Every young player in the world can learn something from Yaya Toure. He is the archetypal rampaging midfielder that would start for any club side in the world. There is one reason which explains both of these two statements – Yaya Toure is a football journeyman.
This sets him apart from other players. He’s been exposed to an extraordinary amount of football cultures, all of which have made him the player he is today. He has played club football in his native Ivory Coast as well as Belgium, Ukraine, France, Spain and now England. Young players should be encouraged to follow his lead.
After coming through the infamous Mimosas club in the Ivory Coast, Toure signed for Beveren in Belgium. This is where it all started. The trademark physical strength has not always been there. Danny Steur, the fitness coach at Beveren, suggests that “when Yaya came, he was tall but he was not strong. He did a lot of weight training here so he gained muscle. He was weak. After a few months he got stronger and stronger. He liked to work. He was able to protect the ball. And he got more flexible, which is not easy for someone his size.”
In addition to this, regular first team football also helped. A trial at Arsenal failed to materialize in a contract, and Toure moved to Metalurg Donetsk in the Ukraine. Many experts since describe this as a ‘sideways’ move, but this move did wonders for Toure’s professionalism and mental fortitude. As the player himself reveals, “In the Ukraine, I learned that football is actually a job. That’s what I learned there.” Two and a half seasons in, and the traveling man was off again.
Olympiakos, the most successful team in Greece, came calling. By now, Toure had honed his mental and physical attributes, and became familiar with both a Western European style of play and an Eastern European one. It is worth considering just how much a young player could learn from such an apprenticeship, the sheer exposure to different types of opposition to learn from.
At Olympiakos, he learned how to win. Winning a league and playing at the 2006 World Cup for the Ivory Coast, Toure the technician was growing. His all round game developed and he felt it was time to continue the journey. Olympiakos’s then manager Trond Sollied pointed out that “getting him to Greece was a sensation. Physically, he was more mature, he was a harder man after Ukraine.” After one season, he moved to AS Monaco in France.
At Monaco, he learned how to battle and how to score. Monaco were embroiled in a relegation dog-fight. He spent some time playing off the striker, once again proving his adaptability. Moving back to central midfield as a box to box midfielder, he scored 5 goals in 7 games to haul Monaco to Ligue 1 safety.
The dream move to Barcelona materialized. This was a pivotal moment in the development of Toure as the ultimate midfield player. At Barcelona, unsurprisingly, he developed exceptional ball control skills. Rijkaard and Guardiola used him as a holding midfield player, and also, as a centre back. Toure played alongside Gerard Pique in the Champions League Final, which Barcelona won.
On to the present day with Manchester City. Toure has played as off the front man, as a playmaker, and as a box-to-box midfielder. He can now score, pass, dribble, tackle, intercept and create. In the big games, Toure consistently delivers. He is arguably the most complete footballer in the game. What other player could excel in so many positions?
Being a football journeyman is the reason this has happened. More young players should follow a similar path.