It’s funny, seeing Yaya Touré and Pep Guardiola say nice things about each other through the media, when it’s pretty clear that that the two probably don’t particularly like each other in the slightest.
Touré and Guardiola have history. The pair enjoyed a couple very successful years at Barcelona together, though the manager eventually relegated Touré to rotation-option status after giving his starting job to the then-young and unproven Sergio Busquets. Touré then moved on to Manchester City, where he became for a time one of the very best midfielders in the world, on the strength of his newly unleashed attacking powers. Both men enjoyed huge success after parting company, so you’d assume that everything would be fine between them.
This isn’t the case. For a couple of pretty silly reasons, Touré has repeatedly taken public shots at Guardiola, via his loud-mouthed agent. One can only assume that Touré was not happy about the way he got benched and pushed out at Barça, despite it inarguably working out pretty damn well for both parties involved. In addition, while Touré was once a true force of nature out there in midfield, stomping up and down the pitch with a near equal knack for scoring goals as for stopping them, he’s now an old guy who only wants to sit in the final third and shoot.
Touré’s fall-off as an elite player and Guardiola’s impending tenure as City manager, plus the two men’s fraught past at Barcelona, presumably were the volatile ingredients that caused Touré’s agent to explode on Guardiola early this year, after the club announced that Guardiola would be the new coach for the next season. Touré’s agent all but called Guardiola a fraud who only succeeded because of Touré, while also saying some weird stuff about City’s two most prominent boardroom staff members, both of who came to City from Barça. The only reasonable interpretation of all this was that Touré and his agent saw the writing on the wall—that Touré was not long for Manchester—and wanted to control the narrative themselves by coloring the breakup as one instigated by the player rather than the club.
Well, next season has become this season and Guardiola and Touré are still together. All summer long, Guardiola has repeated his admiration for Touré’s talents, and insisted that the midfielder has a part to play this season. Touré himself has been fairly quiet, but his agent too has spouted the company line that Touré is a great player who wants to prove himself again at City. Not exactly the kind of fireworks one would expect from a strict disciplinarian like Guardiola and an on-the-record malcontent like Touré.
Friendly statements aside, Guardiola obviously doesn’t intend on making Touré a big or even small part of his plans this year. Despite being perfectly healthy and in shape, Touré wasn’t included in the game-day squad for City’s Premier League opener against Sunderland. The Citizens at present have a concerning dearth of options in central midfield and central defense—two positions Touré has played under Guardiola before—and yet he still wasn’t even on the bench. To make matters worse, Touré was left out of the squad for tomorrow’s critical Champions League game against Steaua Bucharest.
What did Guardiola have to say about the star player he has snubbed yet again? Only good things:
Speaking in his pre-match press conference at the Arena Nationala, Guardiola said: “He is a player of us and he is training amazing, but I was not sure if he was going to play, and so I prefer it if he stays there training good in Manchester.
“We travelled with two young guys and for the selection I prefer it to be the young guys than Yaya Touré.
“I prefer it if he stays there training and focuses on the next game. I have a lot of respect of him, for his career and quality, but for the first days – against Sunderland – we were looking for a more intensive game. That is why he didn’t play, the only reason why.”
In other words, “I have so much respect for the talent and performances of Yaya that not only will I never start him, I’m not going to even bring him along to games.”
As expected, Touré’s agent has gotten his side out there, and it’s ...:
Touré’s agent said the midfielder would stay and fight for his place. “Pep is the best manager in the world and I just hope he gives Yaya the chance to prove he is still good enough for City,” Dmitri Seluk said.
“He has not been included against Sunderland or Bucharest but that’s OK. He is fit to play right now.
“Guardiola has to learn all about the players he has available. The performance against Sunderland was far from perfect,” added Seluk.
“This is a very good process for Yaya. It will allow him [to prove] in training and in matches that he is still a wonderful player. But there is no talk of a transfer. Yaya will stay and fight.”
... also calm and measured?
This would all be confusing if you ignore what must really be going on behind the scenes. The only reason why Guardiola would talk up Touré so much with his words but continually slight him with his actions, and why Touré and his agent would be so sanguine about it, is because they know how unrealistic a divorce is at this point in time.
Touré is an aging, limited player sitting on an enormous salary. While probably still good enough to feature for a pretty good team in Europe’s best leagues, none of his prospective suitors are apparently willing to pay him Manchester City money. Touré doesn’t want a pay cut, so he’s content to train during the week while watching most of the games from the stands on the weekends, cashing the rest of his sizable checks during this, his last year on his City contract. Guardiola, for his part, has probably made it clear to Touré that he’s not going to play much this season, but if everyone plays nice, the two can coast to the end of their current deal without much acrimony. Pretty much a win-win for everyone.
Earlier this year, Touré’s agent was vocally against any sort of arrangement like the one that seems to have been struck between the player and the club:
“This is unacceptable. A player like Yaya Toure should not be moving towards the last year of his contract wondering if he is going to get a new deal,” he said.
“He is 32. He has three or four years left at the top and City must tell Yaya now what they want to do. The best idea would be to give Yaya a three-year contact that will keep him at the club for the rest of his career. The second is to say ‘thank you’ and allow him to leave for nothing.’’
“But I will not let Yaya waste a year at City,’’ Seluk said. “I will not let City keep him because, in one more year, his chances of joining another big club will be smaller.
But with no one around Europe offering Touré the exit he desires—the only consistently rumored suitor after the midfielder was Touré’s old manager Roberto Mancini at Inter, who was recently fired in part because the club wouldn’t sign the kind of expensive old guys Mancini wanted—sitting around this season without much in the way of playing time looks less like a waste and more like a good deal.