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Africa Sports News of Sunday, 9 May 2021


Yaya Toure: What if he had gone to Chelsea?

Toure joined Chelsea in 2010 Toure joined Chelsea in 2010

If there is one overarching ideology that has characterized Chelsea’s rise to superclub status, it is the aversion to standing still.

So it is that, even with a Champions League final in view, the transfer rumour mill continues to churn. The most recent reports have flagged up a link to Brazil international Gabriel Menino, who plays for Palmeiras and has been nicknamed, improbably, the Brazilian Yaya Toure.

The 20-year-old is reportedly a favourite of Selecao manager Tite, who handed him a maiden senior national team call-up in 2020 and is said to consider him the long-term successor to Dani Alves.

Capable of playing both in midfield and at right-back, and brimming with dynamism, there is no shortage of suitors for the Guarani youth product, with the likes of Juventus also linked.

Of course, it was not very long ago that Chelsea were interested in signing the original Yaya Toure. In a recent interview with the Daily Mail , the legendary Ivorian revealed that, prior to joining Manchester City in 2010, he nearly opted for a move to London instead.

“I was close to joining Chelsea,” he said. “Chelsea would have been easy because they already had a story as a great club. Didier Drogba was there as well, but I was thinking in my mind to get to a club where people can see me.

"At Barcelona I was surrounded by great players – Xavi, Iniesta, Messi – and that meant people thought it was easy for me to play with them. After I moved to City, people started to realise how capable I was.”

Come the summer of 2012, Roman Abramovich’s Blues were once rebuffed in their bid to prise the midfield powerhouse away from the Etihad, with Toure telling L’Equipe: “I am quite sure the day will come that I will be an old man and [Manchester City fans] will still go on talking about me here. Is that why I refused to talk with Real or Chelsea last summer? Yes, because City's history is to be made now, and I thank God for that.”

Clearly, it was that desire to write his own legend that ultimately dictated his choices, and with Toure at the head of their charge, the Citizens upstaged their city rivals United and kickstarted an era of success that carries through to this day.

It is tempting to wonder, however, what might have happened had Toure in fact chosen to move over to Stamford Bridge.

The 2010/11 season saw Chelsea finish in second place in the Premier League, nine points behind eventual champions Manchester United.

However, in doing so, they gave up 15 points and a whopping 25 goals (despite shattering the British transfer record to add Fernando Torres to the striker pool in the January transfer window) from their title-winning campaign the season prior, even while the ‘Goals Against’ column was barely altered.

The losses of Deco and Michael Ballack were crucial in this regard.

Both were released at the start of the 2010/11 season, with only tireless midfielder Ramires signed as a replacement from Benfica.

While the Portuguese maestro only featured sparingly, Ballack was a mainstay within the squad, allying technical quality with energy and winning mentality; shorn of these two, Chelsea were a shadow of their dominant selves, and not only failed to hit their attacking heights, but also wilted in key moments during the season.

Michael Ballack Frank Lampard Chelsea
It is easy to see then why Toure was a legitimate target for the Blues, and also the impact he would have had right away: he would have kept Chelsea competitive, while replacing their departed German midfield general to even more devastating attacking effect.

Ramires no doubt holds a special place in the hearts of Chelsea fans for his Camp Nou heroics the following year, but his lack of discipline in their Champions League quarter-final exit at the hands of Manchester United buttressed the drop-off from one season to the next.

Just days after the Blues struggled for inspiration and ultimately fell short against the Red Devils, Toure tore through them in that year’s FA Cup semi-final, netting a famous winner to push City over the line despite being second-best for the opening period.

In league play, Chelsea effectively stood still and paid for it, while a Toure-powered Manchester City pulled off a 19-point swing to tie the Blues on points in 2010/11, before winning the title outright the following season.

Had the club hierarchy replaced like for like and brought in the Ivorian to take Ballack’s place, there is a strong chance they would have retained their title, and that might have been enough to keep Carlo Ancelotti in work at Stamford Bridge.

It would also, crucially, have delayed City’s rise just that little bit longer.

Chelsea’s loss was very much Manchester City’s gain.