Speaking exclusively to France Football, Ivorian midfielder Yaya Touré launched an lengthy tirade against Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.
What’s the key to Guardiola’s method?
He’s prideful, so he wants to succeed with his players, those he has selected and not those who are included. It’s HIS project. And too bad if you’re not part of it. I think I could have been useful. Not to speed things up, but to slow down the tempo to be at the origin of plays. The rhythm and the tempo are essential to football. But apparently, not for Pep. To incite me to wait on the bench, he told me one day, “Make the most of me on the bench. It’ll help you in your future profession.” But I didn’t want to change careers just yet, because I felt that I was still able to play.
Maybe it was just a quip on his part?
It’s precisely that. I began to understand Pep. He’s telling the truth when he jokes. That’s how he works. He’s lying when he’s serious. I realised this at Barcelona. When I told him I wanted to leave Barcelona, he would joke around and say, “Come on Yaya, stay!” very lightheartedly, even though he did everything he could internally for me not to leave.
What do you put this closeness down to?
I don’t know… I’ve always respected my coaches and their decisions. I’m not the kind of person to knock on their door if I’m not playing. This season, I had the same attitude to not bother or upset the group. Strangely enough, towards the end, Pep told me, “Why don’t you come to my office more often to ask for more minutes?” I told him that I was respectful and was experienced. I know it doesn’t yield to anything.
I also said, “You see me everyday in training. You see that I’m still as invested. You also saw that if I wanted to, I could run havoc with the group. Seeing how charismatic I am, I think many players would have followed me. But I never did it because I respect my club and profession. Do you really think you would have done the same thing with Ibrahimovic?” He looked at me, moving his head, looking for words, stuttering confusing explanations. I continued by saying, “Do you think that Barcelona would have done something so shameful with Iniesta?” Sorry, but you can’t mess with people like that.
Guardiola just put you on the bench. What lack of respect are you talking about?
I need to feel useful. I like when my steak is raw (sic!). If that’s the case, I leave it for the chef. But if it’s cooked, no need to waste time.
How can you say your coach is wrong when he won the League Cup and dominated the Premier League?
Who knows? Maybe we would have done better in the Champions’ League with me? Guardiola played with me. I don’t think it was a physical problem, but a personal one. I feel that he always goes back to the same quirks he knew at Barcelona. He persists, as if he didn’t want to listen.
Why is there a misunderstanding when you both share a passion for the sport? It could have maybe brought you guys closer together?
We did have everything to get along, and I like talking about how we play. I also asked myself questions on our relationship as to whether I scared him. On a human level, it was difficult to deal with this. I am usually very calm, but I had to hold this back. The worst is that the owners saw this and let it happen. But it’s normal considering that they put him in charge. At City, there is no opposition seeing as all of his men are in key positions. It’s not easy to accept the status of a player paid to not play. That’s the first time that it’s happened to me, and it doesn’t feel good to feel like you’re stealing money. Or to not deserve it.
Towards the end, you played more…
It’s true, he did play me more. Fifteen minutes here, twenty minutes there. It was a joke. He was cruel with me. Would he have done the same thing at Barcelona with Iniesta? I began asking myself if it were not down to the colour of my skin.
What do you mean?
I am not the first one to have spoken about differences in how he treated people. In Barcelona, I know that some began asking questions. Maybe because us Africans are not always treated like everyone else. Last summer, when Pep shipped off Bony, who was a big signing a year and half earlier (32 million euros), I began asking questions. You notice that he often has problems with African players, wherever he goes. Yet, I always tried to fight that idea. I didn’t want to believe it. Until I experienced all this humiliation this season.
What are you implying? That he has problems with players of color?
He acts as if he doesn’t because he’s too smart to get caught. He would never admit it. But the day where he finds himself in a team with five Africans, non-naturalised, I promise I’ll send him a cake! Beyond that, he loves dominating and having players who kiss his feet. I don’t like that kind of relationship. I respect my coach, but I am not some belonging or object.
