The Ivory Coast, over the last decade or so, has had a number of wonderful footballers establish them on the international stage – the biggest is probably Didier Drogba. For me, one of the first names to gain prominence was Kolo Touré, who formed the backbone of Arsenal’s defense before his recent move to Manchester City. While Kolo is a great player, it is his youngest brother, Gnégnéri Yaya Touré, who stands out for me.
I’m not sure where I first came across him, but it was more than likely at the 2006 Africa Cups of Nations were he formed the heart of Cote D’Ivoire’s midfield – tough, no-nonsense yet creative and calm. The 27 year old defensive midfielder started his career as a 13 year old at the legendary Asec Mimosas Youth Academy where he stayed until 2001 when he secured a professional contract with Belgian side KSK Beveren. He left Belgium for the Ukraine in 2003, playing with Metalurh Donetsk for a year and a half. A year with Olympiacos was followed by a year at Monaco and, in 2007, signed with the Catalan giants, FC Barcelona for 9 million Euros.
Interestingly enough, it is said that he failed to secure a contract with Arsenal in the 2005/2006 pre-season trial period. Arsenal’s loss has been Barcelona’s gain and Yaya formed a critical part of the team that made history last year as the first Spanish side to win the treble – La Liga, Copa Del Rey (Spanish Cup) and the UEFA Champions League – as well as the Supercopa de España (Spanish Supercup), UEFA Supercup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
I sincerely believe that every side needs that hard man, the defensive midfielder who gives the more creative playmakers the room to do what they do and Yaya Touré is perfect in that role. He serves as the link between defense and midfield with play often going through him. He is more than adequate at this with the occasional deft pass or purposeful run through the opposition. He has also been known to score some scorchers.
This season, he hasn’t had as much of an opportunity in Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona as he did last season and there have been some murmurs that he wants to leave because of a lack of playing time – it is World Cup year and Ivory Coast has qualified. As yet, he is committed to the Catalans till 2012 and will undoubtedly have the chance to showcase his immeasurable talent.
In the thick of things at the Africa Cup of Nations (as part of a team considered favourite to win the Cup) and, more than likely, the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Yaya Touré, regardless of what happens during this transfer season, is definitely one of Africa’s Football Finest.