Farewell then Yaya Touré, Manchester City’s clanking midfield giant | Barney Ronay

The Etihad Stadium said goodbye to the Ivorian this week and he leaves with the feeling that the Premier League never quite appreciated how good he was at his peak

Being a parent isn’t easy. Over time you just hope you can pass on as many of your own flaws and prejudices, minimise the chances your children might become better, kinder human beings, and trust they can instead spend their lives staring at screens, leaving things on the floor and responding to attempts at conversation with remarks like, “Mmm. He’s doing one of his funnies”.

I think that was the idea anyway. Looking back, the original instructions seem quite vague. It could have been the other way round. Passing on the virtues. Eliminating something else. Who knows. Just, so very tired.

Now and then, however, you do get a helpful nudge along the way, an accidental hand-me-down from some kindly source. It was a moment of proximity to Yaya Touré that helped my eldest son get a first proper bite from football, the kind that stays and sticks, for better or worse, like a low-level dose of flu.

We went to watch Fulham play Manchester City, as an experimental first live game in one of London’s milder grounds. The opening 20 minutes passed in a state of slight unrest, adjusting to the scale and the noise . Eventually City won a free-kick close to goal.

Enter Yaya, pacing out an improbably weird run-up parallel to the 18-yard line, as though trying to sneak up on the ball from out of its eyeline. Finally he came gliding in at his right angle and spanked a dipping white blur into the net, the ball bouncing down with a thrilling thunk off the underside of the bar, directed by a supercharged sweet-spot hidden somewhere close to Touré’s ankle.

There was a hush, followed by a bellow of outraged joy. And that was pretty much that. Football was set fair, implanted in that moment of refined geometry. The eldest still mentions it now and then. Goals have been “almost as good as Yaya’s free-kick”.

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But then the first little hit always stays with you in some form. Glenn Hoddle may pop up behind the TV punditry plinth looking like a charismatic celebrity pension-salesman of the 1980s, now eager to interest you in his successful nine-step personal development plan. But if you witnessed Peak Hod at an impressionable age, he remains just a god-like football genius who floats above such earthly concerns as making sense or not seeming weird.

With any luck the Yaya-ometer, the idea of judging all midfielders on a scale of one to Touré, might just stick around too. As perhaps it should in the wider world, where his City farewell was marked this week by a ripple of polite, slightly distant applauses.

Touré’s last game at the Etihad Stadium ended with a fond in-house ceremony featuring surprise star guest Kolo Touré, who came striding out across the grass in wing collar and no tie like a handsome spy at a polo match. But even in Kolo’s eulogy there was something oddly defiant, a need to insist on the scope and scale of his brother’s status.

Which is odd, given the fact Touré was, in his three-season pomp, the most devastatingly influential midfielder in the past decade of the Premier League. Plus, of course, he was City’s Eric Cantona, the decisive nudge into a trophy-hungry machine. Touré has been the notable constant during the winning span of the wonder years, even that free-kick at Fulham one of 24 goals in English football in a title-winning season.

And yet his influence has been easy to gloss. In the pub-talk punditry roll-call of great midfielders he is often an afterthought, with a tendency to see just the marauding war machine, those moments where he clanks forward like an iron giant, looming above the horizon with a tractor in each hand.

Touré at his best had everything. For two years he was among the top three passers in Europe on the stats, with an ability to dictate the short rhythms, to find the longer pass, to sit and conduct the game from his deeper position.

There were moments of wonderful craft, notably the decisive takedown of one early David Moyes Manchester United midfield, where instead of seeking out the expected collisions, Touré simply skirted around Marouane Fellaini, trusting the old boxing truism that a good big ’un will always beat a slow, confused Belgian.

He became Kevin De Bruyne before Kevin De Bruyne was Kevin De Bruyne, the acme of the driving, scoring, passing midfielder. This isn’t an idle comparison. De Bruyne has 21 goals and 42 assists in 97 City games. In his three peak seasons, Touré dished up 36 goals and 15 assists in the same number of games.

Perhaps Touré suffered a little because of City’s status, an emblem of success dished up as of right. But even this ignores his own extraordinary outsider’s story, the trek from youth football in Côte d’Ivoire, the seven years spent wandering the earth looking for a way in.

As City evolve again, reconditioned into something beautiful and seductive by the supreme publicity coup of appointing Pep Guardiola, it is worth remembering Yaya, who provided his own galvanising force of personality, who sometimes can be difficult (Yaya wants a cake: just give him a cake) but who looks now like an all-star who has perhaps been a little undervalued, his peak years strewn too lightly with flags and flowers.

Contributor

Barney Ronay

The GuardianTramp

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