Luis Suarez may have been the choice of his peers and the football writers as player of the season for 2013/14, and he was a worthy winner, but if I was to choose one player from the Premier League around whom to build a team, it wouldn’t be the brilliant Uruguayan.
No, if you put all of the players from the league against the wall and gave me first pick, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure would be the man around whom my team would be built. In 1961, when the great Bill Shankly bought the imposing figure of Ron Yeats to be the bedrock of his first great Liverpool team, he invited a group of reporters into see his latest acquisition. “I’ve just signed a colossus,” said Shanks, “Come in and walk round him…” One can imagine Roberto Mancini having similar thoughts when he secured Toure from Barcelona back in 2010.
I’ve not been a great fan of the impact of billionaire owners on English football, but then without their financial input, perhaps we’d never have gotten to enjoy players of the Ivorian’s calibre week in week out.
Toure was a hit from the off, but it is this season that he has truly excelled. City’s own “colossus” has been by some distance the most compelling midfield player on view this term. His power, presence and graceful touch, his driving runs and the jealous manner in which he keeps the ball sky blue (Toure has an 89% pass completion rate this reason) serve to underline his manager Manuel Pellegrini’s view that he is “a complete midfielder in the way he plays.”
And this season, Yaya has added goals. Lots of goals. His tally of 20 in the Premier League (24 in all competitions) is his best ever in front of goal. In fact, in each of previous three seasons at the Etihad, he never managed more than six in the league and ten in total! Pellegrini must take some credit for the dramatic leap in Toure’s productivity. After last Wednesday’s demolition of Aston Villa, the City manager talked of how Yaya “plays with the freedom to do what he thinks is best for the team.” That “freedom” is the manifestation of the trust the Chilean has in Toure, trust he has repaid in spades.
The Ivorian shipped some criticism in the early part of the season for some lacklustre performances. In fact, I even likened his early season sluggishness to that a pub league player who had a cheeky pint and a full carvery after mass, before rolling out for a junior football match. But when the Ivorian colossus shook off his torpor, critics were made eat their words and Manchester City were thrillingly revitalised.
The Twitter account Yaya Toure Facts amusingly overplays the player’s prodigious strengths. Check it out. Posts like “Yaya Toure once wrote a cheque, and the bank bounced” and “Mistakes learn from Yaya Toure” always raise a smile. After this season, perhaps they might add the following, “Yaya Toure decided to win the league, and City did.” It doesn’t entirely feel like an exaggeration.