Yaya Toure’s journey in football hasn’t been a simple one. Whereas some players are fast-tracked to the top from an early age, others have to find unconventional routes to the pinnacle of the game. Toure, widely regarded as one of the Premier League’s most impressive players since his arrival at Manchester City in 2010, has had to fight his way to greatness.
He started in the ASEC Mimosas, the Ivory Coast’s top youth academy and the best platform for the country’s brightest young talents to make their way to Europe. Toure stood out, even among some impressive alumni, and was eager to get his career under way. A brief period with a professional side in his homeland saw him grow frustrated and he returned to the academy to continue his development - and interest from abroad began to increase.
Arsene Wenger tried to sign him for Arsenal in 2003 after trial game against Barnet, but his lack of international caps meant he couldn’t secure a work permit and the move fell through. Aged 20 and desperate for a chance at a European side, he signed for side Metalurh Donetsk and after 18 months he was on his way to Greece to ply his trade alongside Rivaldo at Olympiakos where he helped them to a domestic double.
His career was gaining momentum, but he was by no means satisfied yet.
After appearing at the 2006 World Cup, where he played every game for Ivory Coast, Monaco, City’s opponents in this week’s Champions League last 16, signed him for around £5 million. He only stayed at the Stade Louis II for one year – but in that time he managed to prove he was a huge talent.
Things didn’t start well for Toure in Ligue 1, though. Laszlo Boloni, then Monaco manager and the man who had sanctioned the purchase of Toure, played the Ivorian out of position, if at all. He often deployed Toure in wide areas and seemed unconvinced by his quality. Monaco made a disastrous start to the season and found themselves second bottom, with Toure contemplating his future just weeks after signing for the club.
However, Boloni was soon sacked - a crucial juncture in Toure’s career. He was replaced by assistant boss Laurent Banide, who made it a personal mission to not only rescue Monaco from their position near the foot of the table, but to help Toure reach his full potential as a central midfielder.
We talked together and it’s a guy who is very endearing and is very clever. We managed to put him back on his feet
“It’s true that Yaya had few issues at the start of the season,” Banide says in an exclusive interview with ManCity.com. “We talked together and it’s a guy who is very endearing and is very clever. We managed to put him back on his feet.
“He was doubting himself a bit in the beginning and it was also his first year in France. We did our maximum to allow him to give 100 percent of his potential. We had many one-to-one conversations and developed a good understanding of each other.
“It was important for me to speak with him a lot and help him to develop his full potential. It always has been a pleasure to talk with him. It’s a player and a man I am proud to have known.”
Banide recognised Toure’s talents, identifying him as a potential match-winner. Toure’s physical attributes have always been clear – his pace, power and stamina make him one of the most complete midfielders to have played in Europe – yet it was the subtler elements of his game that impressed Banide.
“What really picked up my interest was that he was a very intelligent player, very at ease technically speaking, very good with his passes and very good in one-to-one situations,” he says. “So he was a player who managed to make a difference either with his passes, either by running with the ball.
“He really brought us a lot. He became a player that was almost vital for us.
“He clearly had the abilities to play at the highest level. He brought us a lot with his technical ability, his intelligence. His huge potential was obvious.”
Toure’ influence at Monaco was clear. He was their most consistent performer and a flurry of goals in the final weeks of the season helped steer them to ninth in the table. What had started as worrying campaign that seemed destined to end with Monaco being relegated had been saved, with Toure's brilliance a key aspect.
“It was a great season for everybody because we were in a difficult situation,” Banide says. “We were second last in the table and we ended the season ninth. So we had a run of good results and we managed to bring together the players.
He has the ability to dribble, move fast forward and score beautiful goals.
“It was a time when we had a lot of International players. We succeed to create an atmosphere to get the results we needed to move further up in the table.
“Yaya was a very important player in the squad. He really brought us a lot due to his quality, his technical ability, his intelligence and his goals. He has the ability to dribble, move fast forward and score beautiful goals.
“Game after game he really mastered his football with his intelligent passing, quality and simplicity. It was a player that was able to be very simple on the ball and also to burst forward, dribble past three players and make the difference. He brought us a lot in midfield.”
Toure’s move to Barcelona saw him spend three seasons at the Camp Nou, winning two La Liga titles, a Champions League, a Copa del Rey, a UEFA Super Cup and a FIFA World Club World Cup. He was now where he always felt he should have been: at a top European club and proving his worth.
City swooped for him in 2010 and since then he has established himself on the list of the Club’s greatest ever players. He has won two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups and helped them reach the semi-finals of last season’s Champions League. He's scored a number of vital goals along the way and few, if any, can claim to have had the impact Toure has had at City since the Club’s takeover in 2008.
In recent weeks he’s moved into a deeper midfield role, similar to the one he occupied at Barcelona, and excelled and Banide believes he can go on for years to come.
“I am very happy to see the beautiful career he has had,” he says. “I believe he still has enough in his legs to have a few more wonderful years in front of him. I wish him all the best and want to see him continue to bring us joy when he is on the pitch.
“When you look at his career, it’s true that he is a player that has settled in very quickly in many clubs. It’s a form of intelligence to have the ability to adapt in different countries and in in each club you go.
“That reveals the intelligence of a player because you need to be smart to adapt and also have the quality. Each time he had raised his game and he managed to become a vital player for each team he played for.”