Yaya Touré believes his greatest achievement at Manchester City was helping the club replace Manchester United as the pre-eminent domestic force, pointing to his 2011 FA Cup semi-final winner against their great rivals as a pivotal moment.
The Ivorian will be handed a rare start by Pep Guardiola for Wednesday night’s visit of Brighton & Hove Albion, Touré’s last home game for City before he departs the club. Since joining from Barcelona in 2010 for £24m, the 34-year-old has won three Premier League titles, the FA Cup and two League Cups. In all City have won seven major trophies during Touré’s eight years, replacing United as the most successful team in the country.
Asked if being a major factor in the role reversal was his greatest success, Touré said: “To be honest, yes. That’s true, when I came to City, for them to be a big club, we had to put them in the shadow. We cannot compare – they have so many trophies, so many Champions League finals. But that was the purpose. To come to City, to put United in the shadow, although that was always going to be difficult.”
Touré pointed to his semi-final goal as key in the power shift from United to City. “The semi-final was a big part of it. I’d been in touch with Rio [Ferdinand, then at United], one of my big brothers – as a player and as a person. When I scored that goal, of course he was angry but it was a message – they knew City was going to come. United was in our way – we had to remove them, they were such a force, they won the league that year. To come to the game, they had such confidence, they thought they were going to beat us.
“I’ll never forget it, they missed big chances. At half-time we were nearly fighting in the dressing room. It was that we had to go out and play like men – or we go home again and say to Khaldoon [al-Mubarak, the City chairman]: ‘Thank you, we’ve eaten the money but we move on, this club will never achieve.’ We had that chat and you saw a different City in the second half.”
Touré vowed to play like a gladiator should he face City in future, though he will not celebrate should he score against the club. In a mark of respect to the midfielder, a pitch at the training facility has been named after him, with a mosaic of Touré also created and placed alongside.
“That’s my view, if you let me go, I [may] have to face you. I’m a big fan of the Gladiator movie – I’d have to win,” he said. “I would never celebrate a goal against them. I don’t want to face them but if I want to stay in the Premier League I will have to.”
But having claimed in 2015 that his achievements in England have not been properly recognised, the four-times African player of the year reiterated his opinion and said United’s Paul Pogba often suffers from the same perception. “Maybe when I am retired from football I will have more respect,” Touré said. “What I have achieved and what I have done, I don’t think I get enough.
“That is why I am a little bit sad because people put a lot of pressure on Paul Pogba. We are different. When you see the type of run [I do], how many times you can do it, box to box, and be able to start the ball from defence and be able to finish as well. And in how many games in the Premier League, Champions League, national team, the travelling, and not have an injury for many years [you can see what I did].”
Touré also claimed his fierce dedication at City once even raised his wife’s suspicions. He said: “People don’t how dedicated I was. This football club was my first wife to be honest. Even my wife knew it. She sometimes thought I was seeing different girls – of course I’ve been seeing different girls [City]. She was thinking that because I was going home and I had my computer on and I watch games.
“I’m going to miss my team-mates, I’m going to miss my little Sterling, my little Sané. They look like my babies.”
Nemanja Matic, formerly at Chelsea but now one of Pogba’s United team-mates, was the player Touré identified when asked to name his hardest opponent. “Matic, I hate him, this bastard,” he said, jokingly. “He’s such a difficult player to play against. Tall, strong as well. It’s been fun to play against him, even though it’s difficult. To be able to find an opponent to play against me and stop me, there’s few of them, but Matic was one of the close ones who was able to create me problems.”