Tuesday 20 March 2018

Players' ambition the driving force behind City surge

Paul Hayward

Whatever outlandish sum Manchester City are paying Yaya Toure seemed like buttons as their great marauding warrior drove them to the edge of a first league title for 44 years.

A critical mass of natural-born winners -- Vincent Kompany is another -- are lifting Manchester United's shadow over England's richest club.

Toure is the big-earning Barcelona discard who was meant to be emblematic of City's recklessness.

To the club's critics, the £250,000 a week he was said to be earning was pure vulgarity with no higher purpose than advertising the owner's home country on sport's global billboard.

It was all a mission to buy the Premier League title and plant the trophy in the sands of Abu Dhabi. Players were being hired at random to demonstrate Sheikh Mansour's spending power, and there could be little hope of the melting pot ever working fully.

The scorer of both goals in yesterday's tense encounter on Tyneside arrived for £24m two years ago, with many sceptics saying he was overweight and overpriced. But City knew what they were up to.

One of Toure's deepest qualities was his need to win -- a compulsion picked up, no doubt, during his three years at Barcelona. These urges were noted by City's recruitment department and explain the eye-moistening salary.

For all the money City have lavished over the past few years on the artistry of David Silva and Sergio Aguero, it is the strong men of the side who are forcing United's crosstown rivals over the line.

City took a giant step back to the summit for the first time since Bell, Summerbee and Lee were in their pomp the moment Roberto Mancini took off Samir Nasri, sent Nigel de Jong on to mind the safe and pushed Toure forward to smash down Newcastle's defences.

Toure was like a magnificent tank with the handbrake suddenly released.

You might say he rumbled through the heart of Newcastle's team but he is a lot more elegant than that. Rarely has such a big player been able to glide so smoothly.

With the game in front of him, he scatters and evades in equal measure. There is a sense of inevitability about his surges. Not since Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira has a midfielder with defensive talents been able to switch into such a destructive attacking mode.

His first goal came eight minutes after his redeployment as a No 10 and was no desperate smash from outside the box. With a slice of the Newcastle net visible, he pretty much passed the ball past Tim Krul.

Nineteen minutes later a counter-attack that started with a meaty clearing header by Kompany found Toure on the edge of Krul's six-yard box, where he killed off Newcastle's late revival with a left-foot finish. Kompany and Toure are heading for the Mount Rushmore of City legends.

What fun Papiss Cisse had been having at the expense of English defences until he ran into the mighty Kompany, who can head, tackle, block, close-off, out-sprint and move the ball with equal certainty. Cisse's magnificent pair against Chelsea would not be repeated on Kompany's patch.

Outsiders have wrung a lot of comedy from City's attempts at mass integration. Tevez's antics and Mario Balotelli's oddball act have kept us amused.

There have been fights on the training ground and bust-ups between players and Mancini. At times it looked as if money was failing in its sacred duty to deliver the title and was instead undermining everything from within.


But if you look past the profligacy and the curfew-violations, you can see a formidable core of players who want more for their efforts than a mansion in Cheshire and a car that would not look out of place in F1.

Some of those from warmer climes will feel they need trophies to justify living in the north-west of England rather than Spain or Italy. Either way, no-one can accuse City of gratuitous hoovering. They have instilled a spirit and a purpose as well.

At no time was that mission more endangered than when Toure was absent at the Africa Cup of Nations. They missed his power, his locomotion and his ability to get them out of trouble.

With his two La Liga titles and one Champions League medal, Toure seems to see possibilities on the pitch where others see roadblocks. He is never stressed by a clock ticking down or daunted by the opposition throwing bodies in his path.

A match-saver and a match-winner, he is blessed with a rare ability to choose his moment and then go forth and execute.

City were eight points behind United last month and are now one victory against QPR away from a victory that will shape English football for years.

You never know, Sheikh Mansour may even fly over to watch. His tally of games seen at a place that has cost him the best part of £1bn is still only one (against Liverpool).

This remains the most bizarre statistic in all of football. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport