It is jarring that Yaya Touré, once the rampaging, irresistible force at the heart of Manchester City’s midfield, has been reduced to the most inconsequential footnote of the club’s latest Premier League title win.
Yes, time catches up with all athletes and Touré is no exception, regardless of how exceptional he was in his pomp.
The Ivorian midfielder will depart City in the summer as a club legend. Prised away from Guardiola’s Barcelona, rather ironically, in 2010, Touré was envisaged as a superstar capable of elevating City’s status.
Signed in the same week as David Silva, Touré comfortably surpassed expectations to become one of the most feared players in English football. He was the complete midfielder, a bludgeoning, galloping machine who, at his peak, was largely responsible for dethroning Manchester United.
Touré won two La Liga titles and a Champions League during his three-year stint at the Camp Nou, but never was he more effective than when he ran City’s midfield. He blossomed into a force of nature capable of hammering the most resolute defences into submission.
Then there were the titles, of course. Touré clinched three Premier League crowns, (instrumental in two), three League Cups and the FA Cup in 2011, which lay down a marker of what was to come from Roberto Mancini’s side.
Touré: The midfield supremo
Although the club, bankrolled by Sheikh Mansour’s bottomless pit of cash, had loftier ambitions than beating Stoke City in the FA Cup final, it is difficult to overstate the importance of Touré’s winner that day in the evolution of City.
In fact, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of Touré himself in the evolution of the club. Whereas Silva was the master conductor, Touré was the barreling juggernaut. He was the type of refined, genuinely world-class box-to-box which is a rare find in modern football.
N’Golo Kanté is probably the closest thing to a complete midfielder these days and even the Frenchman can’t dream of matching Touré’s attacking output.
Touré’s rise to prominence at the Etihad Stadium was so significant that he became the first midfielder to win the African Player of the Year for 12 years in 2011. We went on to win the award a further three times.
And while he had largely been a holding midfielder for Barcelona, Mancini unlocked his attacking potential and unleashed him on terrified Premier League defences. Having scored just six times in 117 games for the Spanish club, Touré notched 12 in his first 50 appearances in Manchester.
Assuming he doesn’t score against in City’s final two games of the season –although he is set to be handed a rare start against Brighton & Hove Albion – Touré will leave the club having amassed 82 goals.
It’s true a healthy portion of those came from penalties and free-kicks but they are merely a measure of his mastery over a dead ball, not a negation of his contributions from open play.
Can he still cut it in the Premier League?
While it’s fun to look back on Toure’s peak years with rose-tinted spectacles, the pressing question is whether he can still be of use to a Premier League side.
His agent, Dimitri Seluk, certainly seems to think so.
“He’s happy to accept a one-year deal to stay in England,” Seluk said this week. “And if his club are not satisfied with his performances, he will pay back half his wages, or the club can cancel his contract immediately, with no compensation.”
That’s quite an attractive offer and certainly one at odds with the man who genuinely entertained the idea of leaving City because the club had not marked his 31st birthday with a cake.
Touré will turn 35 on the final day of the season and while we’re not sure if City are planning a dessert-based send off, once he waves goodbye to the Etihad Stadium he will set about securing his future in England.
The perception is that Touré can still contribute, even if his pace and power and have been blunted in the last few years.
The Everton link makes sense. They require reinforcements in the summer and need to exercise caution when it comes to outlays on players after splashing £23.6million on the lesser-spotted Davy Klaassen 12 months ago.
Wolves, on the other hand, represents the more intrepid, out-of-the-box option for Touré.
Nuno Espírito Santo’s Championship table-toppers won’t see a weathered Premier League has-been. No, they will view Touré as a proven Premier League stalwart, equipped with the experience and quality they’ll need to survive in their first season back in the top-flight since 2012. Of course, the newly-promoted side will need to be willing to meet Touré’s wage demands.
Wherever he ends up – and for the sake of Touré’s glittering Premier League not ending in a whimper, this writer hopes he stays in England – expectations will need to be recalibrated.
Touré’s club will not inherit the wonderfully high grade midfield weapon from the Mancini days, but a jaded, fading superstar determined for one last hurrah.
The obvious course of action would be to dramatically reduce Touré’s responsibilities. Whereas he was once expected to be a box-to-box destroyer, a more realistic and manageable remit may be effective in squeezing out the last of this icon’s career.
When Paul Pogba emerged at Juventus the Frenchman was often likened to Touré. At one point, he was even tipped as the Ivorian’s successor at City. Instead, he returned to Manchester United and perhaps it’s Old Trafford Touré’s next manager can draw inspiration from.
José Mourinho has had some success in unshackling Pogba from defensive duties and, while it would be foolish to allow Touré to merely stand up front, a more advanced role in midfield may accommodate his waning powers.
It was no coincidence that Fernandinho’s arrival in 2013 freed up Touré and triggered his most productive season, with 24 goals and nine assists in all competitions. He won’t replicate those numbers but, with a dedicated holding midfielder behind him, Touré could useful in the attacking third.
With Wayne Rooney expected to leave Everton, Touré may be just the man to succeed the former England captain. While his legs may not move as quickly as they once did, his footballing brain can still be an asset.
With no World Cup participation this summer, Touré has the chance to whip himself into shape and ensure he can factor in one more Premier League campaign.