Yaya Touré savours Manchester City's title pressure
Midfielder relishes hurly-burly of the Premier League and is undaunted by constant need to win it
Sunday 24 February 2013
The Touré brothers were looking in opposite directions. This week Kolo admitted that he expected to leave Manchester City and had instructed his agent to begin looking for another club. It may be in Istanbul which, with Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder joining Galatasaray, has suddenly become the go-to venue for footballers of a certain age who don't want to say goodbye to the big pay-cheque. However, he hopes to remain in England.
Yaya, at 29, two years his junior, is determined to stay at the Etihad Stadium for longer than the two seasons that remain on his contract. You might suggest that anyone paid £200,000 a week would want to extend their welcome, but there are other places to make money without the draining necessity to win, win, win that has been his life since he joined Barcelona six years ago.
The 3-1 defeat at Southampton a fortnight ago left Roberto Mancini so stupefied by anger that he could not bring himself to enter the away dressing room at St Mary's. He was then hounded by suggestions that, should they be knocked out of the FA Cup by Leeds, Manchester City would be looking for a new manager by Thursday.
You wonder if there is any pleasure in playing under this kind of pressure. By chance Yaya Touré and I are talking in the homely bar at Salford City, where on the wall is a sign that says, "George Best 1946-2005. The Legend Never Dies". One of the many things that undid the boy from Belfast was the constant pressure to perform.
"To be honest, Barcelona are on a different level," Touré said. "They have been there for a long time. Manchester City want to become one of the world's big clubs but to achieve that we have to start from the beginning. We have signed some fantastic players, we had a great year last season and we knew this one might be more difficult. If you are a great sportsman, you need to win everything all the time. And when you are a big club, when you are champions, you will find all the teams suddenly play 100 per cent against you.
"It is part of sport and the pressure from the press is part of sport. They over-analyse but give an opportunity for our fans to be close to the players, to know why we do what we do."
Compared to Ivory Coast, winning with City is easy. Last month, as Manchester United's lead grew remorselessly, the continent's most obviously talented side was once more failing to win the Africa Cup of Nations, something they do with bewildering regularity.
"The African mentality is different from the European," he said . "In our squad all the players are in the first team at big clubs and most people think that because we have big players we can win everything. It is hard to understand Ivory Coast going out in the quarter-finals with the players we have, but in football you have to play harder than the other team to beat them. Sometimes you think if you have Drogba, my brother, Salomon Kalou and Gervinho around you, you'll win automatically. But no, you have to fight."
City's only realistic hope of winning something rests with the FA Cup. Everyone at Eastlands seems to accept that defeat to Chelsea this afternoon will be terminal for their title hopes. The championship, won so breathlessly in May, will have been surrendered by February. "You have to be honest and say that some teams had more hunger than us," Touré said. "Football is not only about being a big player, you have to put all your strength in. When I talk about football with my brother, I say when you're hungry you will give everything. Your name is not enough."
Touré is a different player and a different person to the gangling boy who found himself in Flanders playing for Beveren, a club run by Jean-Marc Guillou, a friend of Arsène Wenger's, who also oversaw the Ivory Coast academy where both brothers graduated. He arrived with no boots, little money and an attitude to succeed.
His physique has filled out since Beveren and so has his football. It is, he said, futile to try to play like Barcelona in England. There is too little time for the style that comes as standard at the Nou Camp. "Here you have to be quick or you'll have Kyle Walker up your back.
"What I love about football in England is that it is so much about running and tackling. The fans are always behind their teams. They cry when they lose. I think that is lovely. Wherever I have gone, I have only ever stayed two or three years but Manchester City feels different. It feels like home."
Yaya Touré wears the Puma King 1FG football boot. Go to www.facebook.com/pumafootball
Out of Africa: 'Don't let Yaya run past you'
It is a big weekend for Chelsea. Beating Manchester City would mean they can move ahead of them into second place next Saturday, as City do not play until Monday. But defeat leaves them vulnerable to Tottenham, who can overtake them by winning at West Ham tomorrow.
Jon Obi Mikel hopes to retain his place in midfield and take on Yaya Touré, a long-standing adversary in Nigeria's rivalry with Ivory Coast. Last month Mikel emerged victorious from the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final against the Ivorians, then won the trophy for the first time since 1994.
"Yaya is always a key player for Man City every time he plays, especially when he plays a little bit up front, not sitting in the middle," says Mikel. "If he starts sitting back, I think that will be good for us but every time he starts charging up front, that's when he's so dangerous.
"You don't let him run past you. It's a case of staying in front of him, just don't commit too much to him. Because once you commit, he goes past you and he's gone."
Manchester City v Chelsea is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm
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