/ 30 July 2010

City’s £24-million man

City's £24 Million Man

We are sitting in the bar of Manchester City’s plush hotel in New Jersey with the Premier League’s highest-profile import this summer. The Manhattan skyline forms a stunning backdrop for an interview with a gregarious character who, it quickly transpires, can talk for Côte d’Ivoire.

At R275-million and on a five-year contract worth a reported R2,3-million a week plus, Yaya Touré is the signing that confirms no club, not even the celebrated and decorated Barcelona, is immune to City’s financial muscle.

Not that Barcelona were resistant to the approach. Last season Touré lost his place to Sergio Busquets as the defensive anchor on which such players as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi thrive. The Spanish champions’ decision, therefore, makes sense. But Touré’s? He is not the only man seduced by City’s incredible wealth and comparable ambitions, and yet swapping the Camp Nou for Eastlands is a change of scenery that is difficult to comprehend.

“When you say ‘I want to leave Barcelona’, people think you are a crazy person,” says Touré, who only met his new teammates this week following a post-World Cup holiday. “They are a big team, a great team, and nobody wants to leave them because of that.” Except one.

There could be no sugar-coating this interview with a few early, gentle questions. “Why on earth would you leave Barcelona?” is the opening line.

Touré responds in kind. “The situation I do not want to speak about. I do not want to talk about Barcelona.” Not that he is aloof or dismissive in the way you might imagine the Premier League’s first £200 000-a-week player to be.

Despite his initial reticence, the Côte d’Ivoire international offers multiple reasons for leaving Catalonia behind: a long-held attraction for English football; a lifelong ambition to play alongside older brother, the City defender Kolo; and a yearning for a fresh start, having won all there is to win during three trophy-laden years at Barcelona.

Touré could have left last summer when another club expressed an interest but he rejected their advances in favour of a contract extension with Pep Guardiola’s team. The identity of the jilted should help his integration at City no end. “Last year Manchester United were interested in signing me. When I was talking about renewing my contract, Manchester United asked if I wanted to sign,” he says.

“Manchester United is a big club, one of the biggest in the world, but I chose Manchester City because they had not won anything. It is a very nice feeling to come in and see everything changing. For me, that is very important. Manchester City have not won anything and are not doing great in the league and hopefully we can go step by step. If we can get into the Champions League it would be very, very nice for me.

“Manchester City want to write a new chapter in their history. When you see the signings they have made — [Emmanuel] Adebayor, [Carlos] Tevez — they are some players. And they want to sign more big names. For me, it is most important that when you see the people at the club they are working hard to sign the biggest players.

“We need to make this club great and I am sure we will. In football you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. I saw a lot of things about why I left in the press but, for me, I wanted to play with my brother one time. It was very important for me. Now I have signed for Manchester City and I am very happy. Now my brother and I want to make great things happen at this club.”

Touré feels no added pressure to prove himself at City next season on account of his status as the league’s highest-paid player. “For me it is not a worry,” he says, as though it could be. The midfielder is also acutely aware his bank account will be cited whenever he or City struggle, but he is confident enough to let others judge his worth. “I know it won’t be easy. This is a big, big challenge for me. When you spend a lot of money on one player you want him to prove himself, but the way football works, one day you can be good, the next you can be bad and the next after that you can be very bad. I have come to Manchester City to work very hard and to help my friends make Manchester City great. I don’t want to say too much before the season starts, but when it has, people can look and decide.”

Regardless of how obscene or not anyone finds Touré’s salary, the 27-year-old cannot be accused of misunderstanding the value of money. He was fortunate enough to join the fertile breeding ground of the ASEC Mimosas youth academy at the age of nine, home to such players as Kolo and the Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou, and pinpoints his first professional contract in Europe, with the Belgian club Beveren, as among the proudest moments of a career that has also taken in Metalurh Donetsk, Olympiakos and Monaco. The reason is simple.

“My family were very poor,” he says. “I am one of nine siblings — two girls and seven boys. Only my brother and I play in Europe and then three more work in Europe and another plays in Tunisia. This family is a footballing family but our lives have not always been good. Before I left Africa we were eating only one meal a day. The life was very terrible and very difficult and when I signed my first contract in Europe I said to Kolo: ‘Now our family can be happy.’ Before I left for Belgium I spoke with my family and they agreed to the move because they said the most important thing was to have a good career.”

Yaya and Kolo Touré paid for several trucks to deliver food and clothing to children in the Côte d’Ivoire last summer and plan to establish a young person’s foundation in the near future. The midfielder sees no reason to apologise for his success.

“When your life starts to change and you get some money, even small money, you want to help your family, which I do. We are normal people. We have not come from a family with a lot of money. That’s why I love my brother. He’s a very good guy who always wants to help other people.

“You must respect people and you must respect money. My father said to me: ‘When you respect money, money will respect you.’ The mentality with African and European people is different. In Africa, when you come from a difficult life, when it’s not so easy to eat, not so easy to survive, you respect money when you start to earn it and you respect people more. When you respect people, they will respect you and your life is better for that. Sometimes in life you want to be lucky and, yes, I have been lucky.” — Guardian News & Media 2010