Pep Guardiola has dedicated Manchester City’s final home game of their championship-winning season to Yaya Toure, a player he has described as one of the most important figures in the club’s history.
The Ivory Coast international, who turns 35 on the final day of the season on Sunday, will start a Premier League game for the first time in the current campaign when City play Brighton at the Etihad.
It is the manager’s way of allowing Toure to bid farewell to a club he joined when Guardiola sold him to City from Barcelona for £24 million ($32 million, 27 million euros) in 2010.
Since then, Toure has been an integral part of City’s success, fuelled by the wealth of their Abu Dhabi owners, and has collated three league titles, two League Cups and one FA Cup winner’s medal.
That body of work has led Guardiola to describe Toure as “an extraordinary person” and guarantee him an emotional farewell on Wednesday.
“He has been big,” said Guardiola. “Football players make the clubs bigger and bigger and bigger and without doubt he was, is, one of the most important players in our history.
“He helped this club make a step forward and hopefully we can make a good game for him.
“We dedicate it to him. Tomorrow we are going to play for Yaya.”
Guardiola’s early relationship with Toure when they were reunited in Manchester was not an easy one, with the manager angered by comments from the midfielder’s outspoken agent Dimitri Seluk.
However, Toure played his way back into Guardiola’s plans and was rewarded with a one-year contract extension last summer.
‘Maybe I was wrong’
This season, Toure has so far been limited to nine substitute appearances although Guardiola, rightly, believes he should not be judged on one season alone.
“I am not going to judge Yaya for what happened this season,” he said.
“Maybe I was wrong in my decision this season, I don’t know. We have to analyse a career, not just in Manchester, in Russia, in Barcelona and Monaco.
“He is a player with a huge personality. Sometimes it doesn’t matter about his physical condition, he doesn’t feel the pressure, it doesn’t matter where he plays. He loves to play football.
“Of course the decisions I took this season depended on what I saw every day in the training sessions and, from what I saw, from what I saw about him, nothing changed my opinion.
“He was the only guy last season we extend the contract. His behaviour was good. Hopefully he can stay in football and come back maybe here.”
Guardiola stopped short of predicting whether Toure will look to continue his career although the City manager is in no doubt that he could continue to play at the Premier League level should he so choose.
The City manager still has two games remaining — Brighton and the visit to Southampton on Sunday — and was in no mood to discuss the future prospects of players or his coaching staff, with his coach Mikel Arteta one of the names to have been linked with the soon to be vacant Arsenal job.
“I don’t know what is going to happen,” he said. “In football today maybe a player comes and says I want to play more and we have to find a solution. We will have to see.
“We are going to play these two games, try to win points and finish well. After, we will see what happens.”