Only Yaya Toure knows why he is silently standing by as Dimitri Seluk destroys his Man City legacy
They do say that when Dimitri Seluk alleged in 2014 that the birthday greetings offered to his client Yaya Toure by Manchester City were unforgivably low-key, the player himself had never even mentioned the issue before it was pushed to the forefront by an agent eager to create a scene.
That was soon after City’s second Premier League title, when Toure was still one of the main men and long before his public casting-out this week, that has left him very much free at weekends to do what he likes, be it shopping, golf, cinema, or playing Pokemon Go with Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Now, as in 2014, Seluk, with his declaration of war on Pep Guardiola, has delivered Toure the kind of problems that would be grounds for the end of an agent-client relationship. Now, as then, Toure’s attitude towards the problem has been ambiguous to say the least.
He could have shut it down by severing all ties with the man trash-talking the most famous manager in the world – but as of Wednesday evening he had chosen not to do so. Given that this was a footballer who once spent a day off on a glad-handing tour of London newspaper offices, independent of City’s PR department, one can only assume that he takes his public image seriously.
That he has been in no rush to repair the damage done by Seluk’s outburst, and the longer it goes on, the more you draw the conclusion that all or part of it must have Toure’s endorsement. Paul Lake the former City captain, addressed the painful aspect of all this for the club’s supporters when he apportioned the lion’s share of the blame to Seluk, a “vacuous moron,” Lake tweeted, “who seems hell bent on annihilating Yaya Toure’s legacy that he’s built at #mcfc”.
Of course, Lake is right in the sense that Seluk has the most to gain by Toure moving in January and the least to lose from an undignified parting of the ways after six years at City.
But the uncomfortable truth is that Toure has had more than one opportunity to stop all this and decided against it, just as in 2014 he first distanced himself from Seluk before tweeting that “everything dimitry [sic] said is true.”
One argument Toure is likely to frame in this comprehensive snookering by Guardiola is that the player was not made aware of the ultimatum that his return to the first team was contingent on Seluk apologising, ahead of the City manager’s public announcement on Tuesday.
He has a point that he should have been forewarned but City might consider that, given all they have let slide with Seluk, it was one privilege he would not be afforded. It is obvious what Toure must do if he wants to save his City career and have the kind of final season that would allow all concerned to celebrate his often game-changing effect on the life of the club he joined in 2010.
Yet what no-one seems able to explain is the strength of the relationship between player and agent that has survived every crisis Seluk has thrust it into. The boy from the Ivory Coast brought over to Europe by his Ukrainian fixer – they are a strange double act, but then football has a habit of creating some unlikely player-agent partnerships. There are some footballers who would sooner leave their wife than their agent given all that agent knows - from their credit card PIN, to their deepest insecurities, to their high court injunctions.
At their best, an agent is a footballer’s eyes and ears in the world that exists around the game. That being, a constant source of information on the options that are available to a client in the course of their short but lucrative careers – the clubs that want them, the clubs that do not, exactly what the going rate is for a player of their level and a strategy as to how to earn it. After all, Guardiola’s brother Pere is an agent of some success, representing Luis Suarez among others.
The story that best exemplifies the role of a good agent was told to me by a former pro who went into that business himself.
Years after retirement he bumped into an acquaintance who revealed to him that Brian Clough had wanted to sign him at Nottingham Forest but, blocked at square one by the player’s club manager, never took the interest any further.
It is precisely in order to access that kind of information and avoid missed opportunities of a lifetime that a player with a mind to move clubs relies on the services of a good agent as naturally as one would rely on a conveyancing solicitor in order to move house.
What is always strange is when that loyalty exceeds the kind of embarrassment that Seluk has visited upon Toure these last two years. The sad truth for Toure is that any birthday cake-related activity involving candles, singing or presents within the aegis of the Premier League will, for some time to come, have to be accompanied by a picture of the Ivorian looking sad or excluded or both.
It is one of those rules of the modern game that whatever you might do on the pitch, incidents of perceived greed or gross lack of self-awareness are remembered as long as the good and the bad of matchday.
There must be a very good reason why the player himself chooses to side with his agent rather than move him aside and get on with the business of playing for a manager who, by his own admission, has no personal issue with Toure beyond the counsel he takes.
Seluk may well be annihilating the relationship with City but Toure is the man standing aside as he does so, and only he knows why.