Monday 23 April 2018

Comment: Is Yaya Toure man enough to dismiss his agent for the malevolent idiot he is?

Guardiola happens to have an acute hatred of all type of interference from agents, fathers and father/agents - so this is most unwelcome for the Catalan

Yaya Toure of Manchester City
Yaya Toure of Manchester City

Ian Herbert

To reach an understanding of why Yaya Toure, one of the finest Premier League players of the past five years, has allowed his Ukrainian agent Dimitri Seluk to go unchecked as he eviscerates and offends Manchester City on a near monthly basis, it is necessary to go back to central Ukraine in the early years of the last decade.

Seluk was vice president of Metalurh Donetsk, a club which had just come under the ownership of a billionaire Ukrainian industrialist, who allowed Seluk to take a punt on half a dozen young Africans. Among them was Toure, a young Ivorian who had found a cool reception on trial at Arsenal and ultimately failed to secure a work permit here.

The large entrepreneur with a dodgy dress sense was Toure’s golden ticket to wealth and since his formative years entailed selling newspapers on roadsides and shining shoes with his brother, he has never forgotten that - even when his move to City more than cancelled the debt. Seluk’s cut is thought to have been a cool £5m.

It is hard to overstate how desperate City were to take on Toure, Seluk’s golden egg, when in 2010 they looked for the big names who would not only make them winners but also legitimise them as a football club for whom winners would sign.

As the club toured South Africa in the summer of 2009, they were convinced John Terry was coming to be their captain until it turned out that he’d played them for a new contract. That was the summer a senior City executive knocked on Seluk’s hotel room door in Rome to discuss the idea of buying Toure. "Manchester City?" he scoffed. "Why should he leave Barcelona for you?"

“£220,000-a week” was the answer. Toure arrived a year later and the imbalance in the relationship between City and the agent has continued for the past six years, with Seluk singling out individual members of its executive and coaching team – Brian Marwood, Txiki Begiristain and Manuel Pellegrini: all good people - for personal attacks.

Pep Guardiola speaks with substitute Yaya Toure of Manchester City

No birthday cake, not enough photographs on display, not enough money: the insults kept arriving and yet so did Seluk, too. It was not entirely unusual to see him around the place at Manchester City, furthering the interests of his player.

City knew that this was the baggage that came with their accelerated road to the top. One who witnessed all of this behind the scenes says yes, Toure would be a little sheepish when the dust had settled on a birthday cake controversy.

But never terribly sheepish. It never seemed to dent his loyalty to his “Papushka” – or ‘second father’ as he likes to call Seluk.

It was when Pep Guardiola arrived in town that Seluk’s extreme intellectual limitations seriously revealed themselves. A little intelligence would have told him to tread carefully here, because there is previous between the two of them from Toure’s Barcelona years.

When Guardiola began to prefer Sergio Busquets to Toure in the Barca side, Seluk went public and made it personal, ridiculing Alexander Hleb as the only midfielder Guardiola would sooner have left. Of course, Toure was the one who wound up in the departure lounge.

Guardiola happens to have an acute hatred of all type of interference from agents, fathers and father/agents. He fell out spectacularly with Bojan Krkic because he didn’t like what he felt was pressure from Bojan Snr. He sees the player-coach relationship as sacrosanct and not one to be aired in the press or via intermediaries.

There were certainly discussions between Guardiola and Toure when the Spaniard arrived this summer though Seluk has not been around the club to ascertain much about them. The only time City ran into him lately was at the Champions League draw in Monaco, where Seluk keeps one of his homes.

Seluk went nuclear again anyway, accusing Guardiola of humiliating his player by omitting him from his Champions League squad. Guardiola calmly responded publicly this week to say that the Ukrainian must apologise if his player wants to play for City ever again. How blissful to hear the cool assuredness of a manager who will not allow his club to be in thrall of a player.

The complacent swagger of both agent and player have become little less than a disgrace in the past 18 months, given Toure’s increasingly fitful contributions.

What you wondered, as Seluk sought out the cameras to vent his spleen this week, was whether Toure just might finally have it within him to call out this individual as the malevolent individual he is; to apologise and to say: ‘He doesn’t speak for me.”

To do so requires putting from his mind the idea that clinging steadfastly to this individual will buy both of them one more payday – perhaps in China, where a four-time African player of the Year would carry some serious cachet.

He doesn’t need the money, though, and he certainly doesn’t need a second father. He is no longer the ingénue, rejected by England. He is comfortably the more cerebral of the two of them, with his fluency in four or five languages and his easygoing manner.

To speak now would require humility, dignity and in the circumstances no little courage, though it would allow Manchester City’s fans to remember Yaya Toure with pride as the one who took a leap into the unknown and did more than anyone to make their side great again. To let things ride would be easier, confirming that the man who took City for £1m a month and then laughed in their face was actually in it for the money - nothing more. Guardiola will not be holding his breath

Independent News Service

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