It’s likely that, like in the CAF awards, coming relatively low on this list will trigger Yaya Toure’s ire, but the SFG list is not a popularity contest. It must be said that Toure remains one of the most breath-taking African players around, perhaps the only one who has been able to conjure moments of world class pedigree on a consistent basis in the last three years.
Toure’s tantrum over not winning the African Footballer of the Year award, childish and arrogant as it was, stemmed from the fact that he had captained Ivory Coast to a continental gong. If his performances at the tournament served as justification for winning the personal accolade then he didn’t deserve to win on that basis.
With Ivory Coat rebranding into a 3-5-2 system, Toure was forced to play a defensive-minded role but struggled to show any kind of fluency during the tournament, regularly outshined and outworked by his partner in midfield Serey Die. Lethargic and uncharacteristically clumsy on the ball, he sleepwalked through the tournament more on reputation rather than consistency, with his only nanosecond of a highlight coming through his thunderous hit against DR Congo in the semi-final.
In some ways, he is a man who is misunderstood yet also difficult to understand. At 32 years of age, fans somehow still expect him to be the nigh tireless bulldozing central midfielder that he was 3-5 years ago, and are still unappreciative of the subtle, more technical sides of his game.
The complexity of his mind, the expectations of people and his development as a footballer were perfectly captured in his interview with Jonathan Northcroft in the Sunday Times back in November:
I suggest that Brits see the powerhouse he is and, reared on box-to-box midfielders, expect all-action play, at all times. When, really, his game is more skilled, selective, strategic.
Yaya: “Yeah . . . one day my wife was watching YouTube. She said, ‘Ah, Yaya, when you were at Olympiakos you were young, your face young, you was beautiful. And now look. You’re ugly, you’re strong! Before you were skinny, good, nice . . . I say ‘look baby, if you don’t like me just tell me’ [gales of laughter].
“She said ‘I want you to become younger’. I said, ‘What? That’s not possible’. That’s why I clean my face [of stubble], that’s why I shave all my head. You understand? [laughter again].
“She said I have to be careful because my image [influences kids]. She doesn’t like me to have coloured hair. I say, ‘You are right’.
“Then after that, she said: ‘When I was looking at you at Olympiakos, you were able to do things . . . and when you go to Barcelona, you’re a defender, and, in Monaco, you were second striker, and you come to Manchester and do everything. Sometimes I don’t understand you.
“But I’ve been able to play for different clubs in different positions. I can do anything a manager wants.
“Sometimes the manager plays me striker, sometimes defending more. It’s not me who’s choosing.
“So, even my wife asked me that question. She said people think you can do everything. And she said ‘you’re my husband, I know you, sometimes when you come to bed your body is sore. You are tired. But in training, when the manager asks if you’re tired, you say “no”.
His temporary retirement from international football was expected to help the freshness of his game, but there has been no major upturn in form. The longer term view is for him to finish his career at Eastlands and transition into a strategical or coaching role, but would a move elsewhere or, for a man set to turn 33, a bit-part role be advisable?
His lax body language, tantrums and lack of appetite for defending makes him an easy figure to blame, but he remains key to Man City. When he left for AFCON last year they were top of the table. By the time he had returned they were seven points adrift.
Highlight of the Year: Winning AFCON 2015
Performance wise, it was his worst AFCON of the six he has appeared in but he won’t care a single jot. The lack of an AFCON trophy was a massive – and, given the complexities of international football, unfair – black mark on his CV. Toure can now make a compelling case for being Africa’s greatest ever player.