Terry-Thomas was the bounder of British comedy in the 1950s and 60s, a cad who usually won the day with a twinkle and a grin from behind a long cigarette holder, and whose name really was hyphenated like that; not Terry, nor Mr Thomas, always Terry-Thomas, like a double-barrelled Morrissey. Despite gathering a tidy fortune from his work, he lived out his final days in a pokey flat, relying on the kindness of others to pay his medical bills after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. This news piece about his later life, when put next to his former persona, is especially heart-breaking.
There’s always something particularly sad about seeing someone now unable to do the things that used to make them magnificent. Whether it’s an old singer, glory having faded some years ago, still grimly churning out albums after the spark has long gone from their eyes, or a previously spry elderly relative confined to a chair due to a hip condition, or someone like Terry-Thomas.
Yaya Toure isn’t singing in bingo halls, or stuck in a chair, or ill, but there’s a similar sensation watching him play these days. He’s not the same as he was, which isn’t to say he’s by any means a bad footballer, but he isn’t Yaya Toure anymore. There are still flashes of the old Yaya, a brilliantly whipped free-kick here, a well-placed pass there, but the prevailing impression is of a man who simply can’t do the things he used to anymore.
One moment in Tottenham’s win over Manchester City summed it up quite nicely. Toure had the ball in his own half, then tried to burst through a couple of opposition players and start an attack. It was the sort of thing he used to do for yucks a few years ago, a casually flexed muscle and a pinpoint pass underlining his superiority over basically everyone else on the pitch. This time, he ran into trouble, a couple of younger, sharper players relieving him of the ball much as a mugger takes possession of a handbag, and from there Spurs countered and scored what would turn out to be the winning goal. Toure was left grasping, looking very much like that bloke who was once a brilliant footballer but isn’t anymore. You half expected someone to carefully approach him and say ‘Didn’t you used to be Yaya Toure?’.
At the moment Toure seems to exist largely in memories, a vague recollection of the player who, a few years ago during his pomp, made it possible for Roberto Mancini to take off a striker, bring on a defensive midfielder and for that somehow to be an attacking substitution. Toure would be pushed further forwards, and brilliance would almost certainly ensue. And it wasn’t just that he was an excellent player, but a thrilling one to watch too; I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, Radiohead play live and a child take her first steps, but there was little like watching peak Toure in full flow.
The New Yorker once famously described Clive James as a ‘brilliant bunch of guys’ for his talents as a writer, humourist and broadcaster; that was Toure, a man who won the Champions League final as a centre-back, became a brilliant central midfielder, then also casually one of the best No.10s in the world. He felt like one of those people you hated at school, who could turn their hand to anything and be great at it. You could throw Yaya a hockey stick or a discus or a basketball and he’d probably be better than everyone else.
Manuel Pellegrini offered a staunch defence of the midfielder this week. “Yaya has a lot of football left in him,” the outgoing manager said. “Maybe he’s not 20 anymore, and can’t go box to box for 90 minutes or play three games a week. But he has a lot more football to give. It will be his decision where he will do it.” Hopefully that last bit is true. Popular opinion states that Toure will be among the first invited to do one by Pep Guardiola when he arrives in the summer, but one rather hopes that Yaya will be allowed to leave on his own terms. It might not be his decision, but at least let’s give the impression that it’s his decision.
Again, Toure isn’t quite a passenger, but he’s just…well, he’s not Yaya Toure anymore. You’re more likely to notice him at the darts than on a football pitch these days, fans of the arrars curiously having adopted the ‘Yaya, Yaya…Kolo, Kolo’ chant as one of their own. Obviously it was inevitable this was going to happen, the passing of time generally not kind to footballers, but like the impending departure of The Independent from our newsagents, it’s still pretty sad.
“At one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever,” said Sick Boy in Trainspotting, explaining his grand life theory to Mark Renton. “George Best, for example. Had it, lost it. Or David Bowie, or Lou Reed…” At this point Renton argues that some of Lou Reed’s solo stuff isn’t bad. “No, it’s not bad,” replies Sick Boy, “but it’s not great either. And in your heart you kind of know that although it sounds all right, it’s actually just shite.”
Yaya had it, now he’s lost it. Hopefully it’s not gone forever. But although he’s sometimes not bad, in your heart of hearts you know.