Kolo Touré dissolves into laughter, something he does with endearing regularity, when recalling how he joined Liverpool’s casualty list by throwing himself headfirst in front of a Xherdan Shaqiri cross at the Britannia Stadium.
“José Enrique called it ‘the salmon tackle’,” the 34-year-old says. “I am very proud of this. It’s something I have brought to football. I give everything for my team to win but the most important thing is to enjoy every second of every minute. Football is great, isn’t it?”
It is easy to understand Touré’s popularity in the Anfield dressing room when a discussion about suffering cramp against Stoke City sparks such amusement. Behind the jovial demeanour there remains an experienced, title-winning defender determined to prove his worth to Jürgen Klopp and one who, as a resolute display in the Capital One Cup semifinal win demonstrated, retains the ability to do so when opportunity arises at Liverpool.
The salmon tackle, which resulted in the veteran missing the trip to Exeter City, shows Caulker and others the standard required – in its peculiar way.
“That is the mentality you need to have as a defender; when you are a defender at a top club, every challenge is so important,” says Touré of the incident that left him limping through the 1-0 win at Stoke. “That’s why you play for the best club. If I have to make this tackle again, I will make it. That was my time to show I can still produce for my team and for me as well.
“I had to stay on. You don’t want to give up and leave your team on their own at this time in a game. We had so many injuries and players going out, too, but to be honest it was only cramp. I managed to finish the game as a striker, which is not too bad.
Cooling off: Kolo Touré chills out in an ice bath after sustaining a bad case of cramp during some rigorous defending. (Jürgen Klopp)
“Afterwards the manager took a picture of me in the ice bath and made a few jokes. He knows I’m a fighter and that, whenever he needs me, I will step in and give my best for the team. I’m playing for one of the best clubs in the world at 34.
“Not many players can say that. I enjoy every minute and I am proud to be in this squad of players.”
The former Côte d’Ivoire international’s admiration for Arsène Wenger is clear. Touré spent seven years at Arsenal before leaving for Manchester City in 2009 and believes their manager deserves credit for guiding the Gunners to the Premier League summit, having sacrificed big names and big wages during the move to the Emirates Stadium.
“When they started the new stadium, everything changed,” said the defender, one of Arsenal’s Invincibles in 2003-2004.
“They needed to sell some players, cut the wage bill and they lost so many experienced players and leaders. But Wenger has shown what a top manager he is. The thing I like is this manager can make an average player one of the best players in the world. He did that with so many players. Patrick Vieira was in Milan but not playing a lot, Thierry Henry was a winger at Juventus and he made him one of the best players in the world. I started from nowhere and he took me to the next level, and I always respect him for that.”
The 34-year-old’s defensive duties are not limited to the pitch. Yaya Touré’s furious response to not winning the African player of the year award for a fifth year in succession prompts a determined rearguard action from his older brother. Naturally Kolo also sees the funny side of last week’s controversy in Nigeria. “I haven’t spoken to him yet. I think he would be angry with me as well,” laughs the Liverpool centre-half. “I need to teach Yaya how to speak a bit more.”
Touré adds: “Yaya is a good player but some of the big players like Eric Cantona are very strong-willed. I think that is how he is. He is a winner and, when he doesn’t win everything, [he] goes a little bit crazy. For me, he deserved that award. He was the only African player voted in the top four or five players in the world but he doesn’t win African player of the year. We [Côte d’Ivoire] also won the Africa Cup of Nations and that is why he was expecting to win.
“I’ll always be behind my brother but this is the game – sometimes you lose and sometimes you win … This is life.” – © Guardian News & Media 2016