Yaya Toure: Again, what a privilege

If Manchester City go on to win the Premier League this season, remember this game and remember the part played in it by Yaya Toure.

Whenever City play badly, it’s never long before the social media fingers start at the Ivorian. He’s derided with accusations of laziness and continually accused of having a bad attitude and yet, time after time during his career in England, he has made pertinent contributions at critical times. His bending side-foot at St James’ Park in the first title-winning season, his bowling ball surge through the Palace defenders to score late in the second; Toure may suffer through fallow periods, but the more his teammates need him, the broader his shoulders seem to get.

And the “laziness” accusation…

It’s worth remembering that Toure is approaching his thirty-third birthday and is still being asked to play an all-action role in am extremely attritional league. How many central midfielders have retained their levels of physicality beyond thirtieth birthday? Paul Scholes became a deeper player, Frank Lampard spoke eloquently on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago about his own scaled-back role at Chelsea and Steven Gerrard was practically stationery during his last eighteen months at Liverpool.

Toure doesn’t exhibit any signs of emotional disengagement, his physical contribution is declining because he’s beyond his athletic prime. He’s physically much bigger than any of those players mentioned and the literal strain on his body is inevitably showing more as he gets older.

But yet he still produces these staggering moments of quality. His goal at Arsenal ultimately led to nothing other than a late, unsuccessful surge, but the equaliser this evening changed the game. Watford were excellent and their energy - and some of City’s dreadful positioning play - should have been enough to win the game. And that’s why players with Toure’s skill-set are so valuable: when everything around them is out of kilter and points are drifting away, they can erase an entire eighty minutes of under-performance in a single second.

How many of those are there in world football at any one time? Five? Ten? Not many, because it’s rare and it’s special.

That’s the shame of this situation, really. Toure has - at most - two or three years left at his current level, and when he leaves English football he’ll be missed. When he retires or moves to another league, that will be the moment when all his detractors suddenly realise what a privilege it has been to watch him. They’ll stop asterisking his goals and assists with artificial concerns over his work-rate and start appreciating what he was able to do and maybe - hopefully - understand just how rare an athlete he was.

A late chance in a congested penalty-box with the ball arriving at pace and with the pressure on and, inevitably, he strokes it into the top-corner on the volley with his wrong foot. It was a mechanical sort of brilliance which, on the basis of what he’s done in the past, wasn’t even remotely surprising.

When Yaya Toure does brilliant things, the expression on the faces of those watching doesn’t even change. That really does say something about the regularity of his greatness.