I have a confession to make. When Manchester City signed Yaya Toure in 2010, I described him as ‘a really expensive Carlton Palmer’ in The New Paper in Singapore. In my defence, context conspired against me. Most footballers would look like Carlton Palmer if they were forced to shuffle around behind Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Nevertheless, it remains one of the stupidest things I have ever written. In more dignified times, a chap might consign himself to ten years of silent reflection in a Belgian monastery for a mistake like that. Instead, I bear the burden of my error, forced to cringe every time he steals the show, as he did on Monday night against Manchester United.
Yaya is like a monstrous Victorian experiment run amok, all clanking pistons and steam. He wasn’t born, he was welded together in a soot-coated warehouse in Deptford by a man who was asked to leave his university because he was freaking everyone out. Brought to life by the harnessed power of a bolt of lightning, he rejected his creator’s twisted ideology and slipped his shackles one rainy night striding into the darkness, clank, clank, clank, searching for a new way of life, for acceptance and, perhaps, for himself.
You can’t stop him, you can only hope to evade him, or pray that he is distracted by something shiny. Sir Alex Ferguson’s masterplan was to order Ji-Sung Park to follow him everywhere, but even a player known as ‘three-lungs’ ran out of puff eventually. Yaya is indefatigable. When he picks up a knock, they don’t put him on a stretcher. They call in a team of scaffolders, throw a sheet over him, hit him with a spanner and then send him back into the fray. He makes it look easy. Watch him in the last ten minutes of a game and compare it to the first ten minutes. There’s no difference. He’s still there, happily clanking up and down the pitch. If there were more of him, thousands more, humans would be redundant.
It’s still staggering that his fellow professionals ignored him in their end of season voting. You would think that enough of them have been left trailing in his wake this campaign to know better. Perhaps he is damned by the same perception that forced me to make such a fool of myself when he first arrived. Perhaps they believe that he is simply an athlete in football kit. Perhaps they fear that he has sustained himself by transplanting another set of lungs to his buttocks. On all but the last point, they are wrong. I really can’t rule out the lung transplant.
Yaya is a far better footballer than he appears. Athletes can’t recycle possession as consistently as he does. Athletes don’t have a habit of sending grown men scurrying to the forests in fear as they clank, clank, clank their way in on goal, unleashing fizzing thunderbastards towards the top corner. When he’s in that kind of destructive mood, the best an opposing team can hope for is that he’ll suddenly rust up in the drizzle and grind to a halt, groaning like creaking steel before crashing face down into the sodden turf. But you can’t really rely on that as a tactic.
For all of City’s spending, for all the superstars they have bought, I really think Yaya might have been the most astute purchase. I genuinely love him. And I’m genuinely sorry. He is not a more expensive Carlton Palmer. He’s an exceptional footballer.