Yaya Toure: Omission, reconciliation, recall and rejuvenation under Pep Guardiola
On May 14th 2011 Yaya Toure cemented his place in Manchester City folklore when his low, rifled shot fizzed beyond the despairing grasp of Stoke City goalkeeper Thomas Sorenson in front of over 88,000 supporters at Wembley.
His goal, the only one of the game, earned The Citizens a narrow victory over The Potters in what was eventually a relatively uninspiring FA Cup Final for the casual on-looker. Toure’s contribution secured Manchester City their first major trophy in thirty-five years and his iconic finish is seen by many as signifying the moment when the club confirmed their new position as a genuine domestic force at the top of the English game. Funded by the wealthy Aby Dhabi United Group, the club have gone on to secure five further major honours since 2011, including two Premier League titles.
Yaya Toure’s position as a Manchester City legend will never be diminished. The central midfielder has been a key component of the squad during the past half-decade of continuous on-pitch success and his impressive all-action displays have stood testament to his technical ability, quality and character. However, at the start of the 2016/17 season his Manchester City career looked all but over.
Out in the Cold
When Pep Guardiola was appointed as the new Manchester City manager at the start of the summer it was widely perceived as being a significant step forward in the club’s progression. Here was one of the very best managers in world football, acclaimed for his total-football philosophy that had seen him hold aloft 21 trophies in just eight years whilst leading Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Guardiola was the man handed the responsibility of turning City not just into a domestic dynasty, but into one of the leading club’s in European and world football. His arrival was celebrated by supporters and players alike, although probably not by Toure, whom the Spanish manager had sold whilst in charge at the Nou Camp.
There were multiple stories across the media during the summer that suggested that Guardiola remained unconvinced by the prospect of selecting Yaya Toure in his starting line-up. If the Ivorian had not been suited to playing in his Barcelona team six years ago, what place would he have in the new-look team that was being built at the Etihad Stadium? At 33-years-of-age Toure’s best days as a player were surely behind him and, in Guardiola’s mind, it looked increasingly hard to justify the midfielder’s massive weekly salary.
The flash point came on the eve of the new season. Toure was omitted from Manchester City’s initial 25-man Champions League squad that were due to compete in the cumulative stages of qualifying – a clear message from the new manager that he was not at the forefront of his plans. Dimitri Seluk, Toure’s long-term agent and representative, sparked off a behind-the-scenes bust-up after publically declaring that Guardiola had humiliated his client. The Spanish manager responded by informing the press that the Toure would not be part of any first team fixture until he received a full apology.
Guardiola was good to his word and Toure was immediately frozen out of the Manchester City first team picture, both in training and on match days. The Ivorian was absent throughout September, October and early November, making no appearances for The Citizens as the new era of total-football at the Etihad Stadium started with ten consecutive victories in all competitions. With supporters and the media salivating over the genius of Guardiola and his new brand of exciting, attacking football Yaya Toure soon became something of an afterthought. Out of sight, out of mind. Forgotten.
Reconciliation and Redemption
By late-November the landscape at Manchester City had started to charge. The team had lost the early-season momentum with a dip in form resulting in the club drifting slowly away from Liverpool and Chelsea who led the race for the Premier League title. This opened up an opportunity for an unexpected return to action for Toure. The Ivorian, undoubtedly shocked at being frozen out of first team action for such an extended period of time, offered his manager an apology. Guardiola accepted, a reconciliation took place, and the midfielder was immediately recalled to the starting line-up.
The 33-year-old has played in all of City’s seven Premier League fixtures since his re-inclusion and his return has coincided with an upturn in results. The midfielder suddenly appears to have a new lease of life and three goals in five starts demonstrates that he still has plenty to offer.
Further evidence was provided on Boxing Day when Manchester City travelled to the KCOM Stadium and dispatched Hull City with relative ease. Toure produced an outstanding man of the match performance, running the show from central midfield and capping off an all-action display by opening the scoring from the penalty stop. The Ivorian was back to his best, touching the ball 121 times and producing 106 passes (26 more than any team mate, 60 more than any opposing player). Although his iconic driving runs with the ball were absent, his positive distribution and varied range of passing allowed City to dominate, albeit a struggling, Hull team on foreign soil. More importantly, Toure was just as influential defensively – winning the ball back on more separate occasions than any other Manchester City player.
An Uncertain Future
Despite his recall and return to form, it looks unlikely that Toure will still be a Manchester City player by the start of next season. Guardiola is leading an overhaul of the first team squad at the Etihad Stadium and, long-term, there is no room for an aging midfielder who is one of the leading earners within the club. There is rumoured to be interest from teams in China and the MLS, where Toure’s wage demands would be easily met, whilst some leading European clubs may be tempted to try and prize out a couple of extra seasons out of the Ivorian at the top level.
Whatever Toure’s future may hold, his reconciliation at the Etihad Stadium can only be a good thing for the player and the club – and who knows, the iconic midfielder may still be able to add one last chapter to his Manchester City legend.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved Chao19189 (Chao1989)
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