Yaya Toure’s six-year career at Manchester City looks to be over. New manager Pep Guardiola can continue to lavish the midfielder with praise for his professionalism and can carry on referring to his training sessions as “amazing,” but the writing is on the wall, 10-foot high and in glowing neon letters. Left out of […]
Yaya Toure’s six-year career at Manchester City looks to be over. New manager Pep Guardiola can continue to lavish the midfielder with praise for his professionalism and can carry on referring to his training sessions as “amazing,” but the writing is on the wall, 10-foot high and in glowing neon letters.
Left out of City’s matchday squad for Saturday’s 2-1 defeat of Sunderland in the Premier League and left at home while a 21-man squad travel to Romania to face Steaua Bucurest in the Champions League playoffs on Tuesday night, this is the end for the Ivorian. And it’s about time too.
Toure’s £24 million price tag and £240,000-a-week wage was considered extremely generous by many in 2010. But he has spent the last six years proving his doubters wrong.
Without Toure, City might not have won the Premier League in 2012; his performance in that April’s crucial 1-0 victory over Manchester United was Herculean. Sir Alex Ferguson was so concerned by the midfielder that he deployed the tireless Park Ji-Sung to mark him out of the game. Park was withdrawn before the hour, exhausted by his fruitless efforts.
Toure was key too to the 2014 title triumph, playing in four of City’s final five games, all of which were won. He scored the only goal in the FA Cup final of 2011 against Stoke City, landing City their first trophy in 35 years, and played in both the 2014 (over Sunderland) and the 2016 (Liverpool) League Cup victories too.
When the history books are written, Toure will be one of the most influential characters of his era. But that is where he belongs now; not in the present, but in the past.
Much was learned from Guardiola’s first game in charge on Saturday. We’ve seen a formation that shifts dramatically in shape according to the flow of the game; we’ve seen a tactical plan that is reliant not just on intelligence, but physical fitness.
Toure, experienced and smart, has no problems in the former department. Indeed, he has played in numerous roles since his arrival, proving himself adaptable and capable in all. Former City manager Roberto Mancini used to veer between offering him freedom, or holding him back in the midfield, using him to safeguard the central areas until the final stages when he would be unleashed against a tiring opposition. He almost always delivered. But it is his reduced mobility that would let him down in this team.
Toure made 28 starts in the league last season, but there were few that invoked memories of him in his prime. His greatest strength was always his ability to suddenly open up the throttle and charge into space, leaving midfielders strewn in his wake. But last season, while the distance he covered remained steady, the intensity of his running dropped hard.
In one game last season, he completed half as many sprints as the man who replaced him, Fabian Delph, in twice the amount of time. Guardiola voraciously devours tapes of old games and he will not have missed something like that. His midfielders are expected to contribute in more ways than one.
On Saturday, Fernandinho earned himself warm praise from his new manager for playing a dual role in the centre. Out of possession, the former Shakhtar man was an orthodox midfielder, joining his teammates in the frenzied press that Guardiola has always insisted should follow the loss of the ball. In possession, he would canter back between the centre-backs, sometimes falling as far as 10 yards behind them.
Not only did Fernandinho provide cover in the event of a Sunderland counter-attack, he also allowed John Stones to push further up where his range of passing could help the efforts to unlock David Moyes’ stern defence. Ahead of Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva were called upon to harass the Black Cats, but were also tasked with supporting Sergio Aguero. These are both roles that require more energy than the 33-year-old Toure has shown of late.
If City were a different club (perhaps the old City who were rattling around in the bottom half of the Premier League before Sheikh Mansour arrived) then a case could be made for Toure to stay, perhaps in a more refined role. But City have changed. They aspire to greatness now, not just in England, but across the continent. They must now do what Ferguson always used to do at Old Trafford, they must cull their own heroes when they are no longer fit for purpose.
Toure is a club hero and should leave with his head held high. But he really should leave. That £240,000-a-week could be better spent elsewhere. Guardiola’s actions may seem cruel, but this is the right path for City. Toure’s time at the top is up.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.
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