By: Sammie Frimpong
Yaya Toure has been a relevant — maybe Africa’s most relevant — force ever since leaving Barcelona for Manchester City in 2010. The midfielder has since starred in the Citizens’ capture of two Premier League titles and a fine haul of domestic cup prizes, with City often not operating at the same level in his absence.
For his country, Ivory Coast, Toure’s worth grew in said period, especially after talismanic Dider Drogba’s exit from the scene a few years ago. Toure’s presence became more influential, to the extent that — as skipper — he led Les Elephants to a first Nations Cup title in 23 years at Equatorial Guinea 2015. And while shining for club and country, Toure has been busy stocking his cabinet for personal laurels, too, being crowned Africa’s best footballer officially for four consecutive years — a feat hitherto unprecedented — among others. Best of all, even on the wrong side of 30, it seemed Toure wasn’t slowing down yet and had more coming his way.
Suddenly, though, that bubble of bliss has been popped — and with very little warning. Toure’s golden world began to crumble early this year when Gabon and Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claimed the Confederation of African Football’s top individual honour, one which Toure had monopolised since 2011. The Ivorian, feeling wronged by a process that had seemingly rubbished his continental conquest with Ivory Coast last year, launched into a tirade which earned him little sympathy and painted an image of a desperate man who’d began to lose his grip at the top.
City’s poor league form in 2015/16 compounded Toure’s misery somewhat, but the wind of change that blew over Eastlands in the summer that followed would do him even greater harm. In came Pep Guardiola, the former Barca boss who pushed Toure off to City rather harshly some six years prior — though unwittingly ushering the best years of the player’s career — and with whom the latter hasn’t had the warmest relations with since. Indeed, it was a surprise that Toure survived the overhaul Guardiola inspired in pre-season but, dropping the ex-Olympiacos man from City’s squad for the ongoing Uefa Champions League campaign and denying him even a minute of play-time in the Premier League thus far this term, the new manager has hardly been subtle in expressing his disregard for Toure. Toure’s prospects have been helped little by his outspoken agent Dmitri Seluk’s attacks on Guardiola, prompting the 45-year-old’s vow on Tuesday that “Yaya is out [of consideration for selection]” until Seluk apologises. If that sounded the death knell for Toure’s City career, the player’s own decision — publicized moments before Guardiola’s proclamation — to retire from international football marked the end to any dreams of further success he had with Ivory Coast. Toure would have no more part in the team’s pursuit of a ticket to a fourth successive Fifa World Cup, neither would he be involved in the quest to defend their Afcon diadem in Gabon next year.
The resulting picture?
A pretty gloomy one, as things stand. While Toure — should he remain exiled from Guardiola’s Champions League plans till January — would be an experienced target for many an elite European club seeking to boost their own push for glory in said competition, his huge wages (supposedly the reason why no suitors were bold enough to grab him in the summer) as well as ageing and subsequently decreased performance levels would present genuine obstacles. Seluk would have a hard time selling his client as a profitable investment to any ambitious club that wants their money’s worth.
In the end, Toure’s brightest hopes may lie at some big-spending Chinese club, an obscure destination in the Gulf, in the States, or Down Under where he could earn a significant pension. Guardiola’s rejection of Toure in the past saw the player take a giant step up; the latest instance, though, almost certainly sends him the other way.
All this, of course, is good news for an entire generation of younger, foreign-based African stars (led by Aubameyang and Co.) who’ve largely lurked in Toure’s shadow till now. For the man himself, however, it’s a huge blow — one he’d probably never recover from.