Wednesday 13 November 2019

Toure happy to be ultimate team player

Kolo Toure
Kolo Toure

Melissa Ruddy

IT IS one of those mad days at Melwood, littered with appearance obligations for some of the Liverpool squad, fresh off an afternoon training session.

Such 'chores' are often unwelcome, especially sandwiched in a flooded fixture schedule, so the players trudge through reception to their commitments.

Bucking the trend, an effervescent Kolo Touré walks in, passing the glass-encased European Cup replica, sporting a black club tracksuit instead of designer threads, and trainers at odds with the Filling Pieces and Gucci footwear the rest are wearing.

"I'm a big star now," he jokes in response to the newspaper interview requests flying into the club's press office following his Africa Cup of Nations triumph with Ivory Coast.

His earlier memories of newspapers are that they were something he sold in his pre-teen years - when he wasn't shining shoes - to provide for his disadvantaged family.

Touré claims not to understand the fuss - a humility not often encountered in modern football fostered by those childhood experiences.

EXPERIENCE

As Liverpool aim to land their eighth FA Cup - with Blackburn the next obstacle in a quarter-final at Anfield tomorrow - Touré's experience could be crucial.

He has three FA Cup winner's medals - two with Arsenal (2003, 2005) and the one in 2011 which ended Manchester City's 35-year wait for silverware - and is itching to win it with Liverpool, too, and so become the first player in history to claim the oldest prize with three clubs - even if it is in a supporting role.

"When you're at a big team like Liverpool, you can't expect to start every game, especially since I was away with Ivory Coast for over a month," he says.

"But I am always ready to contribute whether it's from the bench or in the dressing-room. We have a team that's hungry for success, with exciting young players who I help guide with my experience. The winning mentality is really, really strong."

While Touré was helping his national team end 23 years of Africa Cup of Nations disappointment in Equatorial Guinea, Liverpool underwent a makeover and have taken more points in 2015 than any other side in the top five European leagues.

After 16 games, Liverpool and Everton had the same tally; 12 games later the gap is 23 points in favour of the Anfield outfit. It is a transformation that the defender did not just expect, but counted on.

"I'm not surprised at the turnaround because the manager (Brendan Rodgers) is great, really intelligent in working out problems," Touré says.

"He pays attention to every detail, tries different things, pushes players so you don't get lazy. We had lots of new players coming in, especially young ones from abroad who had to settle in.

"I moved here to England when I was 21 so I know it takes time to fit in, to learn. I knew that eventually it would all come together, and that is what the boss kept telling us. I watched the games while at AFCON, and I could see that we'd be back strong."

Touré has spent 13 years in England's top flight; from Abidjan to Arsenal and then City, before moving to Liverpool.

"I joined the ASEC Mimosas academy when I was 14 - a little later than most of the players did," he says.

"And if you had told me back then that I would go on and play for three of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, I would've laughed.

"It is two different worlds; where I've come from, and where I am now. To be able to go from ASEC to Arsenal was an unbelievable step. You don't find many players who go straight from Africa to the Premier League."

Touré rolls the credits throughout our interview, with "Mr Arsène Wenger, Mr Mark Hughes and Mr Brendan Rodgers" all being repeatedly thanked for believing in his ability.

They have pointed to the 33-year-old's passion and persistence as reasons behind his longevity, with a common thread being commending not just the player, but the man.

"He is a great person. You watch him every day and he works like mad with his commitment," noted Wenger.

Rodgers described him as "a good man with a winning mentality", while Hughes, who signed Touré for City in 2009, said "he's an influential figure".

Touré spent time ensuring effort would set him apart.

"My friends used to train twice a day, so I would do three sessions from the age of 14," he says.

EXTRA

"I'd wake up at 5am to go and run, then do the normal work with everyone and stay behind to do extra. I knew that I had to push myself really hard because I wasn't the most naturally talented."

Touré is now used to over-achieving. He was instrumental for Arsenal during their 'Invincible' season in 2003-04, helped City capture their first Premier League title in 2012 and was also involved as Liverpool dared to dream last season.

Ivory Coast's victory in the Africa Cup of Nations was a fitting way to end his 15-year international career.

With his 34th birthday around the corner, what's next for the cult hero?

"I have started on my coaching badges, it's a big challenge and I'm doing them with the big man Stevie (Steven Gerrard). We have a guy who comes to the club to work on it with us and we're enjoying it."

Football aside, Touré plans to build a house for homeless kids in Ivory Coast.

Typically, he does not want to make a noise about his charity work, but because of his help, those children will not have to sell newspapers and clean shoes to survive. (© Independent News Service)

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