Cast your minds back, if you can, to 2014. Those were the days when everyone still thought Grant Shapps was a real person rather than an elaborate comic sketch by Robert Webb, Dion Dublin was merely a percussionist rather than a daytime TV presenter and the lindy hop was sweeping the nation.
Those were also the halcyon days when Yaya Toure could still at least do a decent impression of a magnificent footballer, still with that fearsome shot, appreciation of space and the ability to charge his way through a defence like a graceful, gliding bulldozer. Toure used to be about three different players in one, an extraordinary man who made taking off a forward in favour of a midfielder an attacking move, something that would set him loose on a collection of unsuspecting, trembling defenders who would be grateful if they escaped the experience merely with soiled knickers. Watching Toure, in his pomp and at full flight, was a little like watching Jonah Lomu trample over puny and insignificant opposition back in the 1995 World Cup, but with delicateness and skill and in a proper sport.
Those were the days when Toure – or, more accurately, his agent – could scare the living heck out of his club by hinting he wanted to do one, throwing some sort of concocted confectionery-based hissy fit, expecting everyone to believe that he genuinely was p**sed off about a bloody cake and not that this wasn’t some hugely unsubtle attempt to drive a wedge betwixt club and player. Those were the days when Manchester City might actually have put up a significant fight to keep him.
Not so much now, one suspects. And the feeling would appear to be mutual.
“No amount of wages will make me stay at a club if I feel that I no longer belong there or if no challenge exists for me,” Toure said this week, going on to not so much flirt with Paris St Germain and Inter as perform a recreation of that scene in Basic Instinct, only with Laurent Blanc or Roberto Mancini in place of Newman from Seinfeld. (Don’t worry – that link doesn’t feature anything that will make your work computer explode, just a picture proving that Newman from Seinfeld was in Basic Instinct. I know. Weird, right?)
The odd thing is that there won’t be too many, beyond charming sentimentalists, who will cry themselves to sleep if and when Toure does depart, given how he’s played this season. It used to be that City would look half the team without Toure, but even that has disappeared. This season they beat Bayern Munich and Roma without him, as well as thrashing Spurs and drawing with Chelsea, whereas Toure was involved in all of the defeats in their recent ruinous run of six defeats in eight games, bar the home game against Barcelona.
It’s seemed at various stages this term as if he and Samir Nasri were having a competition to see how could look the least arsed about being footballers, half-heartedly shuffling around like men serving out their notice periods of jobs they can’t wait to leave. They’ve all-but spent their time throwing bits of scrunched up paper into bins and stuffing pens and Post-It notes into their pockets, making endless cups of tea and flirting distractedly with the receptionist. Manuel Pellegrini has taken the brunt of the blame for City’s lax performances in the second half of the season, and while it’s true he doesn’t exactly look like an inspirational figure who could convince his men to walk through fire, motivation is a two-way business. Players have to show some inclination to be motivated, and for long spells the City team, and Toure in particular, simply haven’t.
Only Sergio Aguero can really have a case to be a more important player for City over the past few years, which makes it even sadder that Toure appears to be leaving the club with a shrug and a ‘pffft’, rather than something more fitting. A player of Toure’s stature should have left City spectacularly, whether on the pitch or off it.
The spectacular departure can take a number of different forms, from the ‘disgraceful’ (Zinedine Zidane at the 2006 World Cup), to the successful (Peter Schmeichel’s last game for Manchester United was the 1999 Champions League final), to the genuinely sad (Paul Gascoigne’s last act for Spurs was to destroy his own knee), to the really quite splendidly odd (Kevin Keegan ended his spell as a player with Newcastle by hopping on a helicopter that had landed on the pitch, accompanied by fireworks.
All of them seem preferable to the whimper of a slunk departure; even the terrible injury, while obviously very bad news for the player, carries with it a certain slightly romantic sense of ‘what if’, of something tragically missed. That wouldn’t really apply to Toure, and it goes without saying that we’re not wishing a bad injury on the man. But he needs something.
Traditional glory isn’t possible this season and the helicopter thing has been done, so that only really leaves one possible option – pointless, hilarious, Zidanesque violence. City’s last game of the season is against Southampton, meaning Toure has the perfect opportunity to go out with a bang by calling Ronald Koeman a breaded ham-looking motherf***er, messing up Graziano Pelle’s hair before turning on his own teammates, pushing Vincent Kompany over, pulling down Nasri’s shorts and booting Pellegrini in the swingers. Now that would be a way to go out.
It’s the only way, Yaya. It’s got to be better than the meek exit, at least.