Yaya Toure won the game single-handedly for Manchester City on Saturday but he will not be involved this week when City fly to Germany to face Borussia Monchengladbach. Toure, of course, was left out of the Champions League squad by Pep Guardiola back in September. Even after his Selhurst Park heroics, he is still in a strange position: one of City’s most respected, experienced and well-paid players, but still only on the fringe of Guardiola’s plans.
So far this season Guardiola has built his midfield around Fernandinho, Kevin de Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan, with David Silva and Fernando involved as well. Now he has Toure, arguably one of the most important players in City’s history, to call on too.
Guardiola said that Toure would allow him to rotate more in midfield. He will certainly not go back to being as important as he was in his glory days four years ago. City have power and goals through the middle but it comes from De Bruyne instead. But on Saturday Toure played between De Bruyne and Fernandinho in midfield, scoring both City goals as well as adding some presence and calm against a very direct powerful opponent. He will certainly be able to contribute that again over the next few months, especially when the fixtures pile up over Christmas.
All Toure wants to do now is to play football again. He has certainly not enjoyed his long exile from the first team but feels now like he can contribute more than he has done for some time. Toure feels fully injury free for the first time in two years. He has lost the weight that Guardiola told him to back in July. Guardiola said on Saturday evening that Toure was in the shape of his life and it certainly appeared that way watching him play that afternoon.
To hear Guardiola and Toure speaking about each other was to remember that the pair, despite everything, are very close. Guardiola repeated post-match that he was delighted for Toure’s family now he is back in the team. Guardiola, of course, coached Toure at Barcelona in 2008-09 and 2009-10. Although Toure eventually left for Manchester City in 2010, Guardiola never wanted him to. There has never been a personal issue between Toure and Guardiola, although the relationship between Dimitry Selcuk and Guardiola is another story, and is the cause of Toure’s strange estrangement this season.
“I spoke in the last month, many times with Yaya because he was my player with Barcelona, I know him very well,” Guardiola said. “He’s not a guy who I just know from now. So I know what he is like a player. As a player there is no doubt. If there was a doubt he would not be here. There’s no doubt about that.”
If Toure continues to do well then Guardiola will have two decisions to make. The first concerns the Champions League squad for the tournament’s knock-out rounds. City can change their list after the group phase, providing they qualify. Guardiola said that in December, after the group phase, he would take a serious look at the make-up of the squad for the knock-out rounds that start in late February.
“He is another guy to compete with our midfield players and increase our level,” Guardiola said. “Of course now he’s not able to play on Wednesday, in the last game against Celtic. If we are able to qualify in the Champions League, after, I will sit with my staff and we will decide who are the best players to help us to achieve in the Champions League games.”
The next question for City, if Toure does very well, concerns his contract. This is his last year and the expectation was that he would leave next summer, seven years after joining. There have been very lucrative offers from China but Toure would rather stay in the Premier League if he can. There could come a point, if Toure does very well, when City will consider extending his stay by another year. But that is a long way away yet.
For now City and Guardiola just have to update their plans, to account for the fact that, one third of the way through the season, they have finally have Toure back. Not that it means Guardiola regrets taking the stance that he did, a question he firmly denied. “I’m here to take decisions,” Guardiola said. “Maybe I make mistakes, but I have to take decisions. I respect that all the people cannot agree with me. I can accept that.”Reuse content