You alluded to a form of humiliation. Could you clarify?
When the coach says, in the dressing room, despite you having been vice captain a few months earlier, “I don’t feel that you’re motivated. If you don’t want to stay, talk to the owners and make an arrangement with them.” Lacking such decency is complete and utter disrespect. Would he have done it with others? I felt humiliated and asked myself to what extent things were bad, for me to feel this responsible.
The club hosted a goodbye ceremony for you and promised to name one of the training camps in your name…
Yes, that’s true. I would have preferred to have no ceremony and leave with my head held high. I feel that Pep, without any gratitude or respect, did everything to ruin my final season. He stole my goodbyes with City, a club with amazing fans. I would have liked to leave with emotion attached to the club. Similar to Iniesta or Buffon. But Pep prevented this. The worst is that towards the end, I felt happy to leave because of my frustration and my sentiment of abandonment and neglect. If I shed a tear when saying goodbye to the fans, it’s because of the way things broke down and because I couldn’t bear to see that guy anymore.
Seeing as you want to be on the sideline someday, why didn’t you take advantage of your time at City to learn from Guardiola?
I learned more from my other coaches like Hervé Renard, Frank Rijkaard, Mancini, Pellegrini or Banide. Beyond the tactical side of things, their managerial and leadership qualities really struck me. From a tactical perspective, Pep is obviously impressive. His vision of the game is exceptional. How could one deny it? On the other hand, managing the group is not at the same level. With him, I’ll remember what one shouldn’t do in terms of human relationships. | Fancy a flutter on this summer’s World Cup? Check out this .
Are you putting his genius into question?
I’d like to bust the Guardiola myth. He didn’t invent the Barcelona we know. He just had the intelligence to adapt what was put in place by Cruyff before. Then at Bayern and City, he tried to reproduce the same principles, while working with “his” players and with unlimited means. It wouldn’t work at Crystal Palace or Watford. For me, Zidane is the best because he has fewer demands and shows great respect for his players. I also like Klopp and Tuchel. The latter is a really clever tactician. He’ll really enjoy PSG.
When you become a coach, what will you take from Guardiola?
His theory on the sport of course. But careful, that doesn’t mean he’s a genius, unlike Zidane. Pep wants to come across as a genius. He loves that. But behind that, it’s all an act, it’s nonsense. He’s creating a persona. When I see him scratching his head during matches, it makes me laugh. It could be a comedy or PR simply. If we didn’t get along well, it’s because I had caught him. But unlike my big bro Eto’o, I didn’t say anything until now.
What did you say to each other when you parted ways at the end of the season?
He was a hypocrite when praising me, but I let him say what he had to say.
Did this season turn you off from football?
Not at all. On the contrary, I am hyped up for another season or two at the highest level. But not in China, who had offered me big bucks two or three seasons ago. I want a nice challenge in Europe.
Is a return to France possible?
Of course. It might be easier for me because physically, Ligue 1 isn’t as intense as the Premier League when you can go ten minutes without the ball. In France, it’s more tactical.
Was there ever the possibility of coming back to Ligue 1?
Yes, in 2014, it was almost finalised with PSG. I met with Nasser Al-Khelaïfi multiple times. But a deal between Qatar and the Emirates was never possible.
Apparently, you’re on Marseille’s shortlist…
Really? (Laughing) That’s the kind of challenge that could interest me because they’re really doing something interesting there. The adventure has just started and corresponds with what I’m looking for. Samir Nasri said a lot great things about Marseille. I also really like a current Marseille player, Dimitri Payet!
Is a free Yaya Touré expensive?
Nooo! (Laughing) Honestly, I just want one final challenge on the pitch. I really miss that. More than money, I’m looking to enjoy myself. In City, I benefited from the status of being that “first big player” to raise the stakes. I was the foothold for advancing the projects and attracting players. That status comes at a cost. But now I don’t have that status. So, I’m less expensive.