Yaya Touré is on course to become an all-time soccer icon – like his heroes Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o – after being named African Footballer of the Year for the third year in succession. Words: Chris Hatherall
Ivory Coast football star Yaya Touré, who plays for Manchester City in the English Premier League, is already the most talked-about player in world football following another year of incredible progress that has made him the most feared midfielder in the game.
Only Cameroon’s Eto’o – a man who Touré admits was a real inspiration as a boy – has won a similar hat trick of awards from the Confederation of African Football. What’s more, Touré is still only 30 years old, so there could be more to come.
“To be the winner is unbelievable. I am very happy and very, very proud,” said Touré on receiving his latest accolade. “So many great players have won this award and it is an honour to be there with them.
“It’s a fantastic achievement because I don’t think there have ever been as many quality African players in top-level international football as there are now: Aubameyang, Pitroipa, Mikel, Moses, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho… we have fantastic players.
“It was quite tight – there were good opponents in front of me. Obi Mikel was doing well, and Drogba as well, so I was thinking maybe I would lose it. I am very proud of myself.
“I think African football is improving and that means a lot to us. And as an African, I’m very happy about it.
“African football is growing and producing brilliant talent every year. I feel the competition for this year’s award was tough, because so many African players are doing well in Europe. But for me, I feel very honoured to have won it three times, because the focus had always been on strikers and not on a defensive midfielder like me.”
It’s not difficult, however, to see why Touré won – beating Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel into second place.
The sheer power and athleticism of the central midfielder would be enough to frighten most rivals; but when allied to incredible skill, an ability to motor past opponents and an increasingly impressive eye for goal (including from spectacular long-range free-kicks), then he is virtually the full package.
This season, for instance, Touré has played a more attacking role for Manchester City and had already scored ten goals by January – four more than in the entire previous campaign.
On the international front, too, he has guided Ivory Coast to the World Cup Finals, scoring four times in the qualifying campaign, and has now reached 72 caps, scoring 12 times.
But it wasn’t only Touré who was honoured during the awards ceremony in Lagos. African champions Nigeria dominated the other categories.
Stephen Keshi was named coach of the year after leading the Super Eagles to their first African Cup win in 20 years, while Nigeria was also named Team of the Year. Even the Nigerian supporters were honoured, winning the Fair Play award.
Kelechi Iheanacho, who starred in Nigeria’s U-17 team when they won the World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, scoring six goals, won the most promising talent award, while his side were declared Youth Team of the Year.
Egypt’s Mohamed Aboutrika was the African-based Player of the Year for an unprecedented fourth time, taking the crown just weeks after calling time on his career. His club, Al Ahly, were named Club of the Year after they won their eighth African Champions League title.
But when it came to the ‘big one’ Touré reigned supreme, and nobody was arguing about it.
It’s easy to see the midfielder dominating the awards again in future, too, especially if Manchester City fulfil their promise in the Premier League and Champions League.
“Everything is in a good place for me and for my club right now,” said Touré. “I am sure that within a couple of years Manchester City will be a big club in the world and that is why I am staying there.
“We play fantastic football, we score goals and it’s total attacking this season under a very good manager. The important thing for us is to win something because that’s what you want in football if you want to be a big club.
“If we can get one trophy that would be great, but I think with the team we have got and the manager we have got then we can do more.
“Then, after that, for me it is the World Cup, which is very exciting. It was very important for us to qualify for Brazil because the World Cup is where the best football players meet and it’s a dream tournament for every professional footballer. We want to show our colours to the world and show what we can do because we were disappointed not to do better in South Africa last time.