Yaya Toure’s timing on the pitch, his ability to see the space, switch gear and bustle in at just the right moment, is exemplary. But the Manchester City midfielder must wish more of his peers and observers had the capability to match it.
The Ivorian’s superb individual goal against Aston Villa on Wednesday night was apparently scored by only the third best player in the Barclays Premier League. It must be some competition, the English top flight, if a midfielder can score 20 league goals in a potentially title-winning campaign, display such power, strength, vision and skill and yet only be third in the queue.
Toure has claimed he missed out on becoming the first African international to be crowned the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Player of the Year because of his nationality, but it’s more complex than that. It’s a question of timing and momentum and the value of stunningly memorable goal-scoring performances over relentless consistency.
There is also an element of style of substance at play here. It is blindingly obvious that Luis Suarez is a prodigiously talented footballer: nippy, deft, clinical and exciting to watch. But the Toure machine takes a little longer to wind up. He trundles around the pitch at times, his heavy frame looking more likely to succumb to injury than make a match-winning difference.
But it is that burst of pace that makes him such a wonderful player. He simply has a higher gear than most of those around him. Watch the way he circled the edge of the area in the build-up to Stevan Jovetic’s third goal for City against Villa: waiting, waiting, waiting and then, bang, he was in to bustle past defenders and provide the assist. You don’t know you have been Toure-d until he has shrugged you aside.
Individual awards are also about winning teams. Or they should be, anyway. Maybe not so much for the Footballer Writers’ Association (FWA) Footballer of the Year, which is given to the player considered the best ‘by precept and example’ and was won by Scott Parker in the season he was relegated with West Ham, but certainly the PFA award. It should be given to the player who has performed the best when it matters most and, in 2014, this means when the Premier League title is at stake.
Patrick Vieira said: ‘When you are voting for the best player, it shouldn’t just be about the number of goals you have scored or the number of assists you have made. It should also be about whether you have done great things against the biggest teams in the biggest games.
‘Look at what Yaya has done in his years at City – he is the biggest big-game player in the Premier League.
‘In the Capital One Cup final this season, we were losing against Sunderland and things were very difficult, but then Yaya scored an unbelievable goal and we go on to win the trophy.
‘That was the mark of a player – but Yaya does that in every big game. He makes the difference.’
Toure, 31 next week, already has a Capital One Cup winners’ medal this season, having scored City’s equaliser in the final against Sunderland, and is one more win away from getting his hands on one the Premier League trophy, too.
But when the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year was announced on April 18, Liverpool were two points clear at the top of the Premier League table. City were six points behind in third place, with a game in hand over Brendan Rodgers’ side. Toure made the six-man shortlist, but there was only ever going to be one winner: Luis Suarez, who duly lifted the award on April 27.
That day, the Uruguayan had failed to break down Chelsea’s defence as his side suffered a 2-0 defeat at Anfield. Some 230 miles away at Selhurst Park, Toure had scored City’s second goal against Crystal Palace; a brilliant, powerful effort that killed off any Palace threat and put City in the driving seat to win their second Premier League title in three years.
It was also a masterclass in performing when it matters most, and a timely, if unconscious, rebuke to those who had overlooked Toure’s ability.
Yet it was Suarez who was crowned the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year eight days later, too. Journalists could vote up until 12 noon on May 5 and awarded the Liverpool striker a prestigious double for his then-haul of 30 Premier League goals. It’s 31 now, a joint record with Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Shearer in a 38-game season, and deserved recognition for a wonderful season.
But had the deadline been just 24 hours later, after Liverpool’s 3-3 capitulation at Palace, it might just have been Toure being honoured on May 15 instead. With the Manchester City midfielder it’s all about the timing, after all.