If you, like me, are something of an expert in quantum mechanics (shut up, I totally am), then you’ll be very familiar with the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment. In layman’s terms, it theorises how something can exist in two directly contradictory states at the same time. In it, a cat, a hammer suspended over a bottle of poison gas, a radioactive source and a Geiger counter are sealed in a box – and as soon as radioactive decay begins, the hammer shatters the bottle, killing the cat.
After a random amount of time, it’s impossible to know if the cat is dead or alive – so we theorise that the cat is simultaneously dead AND alive, until we open the box to find out. Some would argue it poses a significant question, while others will be concerned that it was just Erwin Schrödinger’s way of killing cats – either way, I’d like to apply this theory to the ongoing saga of Yaya Toure.
The Manchester City midfielder is clearly one of the most important, most influential and highest quality players the club has ever had. Yet, as it stands early in the 2014-15 season, his stock has never really been lower at the club. Somehow, he exists in two directly contradictory states – he’s pivotal to the team, but following several misdemeanours in Munich many fans were keen to see the back of him.
Clearly, the man didn’t do anything to endear himself to the supporters by demanding a birthday cake, getting a birthday cake, claiming not to have had a birthday cake, wanting to leave, not wanting to leave, not giving a statement, giving a statement, pledging his future to the club, returning to training, not playing well, then laughing with a former colleague.
Meanwhile, he endeared himself wonderfully with the fans by being one of the most important cogs in ending a trophy drought by scoring twice at Wembley – once against Manchester United and once against Stoke in two 1-0 wins. He followed that up by scoring twice at Newcastle to virtually secure the league title in 2012. On top of that he rebooted the League Cup final of 2014, in the middle of his best ever season as a professional where he barely had a bad game from August to May of that campaign.
Schrödinger would be having a field day here.
It’s probably because of his style of play, but Toure is very easily branded as lazy. His style of play lends itself to the criticism because, if nothing else, he’s an ambler. He ambles. He has a running technique that looks like he wastes a lot of energy because he always seems to be flat footed. Yet, put him in full flow running at a defence, and nobody can keep up with him.
He doesn’t track back and often gets caught the wrong side of the ball after an attack because he’s ended it sat on his bottom or has lost out in a challenge. That, though, isn’t laziness that prevents him from returning to his position. It’s part of his game; he expends so much in bursting forward, it’s to be expected that Fernandinho or Fernando or whoever is playing in central midfield needs to cover for him. We allow him that because it’s that attacking trait that provided goals against Manchester United, Stoke, Newcastle…
When I went to interview Garry Cook at the Disabled Supporters Association, the former CEO did a Q&A with the members of the branch. One of the questions asked was about the most important signing he made and Yaya Toure was his answer – explaining that once he had signed, others would follow.
In fact, he claims that he got Yaya Toure to sign by telling him that David Silva had just joined the club. Meanwhile, he told David Silva that Yaya Toure had just joined the club in order to get him to sign too.
Clearly, he’s an important player for the club.
Caveat: I’m not for a minute here condoning the form that he’s shown at the beginning of this season. He’s been atrocious. There, that’s that sorted. For whatever reason – and one big potential problem that we’ll come on to shortly – he’s not been anywhere near as effective as he was throughout Manuel Pellegrini’s debut campaign.
However, his poor performances have garnered possibly the biggest overreaction since a man lost his job for not blowing up Robin Hood airport. Following the defeat to Munich, many took to Twitter to explain how the Ivorian should have been sold, left to rot in the EDS, exiled to another country, hanged, drawn and quartered, or fed to the dogs.
In fact, some of the assessments of Toure’s season so far were an embarrassment – and I’m not even sure how much they can be blamed on post-match annoyance at losing in the last minute. Most people are angry at that and looking for someone to lash out at with their words, but it felt like it’s been coming for Toure for a while – and I can’t put my finger on why.
Is it that the fans know how good he can be and so criticise him heavily when he’s not? I’m not convinced – David Silva gets let off poor performances when he’s off the boil. Is it that people have the idea he’s already a slacker that when he doesn’t put in a good shift, he gets both barrels? Again, I’m not convinced, because Edin Dzeko is spared the vitriol and he was a man who the fans were perfectly willing to let go in the summer of 2013.
It’s something that stretches back further than cake-gate – but one of the club’s best ever players seems to be one of the easiest targets for the supporters. It rarely happened last season, largely down to the fact that he was a solid man of the match candidate for pretty much every game he played, but there has been a ton of bricks ready to be dropped on him for any little mistake. “Bloody hell Yaya,” is the catchphrase of several people in the Etihad on a matchday. “Work harder, Yaya,” is another. There is the underlying feeling that he’s more harshly criticised than others.
It’s fine to criticise, don’t get me wrong, but a lot that Toure gets isn’t fair. Laughing and joking with Pep Guardiola after a last-minute defeat to his side wasn’t the best move he could have done and there were better places for him to catch up with his old boss than in front of the TV cameras, but it’s hardly the crime of the century. The reaction to that was what baffled me the most – it shouldn’t cause outrage.
Let’s not forget that Toure has recently lost a close family member. I’m not one to be able to comment on this sort of thing with any authority since it’s something that has never happened to me, but I’m fairly sure it’s not something anybody can take in their stride. Just because the Ivorian is one of the highest paid people in the world doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have feelings and to have a brother die at a young age isn’t any easier when the payslip of a reported £200,000 goes in at the end of the week.
I once heard a woman shout that Carlos Tevez should be “running faster” for the wage he’s on. Because the increase in wages clearly improves sprint speed, just as it improves one’s ability to grieve.
It’s without a doubt that Toure has had an awful start to the season, but he was showing signs of improvement in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea. He still wasn’t up to last season’s level, but that was potentially an anomaly as it’s unlikely he could ever hit those impressive heights once again.
He’s the man who paved the way for other big names to join the club. He’s the man who scored some of the most crucial goals in changing Manchester City from also-rans to winners. He’s the man who’s responsible for goal after goal after goal from midfield last season. On top of that, he’s a man who’s grieving the loss of his brother and a man who is bang out of form.
Shame on anyone who’s willing to stick the boot in at this time. Now is the time the fans need to be backing him to help him return to the form that he’s showed previously. What the club doesn’t need to do is cut loose a £30m asset because he’s had a bad start to the season and was seen laughing on the telly.
Written by David Mooney