Yaya Toure's negative words on Pep Guardiola cloud his Manchester City departure
The midfielder's frustration at being a peripheral figure in club's record-breaking season behind outburst
At the very least, there may be a strange sense around the Yaya Toure training pitch at the Etihad Campus.
It is probably safe to assume, too, that only the second man given a lifetime season ticket at Manchester City – Pablo Zabaleta was the first – will not be using his any time soon.
Certainly, the scenes after Toure’s final City game, when he was mobbed by his teammates and his bouncing brother Kolo, take on a different feel now.
Yet there was no panic at City when Toure’s remarkable interview with France Football was published: partly because there is the awareness that his allegations about Pep Guardiola, while unsavoury, are unfounded and partly because they have been wearily accustomed to occasional outbursts. This was not the first.
The contradiction is that Toure spoke eloquently, at length and without criticising his manager, a month ago. The majority of his most outspoken and controversial comments tend to come in French, even if most of the more outlandish things about him – like 2014’s ludicrous birthday-cake saga – often stem from his preposterous agent.
Dimitri Seluk hates Guardiola and can exert a strange hold over Toure so it is tempting to wonder if his hand is behind this.
“He is crazy sometimes,” Toure said of Seluk in May. “Sometimes I think I [should] just leave him alone because when sometimes you say the things you don’t want to say and after that you regret it.” This has the feel of one of those times.
Certainly some of the arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. Toure stated that Guardiola wanted to succeed with “his players” when, at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, he prospered with a core that he inherited.
The most damaging charges concerned race. A majority of what is arguably City’s strongest side – Kyle Walker, Vincent Kompany, Fabian Delph, Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling – is either black or mixed-race; Sane and Kompany have African fathers.
There has been scant evidence of discrimination as most, led by Sane and Sterling, have taken their games to a new level under Guardiola.
He has been both educator and meritocrat. Indeed, if he had a bias against Toure, he would not have given him a new contract in 2017. Were he to have an issue with Africans, he would not be so keen to sign Riyad Mahrez.
Perhaps Toure’s most telling thought was: “I would have liked to leave with emotion of this club as could Iniesta or Buffon. But Pep prevented me.”
Andres Iniesta and Gianluigi Buffon departed Barcelona and Juventus respectively while retaining their pivotal roles in the team. Toure was downgraded as City assembled one of the great midfields seen in English football: Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Fernandinho.
He was displaced at Barcelona, too, but by Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. There were few flaws in that midfield. If Guardiola harmed his career, it was only because the alternatives were superlative.
So his words may be those of a man slighted. He made a solitary Premier League start this season. Major players, from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Joe Hart, have been sacrificed at points by Guardiola. His job entails selecting sides and those he has picked often prevail.
Last season, City collected 97 points, enough for a divisional record in itself, in the games Toure did not begin. They scarcely suffered by sidelining a player who retains his technical excellence but has lost the physical power that made him such a formidable figure.
Yet frustration can spill over for a man who feels he is sometimes denied the credit he deserves and while Toure’s playing legacy remains enviable, his words occasionally cloud the picture.
Updated: June 5, 2018 06:27 PM