Yaya Toure: Great player, sore and graceless loser

This week, the very best of African football got together in Abuja for the annual awards ceremony in honour of the players and teams who had excelled in 2015.

It was meant to be a celebration of the continent’s achievements but in the end it was overshadowed by the comments of the petulant, graceless man who finished second in the African player of the year awards.

The standout comment from Yaya Toure was: “Us Africans, we don’t show that Africa is important in our eyes. We favour more what’s abroad than our own continent. That is pathetic.”

What should one expect from a man who went into a very public, summer long sulk because his club didn't give him a birthday cake?

Touré is wrong. The only thing that is pathetic here is his lack of class. After winning the award four straight times, he should know better than anyone else that his previous wins have come largely from his European performances. The Ivorian’s first win in 2011 came after a good year with City, when he scored the winner in their FA Cup semi-final victory over Manchester United and in the final against Stoke, ending the club’s 35-year wait for a major trophy. That year, he beat Seydou Keita and André Ayew.

A year later, his key role for his club in England on their way to a first Premier league trophy in 50 years meant that he saw off competition from Didier Drogba (who had led Chelsea to the Champions League and FA Cup in 2012) and Alex Song. Touré should not forget that his Ivory Coast side did not win the African Cup that year, but he was still given the award.

His third crown in 2013 came the year Mikel John Obi won the Europa League with Chelsea and was also the standout player in Nigeria’s African Cup-winning side. But the imposing midfielder won, beating Drogba as well.

In 2014 Touré become the first player to win the accolade four years in succession, and he did it at a time when Nigeria’s goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama had powered the Super Eagles to the second round of the World Cup and had been the best player for Lille in Ligue 1. Touré had been nominated after playing a pivotal role in winning the Premier League and League Cup as well as helping his country to qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

History is an even better guide. The top African award has always been biased toward European performances; otherwise the excellent Mohamed Aboutrika should have bagged at least one when Egypt won back-to-back-to-back continental titles between 2006 and 2010. Instead, that period saw Drogba (2006 and 2009), Frederic Kanouté (2007), Emmanuel Adebayor (2008) and Samuel Eto’o (2010) win, mainly on the back of European showings.

Touré, though, has a point (even though the timing of the comments have made him look like a very bad loser). Voters must simply be encouraged to lend more weight to African competitions, especially in years when there is an African Cup of Nations. Consistency over 12 months is key, but how does a continent win respect for its flagship events when the top awards go to those who shine outside of Africa?

This does not excuse Touré’s churlishness on the night though. But maybe we should not be surprised. The birthday cake incident at City in May 2014 now, with hindsight, almost seems like standard fare.

After all, this is the man, also in 2014, who claimed he had been overlooked as a contender for the Ballon d’Or simply because of the colour of his skin, which was uncalled for and, quite frankly, nonsense.

If European performances are the yardstick, 2015 has seen him buried under a barrage of criticism, with only his club manager Pellegrini coming to his defence.

The Ivory Coast victory in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations came in spite of him. If Yaya honestly believes his performances in Equatorial Guinea were virtuoso, then he sets far lower standards for himself than the rest of the continent does.

He offered one actual moment as a reminder of his undeniable quality: a wonderful goal in the semi-final win over the Republic of Congo. A brief moment of brilliance from a player who has struggled to take over the role of Ivory Coast leader since the retirement of Didier Drogba

In every other game, he was decidedly average. When it comes down to it his performances in 2015 were not really good enough to warrant a top three place let alone being voted as Africa's best player.

Some players just want to be loved and put on a pedestal above everyone else. After the Cup of Nations win, Toure bizarrely lashed out at his countrymen for giving Drogba a bigger welcome to the former Chelsea man for winning silver medals from previous editions.

As graceful as he may be on the field, the 32-year old is in danger of being remembered more for his classless comments than his outstanding talent when he retires. And that would be a real shame.

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