired mosaic besides the training pitch to celebrate his eight years at the club
Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak unveils a Yaya Toure-inspired mosaic besides the training pitch to celebrate his eight years at the club CREDIT: MANCHESTER CITY FOOTBALL CLUB
“But after we won the FA Cup, some started to be more impressed and to shut their mouths and say ‘This guy is the real deal’ – and that’s what I am proud of.”
Interestingly that sense of being underappreciated, and proving people wrong, underpins much of Touré’s talk as he prepares for his final two games – Brighton at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday and then away at Southampton on Sunday – before he leaves the club when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Touré admits that he has found being left out of Pep Guardiola’s team difficult. It has, he says, been a tough two years. “I am very sad about it. I wanted to be more part of it on the field, not out of the field,” he adds. “But look in our dressing room and they are all competitors now, with the will to win and to achieve. It’s a great ability, and I love it.”
Yaya Toure of Manchester City with the Premier League trophy during the championship celebrations after the Premier League match between Manchester City and Huddersfield Town at Etihad Stadium
He argues that he helped instil that winning mentality and, for so long, he dictated the mood within the team. “I have given so much to this club in terms of energy, mobility, and to work with people around me, to get them to play the way I wanted them to play,” he explains.
“I remember when Kun [Sergio Agüero] was in great form and Gabriel Jesus was not playing and not happy as he was not being picked, I took him to one side and gave him a pat on the back. The manager doesn’t know I’m doing that.
“I look at the kids around me and know I have had to be an example, even though it’s been hard at times, and I have felt it’s been so unfair on my part [not to play].”
It became fractious, on occasions, with Touré’s agent Dimitri Seluk infamously complaining in 2014 that the player had been “disrespected” because the club had not given him a birthday cake and, two years later, criticised Guardiola’s management of City.
People don’t know how dedicated I was. I was so dedicated. This football club was my first wife to be honest. Even my wife knew it
But Touré says: “The way I was behaving during these difficult two years, I was behaving like a proper person. Even my step-father [Seluk], he is crazy sometimes, he is the type of guy who sometimes I think I just leave him alone because when sometimes you say the things you don’t want to say and after that you regret it. Me, when I am angry, I stay calm. I prefer to stay calm. Of course people have been talking about me but I don’t care at the end of the day. It’s me. People can say what they want. That’s OK. They have their opinion.”
Nevertheless, even if his status as one of City’s greatest players and one of the best midfielders in Premier League history is secured, Touré believes he deserves more. “I think maybe when I am retired from football I will have more respect,” he says.
“No, I don’t think so,” he says. “What I have achieved and what I have done, I don’t think so. That is why I am a little bit sad because people put a lot of pressure on Paul Pogba, because they want to compare him to me. We are different. I put the game so far away that people think it is easy. When you see the type of run, how many times you can do it, box-to-box, and be able to start the ball from defence and be able to finish as well, and how many games in the Premier League – we can count, we have it – Champions League, national team, between the travel, come back and be able to not have injury for many years.
“People don’t know how dedicated I was. I was so dedicated. This football club was my first wife to be honest. Even my wife knew it.”
And so Touré – 35 next Sunday – intends to play on and, probably, in the Premier League because his family wants to remain in England. “Like I said to Khaldoon a few times: Look, I am a competitor, I am a professional. I know my body. Nobody knows my body more than me. And I knew I could do it,” Touré says.
Manchester City’s Ivorian defender Kolo…Manchester City’s Ivorian defender Kolo Toure (L) and his brother Yaya Toure attend a team training session at the club’s Carrington training complex, in Manchester, north-west England on March 16, 2011
“I hate it when people try to stop me. I hate it when people say to me: ‘You have to stop.’ I hated that. It’s like: ‘I give you a limit.’ It depends on your mentality. And I have been learning that for such a long time. And I know what I can do and I will know when I am not capable of doing it. And I know I can continue to play football.”
Even if that means facing City? “My mum says ‘if you love something, keep it for you, but if you leave it, it’s free to do what it wants’. That’s my view, if you let me go, I have to face you,” Touré says. “I’m a big fan of the Gladiator movie. I’d have to win, I would never celebrate a goal against them [City]. I don’t want to face them but if I want to stay in the Premier League I will have to.
“What these fans and what this club wants from me, I have given to them. It’s like I’m empty. I’m free to go. I will be released, to go and assess my duty in a different club. Maybe clubs needs my experience, my thinking, my mentality.”
Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak joins Yaya Touré at the City Football Academy to rename a pitch at the club’s training ground after the midfielder. Al Mubarak unveiled a Yaya-inspired mosaic besides the training pitch to celebrate Touré’s eight years at the club ahead of his final game at the Etihad on Wednesday night.