Manchester City’s keep-or-sell conundrum with Yaya Toure: ‘He is indispensable’ and yet...

'Given his age, it makes finance sense to sell' recently crowned African champion Yaya Toure, writes Richard Jolly. Yet for Manchester City, 'it is a footballing necessity to keep him'.

Yaya Toure has scored seven goals in 18 Premier League games for Manchester City this season. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
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The Golden Generation finally struck gold on Sunday. Ivory Coast’s finest group of players became champions of Africa, ending their long history of near-misses.

For the captain Yaya Toure, it felt like the culmination of a career in his country’s colours. The four-time African Footballer of the Year may have cemented his status as the greatest Ivorian ever to kick a ball.

His legacy is secure, his future more uncertain. Fresh from the triumph over Ghana, Toure railed at those he sees as his critics in the English media.

Last month, he said he was unsure if he would stay at Manchester City. The Premier League champions are growing accustomed to ambiguous comments, mixed messages and, at times, outright dissent from Toure when on international duty.

They are wearily familiar with the antics of his preposterous agent, Dimitry Seluk, who created a furore last summer with his silly accusations that City failed to celebrate his client’s birthday.

If there is an uneasy truce, the relationship between club and player no longer feels as secure as it was. Not every issue is resolved. In particular, there is the question if Toure will, or should, be at the Etihad Stadium next season.

Some 30 hours before Ivory Coast eventually overcame Ghana in a marathon penalty shootout, City were fortunate to draw at home against relegation-threatened Hull City. It extended their record in Premier League matches without Toure since April to played six, won none. Case closed. He is indispensable.

Except that their two finest results of the season, the Champions League victories over Bayern Munich and AS Roma, came in his absence. Toure can look disinterested and seems to run forward rather quicker than he goes back to help his defence.

Then there is the reality that he will turn 32 in May and, at some stage, the athletic powers of a rangy runner are likely to decline. By 2016, he will be a 33 year old with 12 months left on his contract. This represents the last chance to bring in a substantial fee for him and, in the age of Financial Fair Play, City have to emulate Chelsea and become savvy sellers.

Roberto Mancini wants to take Toure to Inter Milan – admittedly, Mancini gives the impression he wants to sign the entire City side of 2012 – and there is a possible escape route.

City have a ticking time bomb. They often field the oldest team in the Premier League and Toure is the senior man among their core players. At some point, rejuvenation is required and, whereas many others are contracted until 2019 after last year’s spate of new deals, City made no attempt to extend his stay.

Yet if Ross Barkley seemed his putative successor, the Merseysider has now lost his place in the Everton team. The 21-year-old midfielder has scored one goal this season. He has one assist in his Premier League career.

In contrast, Toure has a capacity to go on scoring runs in the manner of an elite striker. He has struck seven times in his last 11 games for City and, with memories of that prolific run still fresh, Manuel Pellegrini was asked recently if his side could win without Toure. He replied wryly that people had been asking him to drop his vice captain earlier in the campaign.

If his 20-goal campaign last season will forever remain an outlier, Toure remains one of four best goalscoring central midfielders in Premier League history, along with Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes. His blend of the physical and the technical has made him a unique performer.

The New Year’s Day win over Sunderland, City’s last league victory, was illustrative.

It finished 3-2 but, in a wretched first half, Toure was the lone hope of a breakthrough, embarking on a series of solo runs where he looked a colossus, trying to take on a packed defence on his own. He opened the scoring with a ferocious long-range shot and there are few players with his capacity to score from outside the box.

Compare, in contrast, the more muted efforts of Fernando and Fernandinho in the home games against Arsenal and Hull City. Admittedly, the two Brazilians are very different players to Toure, but that is part of the problem: who, exactly, does possess his diverse range of attributes? Who is equipped to replace him? A younger Lampard, perhaps, but the aged original will be on his way.

And it is such questions, as much as recent results, that makes City’s summer decision all the tougher. Given his age, it makes financial sense to sell Toure if a suitable offer materialises. Given his gifts and enduring influence, it is a footballing necessity to keep him.

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