Specialization is the norm in World Football now-a-days. Be good at one thing and you’ll be alright. If you’re versatile enough to slot in at a variety of positions and do multiple tasks assigned to you, you are worth your weight in gold.
This was exactly why when Barcelona accepted a rather decent transfer fee from Manchester City for one Yaya Toure in 2010, it was both intriguing and strange. When asked in 2011 about what the reason for his exit was, he minced no words:
“Whenever I asked him something, he always gave strange answers,” Toure told ONA FM.
“He pretty much ignored me until City’s offer came in. That’s why I eventually opted to leave. I didn’t speak to Guardiola for a year.”
Guardiola, however, presents a different story:
“I talk to anyone, and the doors to my office and house are always open for the players,” the former Spain international told AS.
“The truth is that [Toure] asked Laporta to leave. We even tried to convince him to stay.”
Whatever the truth might be, Manchester City must be counting themselves lucky for landing one of the best midfielders in the world at what can be called a decent transfer fee (£24 million) at best. The tag seems smaller when you put into perspective the fee Manchester United paid for Marouane Fellaini.
At Barcelona, Toure had a bit-part role. His job was to break up play and shield the back-four, and then leave it to the Europeans and the South Americans who had the flair and the skill. It was all but obvious that a player of such quality needed to play day in day out.
Even under Roberto Mancini, Yaya Toure was played in a variety of positions. As a no.10 just behind the striker where he could also defend higher up the pitch and win possession off opposition midfielders and not allow centre backs time on the ball. At times, as the most advanced midfielder in a three-man defensive midfield, the other two being De Jong and Gareth Barry.
Yaya Toure’s goal tally in the last 4 seasons clearly demonstrates the role he has been assigned:
2010/11: 12 goal 6 assists, 2011/12: 9 goals 9 assists, 2012/13: 10 goals 6 assists, 2013/14: 22 goals 6 assists
Pelligrini has been quick to note that Toure not only possesses the physical presence needed to plug defensive holes he also has a knack for scoring goals. His free-kicks and penalties have no doubt played a big part in his goal tally. That said, teams are now wary of his scoring prowess too.
Yaya Toure’s biggest strength lies in his ability to keep possession despite being under pressure. That and he can exploit spaces and pick a pass while on one of his marauding runs into the box. There is just no escape. It is virtually impossible to stop him when with his 6’2″ frame and long strides goes galloping without conceding a foul. He isn’t just all muscle either. He can work up a decent enough pace to beat players.
Arturo Vidal is probably the only other box-to-box midfielder right now in the world who can give Yaya Toure a run for his money. Purchased by Juventus in 2011, Vidal has cemented his place in their midfield, turning out to be exactly the kind of player Juventus needed – young, audacious and with a knack for scoring goals. Vidal’s been a multi-purpose player for Juventus; creating chances in the midfield whenever the opportunity arises, his almost perfect tackling ability and brilliant foot skills.
Vidal has been having a whale of a season scoring 15 goals in 34 games (Serie A and Champions League) and providing 5 assists. He’s been consistent throughout the season and has proved to be one of the toughest competitors to play against in Europe. He possesses the quality to recover the ball in his own box, make runs himself and has excellent stamina.
While Yaya Toure might seem more superior in comparison, Arturo Vidal has an exceptional defensive skill and uncanny tenacity of winning the ball. Vidal is a crucial part of Antonio Conte’s starting XI, and the number of European powerhouses vying for this 26-year-old’s signature is just a testament to how good he really is.
Ilkay Gundagon is another box-to-box midfielder who could compete with Yaya Toure. The way he held his own against the Manchester City midfielder last year is enough to justify that he is well on his way to becoming an integral part of this exceptional league of footballers. Out since the past 6 months due to injury, Borussia Dortmund have really missed this talented player in their line-ups, both in the Bundesliga and in the Champions League.
Box to Box midfielders are now an endangered species. Gundogan, Vidal, De Rossi, Marchisio are all ferocious in their own right.
Yaya Toure, though, is the apex predator. And he is hunting. One midfield, one defense and one team at a time.
If you can tame him for 90 minutes, well done.
If you can’t, it’s okay. It’s not your fault.