On May 6, 2012, Yaya Touré single-handedly kept the dream alive of bringing the first league title to Manchester City in 44 years. His impeccable curling effort from well-outside the box against Newcastle United that day meant City would enter the final matchday even with Manchester United on points but ahead on goal-differential. A week later, in what is considered one of the best Premier League matches of all time, Yaya assisted Pablo Zabaleta to open the scoring for City en route to their 3-2 title-clinching win over Queens Park Rangers.
Since Guardiola has assumed managerial duties at City, the Ivorian’s role could best be described as… perplexing. The turmoil was truly cemented for the four-time African Footballer of the Year when he was not named in City’s Champions League for group stage matches. Fast-forward through months of verbal spats between Guardiola and Touré’s manager Dimitri Seluk, and Yaya still hadn’t seen a Premier League pitch since the 2016 campaign kicked off, never even being named on the bench in the first eleven matches. While the Sky Blues tore through their first string of matches under Pep, and even still while those same players struggled to get a result for a seemingly endless run of matches, Yaya remained quiet while sidelined. While his manager had no problem being in the forefront of the dilemma, Touré's silence left many confused.
Yaya’s deafening silence turned into an explosion of media coverage following his two-goal outing in his first Premier League action since April of this year. With social media and pundits alike scrambling to process not only Yaya’s start, but his performance, the questions for Guardiola following the match were guaranteed to address the relationship.
“I spoke the last months many times with Yaya because he was my player in Barcelona, I know him really well,” Guardiola said. “As a player we have no doubts, if we have doubts he would not be here.”
It’s one thing to have admiration from your manager but it’s another thing to have it from your peers. Bacary Sagna, who emphatically celebrated with Yaya after the final whistle at Selhurst Park on Saturday, had much to say about his squad-mate. “I am very pleased for him because it has not been easy for him in the past few weeks,” the Frenchman said. “He kept working really hard in training, stayed professional, and that was his just reward. Everyone knows his quality, and he showed he is a great player. Everyone was expecting a lot from him and he responded.”
Sagna didn’t fail to acknowledge the relationship between Touré and Pep, either. “The manager showed his confidence in Yaya, and Yaya gave it back to him. Yaya is a great guy and has always been part of the club. Nobody doubts he is a great player, but he showed some character and proved he can be decisive,” the defender said.
Yaya’s quality was never a topic of debate during his months of exile, but people were left wondering of his attitude. “It could have been a difficult situation, but knowing the man I was not surprised to see him achieving the game he played at Palace because he was always respectful to everyone, always professional, and he is always the first one to try to play football, his football,” Sagna stated.
“That’s why he is another guy to compete with the midfield players to increase our levels,” Guadiola said. “Of course now he is not able to play on Wednesday, he is unable to play against Celtic,” stated the manager in a reflective tone. “If we are able to qualify for the Champions League [knockout rounds] after I will sit with my staff and we’ll decide who are the best players to help us to achieve Champions League games.”
Ahead of the round of 16, by midnight on February 1, 2017, clubs can register a maximum of three new players. Regardless of what decision Pep and his staff make, one thing is for certain: Yaya’s loyalty lies with City. If the City legend can maintain the type of mentality he did while never seeing the field, imagine what he can do with that calm, composed demeanor on the pitch.
It’s good to have you back, Yaya.