Toure hoping for glorious new chapter in City story
Ivorian powerhouse Yaya has no regrets about leaving Barca, writes Paul Wilson
The Premier League is a global village these days, and the Manchester derby long ago outgrew its parochial past. The top scorer in Premier League meetings between City and United is Eric Cantona, the last player to appear for both sides is Carlos Tevez, back when he was playing, and the winning goalscorer when the two clubs met at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final was Yaya Toure.
City signed the Ivorian midfielder specifically because they wanted to import a winning mentality and some first-hand experience of success into the club, and Toure came with not just the kudos of winning the Champions League but of having done so with Barcelona. He was very much the international superstar when Roberto Mancini landed him two summers ago, the manager succeeding in a statement of intent after Mark Hughes's somewhat frivolous pursuits of Kaka and John Terry, yet growing up relatively poor in Africa Toure was 10 years old before he owned his first pair of football boots.
"I just had a normal African childhood," he explains. "We played football a lot, but it was always in the street and always without shoes.
"Boots were very expensive, and when there are seven in your family and you say you want to buy a pair your father wants to kill you. Life was always a struggle when I was growing up, but that was before the war came. Now when you go back home you can see in people's faces that life is more difficult than before. That is why it is important to keep going back. Whatever we can do to help, it's very important to show the people I'm still with them.
"They are amazing, they love football, and we have to do something for them."
When Toure won his Champions League winner's medal in 2009 he did so against United, playing out of position at centre-half, a little-remembered fact that backs up Mancini's assertion that really good players can operate anywhere on the pitch.
Toure smiles and accepts the compliment, but takes issue with being billed as City's best player. "That's very kind, but we have a lot of good players here now," the 28-year-old says. "We have David Silva and Mario Balotelli, and in the summer we brought in two more in Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri.
"For me the most important thing is the team, anyway. The project here is to build a team, and when you look at the players who have been signed you can see this club has fantastic ambition.
"Some of the top players in the world are here. I didn't know whether I was making the right decision when I came from Barcelona, I knew I had to move somewhere because the last season had been so difficult, but now I am here I don't believe I made the wrong choice at all. I was told this club was a story waiting to be written, and that is exactly what it feels like.
"The players feel it too. We all want to be part of the story of a big club, and City can be a great club."
Improving on a record of only one derby win at Old Trafford since the Premier League began would be a start, though at least City are visiting their neighbours as league leaders for the first time since 1968. Toure is realistic. "They have been a big club for a long time," he says. "Perhaps more important even than that, they almost never lose at home. Their record [24 home wins in the last 25 league matches] is fantastic, so the game at Old Trafford will be a big test for us."
Toure speaks highly of the City fans, though unlike some of them he has not been spending his time replaying the goal he slotted past Edwin van der Sar in the FA Cup semi-final over and over again. It was just a goal. "It was an important goal, I guess, and I certainly enjoyed the celebrations," he says. "But it is in the past now. You have to move on, there are fresh challenges ahead."
Uppermost among them, one suspects, is to fully convince himself he has not taken a step down from the mighty Barcelona just to earn big but win relatively little in England. Unlike at least one of his cosmopolitan team-mates, Toure has bought into the City project to the extent of wanting to make it work. "It is impossible to replicate Barcelona," he says. "They are out on their own and probably will be for some time. They have the best player in the world in Messi and he is still young. But we can try to be like them.
"We must work hard and keep improving, but if we keep bringing in fantastic players we can hope that one day we will be as fantastic to watch."
Sunday Indo Sport
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