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Why the imminent, painful departure of Manchester City legend Yaya Toure is only now hitting home


Why the imminent, painful departure of Manchester City legend Yaya Toure is only now hitting home

The Ivorian is arguably the club's most influential player of all-time and his exit will be an emotional one.

THIS season was always going to be a farewell tour of English football for Yaya Toure and the likelihood was it would be undertaken from the back seat, with the great man appearing only every so often to regally wave.

The scarcity of his involvement became depressingly clear as early as September when Pep Guardiola was asked why his aging powerhouse had yet to make an appearance. “I spoke with him and he knows the reason why but it’s between him and me”. It was a response that simultaneously clarified and mystified, revealing that the fractious relationship between the greatest City manager since Joe Mercer and the greatest City midfielder since Colin Bell, was once again in a slump but drawing a veil over precisely why. Was the player’s thoroughly disagreeable agent Dimitry Seluk in any way responsible? Had Toure’s application in training been minimal? Guardiola’s comments only became more ambiguous when pressed further. “It depends on the player,” he answered archly, before confirming that the Ivorian’s absence from the Etihad centre-circle was not due to ‘sporting’ reasons.

From the multitude of questions this exchange prompted, the easiest to explain away was how Blues were able to take the news relatively in their stride. To employ a possibly belittling analogy given the man’s stature and achievements at the club, consider your household Wi-Fi going awry for a couple of weeks. Well that would be a personal disaster; arguably the worst thing to happen to any individual in the long history of the world. No Twitter! No Netflix! Now imagine finding out second-hand that your Wi-Fi has gone kaput while you’re holidaying in the sunny delights of Florida.

When the latest instalment of Pep v Yaya sprung up from nowhere, City fans were wandering jaws-to-the-floor around a footballing Disneyland, bedazzled by the sights and somewhat detached from the rigmaroles of reality because what they were witnessing from their football team wasn’t reality, or at least not how we previously knew it. Of course, that softened the blow and of course that allowed us to put the descent in the pecking order of a legend, who was only ever going to be a peripheral figure anyway, into a mental filing cabinet marked ‘To worry about at a later date’.

Six months on and that date has arrived.

Two things happened to me recently that hauled the carcass of a saga that is Yaya’s fading prominence in east Manchester to the front and centre of my thinking. The first incident was during a podcast, when I was asked to predict City’s starting line-up against Arsenal. With Fernandinho injured I put forward Ilkay Gundogan as the likeliest candidate to patrol the midfield base but suggested too that Guardiola might get a little funky with his selection. Maybe John Stones would be temporarily reimagined in a holding role?

“What about Yaya,” the host asked and in that moment I was floored, having briefly forgotten the very existence of arguably the most impactful and important figure in Manchester City’s decade-long transformation from there to here. A lingering hangover could only be blamed for a portion of my oversight. The rest was on me and subsequently I was consumed by guilt. It felt like somebody had asked what I would grab first in the event of a house-fire and I’d elected the toaster ahead of a favourite son.

This guilt directly led to a more gradual but equally disturbing realisation. That is, barring an extraordinary injury crisis, we are now reliant on a sentimental selection before the season’s end to ever again see this colossus propelled by physics and size 13 feet in a sky blue jersey. All of Yaya’s seven starts this term have come in the Carabao Cup and Champions League, with five of them against Championship sides or in ‘dead rubbers’. From now until May, there will be no more Championship sides or dead rubbers. Added to this is the undeniable fact that in these encounters the 34-year-old has hardly excelled, slowing play down to a testimonial tempo and in doing so allowing a pathway through to a defence set up for attack.

It was once the norm, en route to two league titles, an FA Cup, and two League Cups, for Toure to maraud with such power and dominance that he could change his mind or make a mistake and still not lose possession of the ball. Whereas his ninety minute stroll against Basel last week amounted to a venerable lion licking his paws and surveying a kingdom he once ruled. It was a sad sight but not altogether so: his past majestic glories lent a dignity to his easy ambling.

I wrongly believed that I had a handle on the imminent departure of this ginormous hero of mine. The stupendous football on display every Wednesday and Saturday afforded me the luxury of pragmatism and with that pragmatism came a denial that it would hurt. Now though, reality has bitten and bitten hard, because conceivably there may only be one more occasion – an indulgence by Pep perhaps against Huddersfield on the final home game of the campaign - for him to roll back the years and for us to roll back our love. Then he will be gone. City’s finest midfielder since Colin Bell. City’s most consequential player since forever.

I’m not ready yet for a farewell of that magnitude. I’m not prepared. To my shame I was too distracted by the wonderment that he himself germinated.


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