Yaya Touré says that every Manchester City match is like a cup final. Which should hardly faze a man who won a Wembley semi-final against Manchester United last season by scoring the only goal and then repeated the dose against Stoke City in the final a month later.
If last spring was an exciting time for City, winning a major trophy after 35 years, the early season has held out further promise. The eve of the first derby for many a day that will begin with City sitting on top of the table is no time to rest on laurels. It is instead an appropriate occasion to hear from the man himself.
Yaya is a much taller, more lithe figure than his big brother and clubmate Kolo, almost as animated and with greater awareness than many footballers of where he has come from and the problems that remain there. Like his fellow Ivory Coast player Didier Drogba, he sees football as a uniting force for a divided country in which he is regarded with veneration.
"War has come now," he says, "my country needs help and I think we can give things to the children and help them play football. It's very difficult, because when you're here you see the TV, and your family or some people in your country die, the people you know and who you live with for a long time. When you go back home you see it's not like it was, it is hard sometimes. What we try and do now is go back to the country twice or three times a year and do things for people."
After not being able to afford a pair of football boots until the age of 10, Touré took a well-trodden path out of the Ivorian city Abidjan via a football academy in Belgium and places as far flung as Donetsk, Athens, Monaco and Barcelona. At Barça he played centre-half in the 2009 Champions' League final against Wayne Rooney and United, showing a versatility that means his precise role can rarely be forecast ahead of any game. Today he could sit in front of the back four, seeing plenty of Rooney again, or be pushed further forward, as he was when Roberto Mancini made a tactical change after little more than half an hour of last Tuesday's match against Villarreal.
"Yaya has always played for the top teams," Mancini says, "he has a good mentality, a winning mentality. When you are a top player you can play in every position and for me Yaya is one of the best in Europe. He can play defensive midfielder, second striker or as a defender. He has everything, technically. And he brings a lot of experience. It's important because we have a young team, so one player like Yaya or Gareth Barry is very important to the team."
With Nigel de Jong back from injury, Barry's position today may depend on Touré being further forward – the hope being that Mancini will not dispense with the morepositive approach that hascharacterised City's free-scoring start to the season.Their 27 goals in eight games and United's 25 offer hope of a wide-open game, though tension may breed caution. Given their poor record at Old Trafford, where United have such a rampant one, City would accept a draw, even if Touré and Mancini insist they will not play for one.
"When I signed for this club I was told it was a story waiting to be written, and that's what it feels like," Touré said. "The fans are happy now and the players are too, we want to do something else that's amazing. The players all want to be part of the story at a big club, and this club can become a great club, I'm sure.
"Now we have won the FA Cup and are playing in the Champions' League it is harder, every team wants to beat City, every game is a bit like a cup final. I think in the next few years you will see us win some trophies."
World-wide appeal and world-class stars or not, winning some games at Old Trafford is high on the wish-list of the club's supporters.
Yaya Touré is working with Puma to provide boots and playing kits to underprivileged children in AfricaReuse content