The hypothetical scene of my marriage proposal to Yaya Touré has invaded my dreams this week. For what felt like the hundredth occasion, the four-time African Footballer of the Year added yet another exhibition to his museum of legendary moments in a Manchester City shirt on Sunday: this time he emphatically directed a League Cup-winning penalty beyond the outstretched arm of Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet and into the cavernous goal behind.
As he wheeled away in celebration, his shirt aloft having definitively carved his legacy into the impenetrable iron of the Wembley arch, it suddenly struck me that Touré had played over three hours of football in the space of four days, conjuring up two monumental strikes in the process: one to seal a second League Cup title in three years, the other to guide City’s leading foot into the Champions’ League quarter-final. Some might well scoff at such a stat, as “surely anyone could do that for £200,000-a-week,” and it is true that a handful of the Blues’ personnel who finished extra time in the final had also completed ninety minutes in Kiev just hours earlier. But never before has a player been written off so conclusively and so perpetually by his own supporters in the manner that Touré has been since the summer of 2014.
Some City fans were firmly stabbing the full stop onto the end of his career as soon as Ross Barkley emerged as a potential star. Heading into another summer two years later, and Yaya’s name still sits atop several hypothetical lists of summer departures: Pep Guardiola’s candidates for the chopping block at high noon on July 1st are being rounded up, and Yaya’s door is expected to be the first to receive the fateful knock.
Should the almost certain meeting between the pair result in Touré seeking pastures new amidst Pep’s wholesale changes, there will be an unfathomably large cross-section of City fans who will greet Yaya Touré’s departure with three words, “It’s about time” – a phrase deserving of a purposely unsuccessful retake of his winning Wembley penalty. His removal from proceedings during the defeat to Tottenham Hotspur last month also drew sarcastic cheers from certain sections of the Colin Bell Stand. Cheers full of nothing more than unsubstantiated ignorance and thankless prejudice, cheers that arguably warranted another thirty-five years of empty trophy cabinets and taunts from across city, with Yaya firmly holding the curse.
The Ivorian international is not only an exemplary athlete. He also remains an artist of the game who has written some of the most beautiful chapters England’s domestic footballing history. His speciality of producing highlights with decades of replay value deserves the undying and enduring respect of each person who claims to love this sport – take your superficial and deeply sinister cries of laziness elsewhere.
Even as Touré does begin to lose the battle against time, and as his physical prowess wanes, he still finds it within himself to defiantly wield his sword and plant it into the heart of his challenger. The distance in time between each of swing of his sword is widening, but each blow is replete with euphoric nostalgia when it arrives. Nobody does it better. His purposeful strides between the halfway line to the penalty spot on Sunday were triumphantly reminiscent of previous moments from his personal archive, when he nonchalantly brushed aside all before him with incredible regularity to produce the impossible. He rolled out his own red carpet in front of the City fans, puffed out his cheeks with determination and delivered that climactic strike as though he had prophesised the victorious outcome the night before.
With a complete overhaul of the midfield engine reportedly high on Guardiola’s agenda, and with youthful prodigies such as Granit Xhaka and Ilkay Gundogan currently linked with a move to east Manchester, it is likely that Touré will have his responsibilities either significantly shaved or completely chopped. His age is already beginning to work against him physically, and the fact that he will be 33 when Guardiola’s reign begins will surely cast speculative doubt over his future. But one final season as an impact player is definitely within his range, especially with a football connoisseur like Pep Guardiola managing his condition.
Yes, the kids are coming up from behind – but if Yaya’s last hurrah in a blue shirt does turn out to be that effortlessly emphatic penalty to shower City’s travelling supporters with more Wembley success, then there can be no greater example of his strengths to sign off with.
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Written by Rob Wilson