Manchester United weren’t unsettled. The raucous Manchester City fans performed the Poznan – the backs-turned bounce named after the Polish club from which it was borrowed – to overshadow the pre-match reading of United’s lineup, but their archrivals dominated the opening half-hour. Dimitar Berbatov missed two gilt-edged chances in a matter of seconds.

The teams of journeymen and prematurely promoted academy graduates from previous decades would’ve cowered from the onslaught, but City were now supplemented by decorated players acquired with petrodollars. One particular recruit, Yaya Toure, wasn’t used to being second best.

“He was fired up at halftime,” Joe Hart told ITV1 after the FA Cup semifinal in 2011. “He’s an emotional guy and he lets his emotion show on the pitch.”

Toure helped City get a foothold in the game, and scored the only goal in the 52nd minute. Less than a month later he crashed the winner past Stoke City for his club’s first cup win since 1976. Toure wasn’t just becoming the Pied Piper of Beswick – he was establishing himself as one of the best midfielders in the game.

Fast-forward little over seven years and the picture is very different. Toure isn’t worth a free punt for West Ham United, who fielded the oft-hapless pair of Mark Noble and Declan Rice at the base of midfield on Sunday. “He will always be a good player for any team, but for the moment he is not for West Ham,” Manuel Pellegrini, his former manager and new head honcho of the Hammers, said Thursday. “For the moment, the squad is complete.”

West Ham couldn’t resist Liverpool at the weekend, admitting four unanswered goals as 31-year-old Noble exclusively and inadequately filled the gap between defense and midfield. An extra body to sit in that position while teammates mill around him – especially someone with the experience of six league titles and a Champions League title – may have been helpful. Quite rightly, there is no chance of that someone being Toure.

The Ivorian has arguably been more important than Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and other protagonists during Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi era. After dragging City to their first major trophy in 35 years, he was key in the following season’s Premier League title win, notably scoring twice in the penultimate match of the season at Newcastle United. In the 2013-14 term, he netted a luscious effort past Sunderland in a victorious League Cup final while becoming the second midfielder to score 20 or more goals in a Premier League campaign (after Frank Lampard) en route to another title. He also struck the winning penalty in the League Cup final against Liverpool in 2016.

But what his curriculum vitae does is obscure the fact that he had two separate spells at Manchester City. From 2010 and until around 2014, he was an irrepressible midfielder, at times resembling an over-competitive adult gatecrashing a game between 7-year-olds. When he charged through Aston Villa in May 2014, it seemed the Brum ranks were hanging off his arms and clutching at his ankles, but he still scored.

The turning point, peculiarly, centers around a birthday cake. Toure was widely reported to have been upset by a lack of recognition for him turning 31 in 2014, and was considering a move away. He later confirmed his agent Dimitri Seluk’s claims that he was unhappy, but a transfer never materialized. He wasn’t the same player again, living off past glories as his ponderous ploddings worsened and were continually preyed upon by opponents. He was left out in the cold for much of his final two campaigns at City under Pep Guardiola – by now, leaving him out was damage limitation – but, like Pablo Zabaleta a season prior, was recognized with a special send-off at the Etihad Stadium.

His on-pitch ability has dwindled, but surely his know-how could be influential behind the scenes? Rice’s career is at risk of fizzling out while his confidence is continually beaten down by playing for a rudderless West Ham – couldn’t he have benefitted being succored by Toure? Definitely not.

“He insists he has no problems with black players, because he is too intelligent to be caught out,” Toure said as a parting shot to Guardiola in June.

“But when you realise that he has problems with Africans wherever he goes, I ask myself questions.”

It was a pathetic allegation to conclude his City days. Toure claimed his former boss at Barcelona and Manchester City “brutally got rid of” Wilfried Bony, despite his compatriot’s derisory count of six goals in 36 league appearances for the club, and ineptitude on his return to Swansea City. At the time, a manager apparently unimpressed with the skills of African footballers was six months into an eventually successful pursuit for Algerian playmaker Riyad Mahrez.

Toure’s ill-informed attack on Guardiola may have been a vain venture to detract attention from the fact that he was no longer good enough, or perhaps a desperate attempt to convince himself that he was phased out of the first-team picture due to racism. If Pellegrini, who managed Toure pre- and post-cakegate, needed any further evidence of why Toure wouldn’t be a good addition to his West Ham regime, this was it.

At 35, with an agent whose diatribes against his client’s managers have only served to hinder Toure’s career, and a bitterness that could sour the sugariest birthday cake icing, it’s difficult to see a reasonable one-year contract for the veteran in world football, let alone the English game. A player who should’ve asserted himself as one of the Premier League’s best-ever midfielders over the past couple of seasons is now an unwanted expense.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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