As we approach the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 12, the Sports Unbiased Crew will be releasing guides to help make better sense of what you watch as the world’s best soccer players converge on Brazil this summer. Check in regularly as we preview the eight groups, 32 teams, and key players that will play an integral role in determining the next world champion.
Yaya Toure is perhaps the most underrated midfielder in the world. He might also be the best all-around midfielder. The versatile Ivorian has it all: physical strength, technique, passing and scoring ability and boundless energy. He constantly switches between offensive and defensive positions throughout matches and never seems to tire.
The three-time African Footballer of the Year (2011-13) has made over 50 appearances for the Ivory Coast national team and will be playing in his third World Cup. Les Elephants have never made it past the group stages (2014 will be just their third World Cup) and are depending on the play of Toure to help get them into the second round — and beyond.
Before Going Pro
Yaya Toure was born on May 13, 1983 in Bouake. He is the younger brother of Liverpool defender Kolo Toure.
Toure joined the ASES Mimosas youth academy in 1996 and spent five years there before moving to Belgian club Beveren in 2001. He had a trial with English club Arsenal in the summer of 2003 but had trouble obtaining a work permit. He instead opted to sign for Metalurh Donetsk of the Ukraine, where he spent less than two years before moving to Greek side Olympiacos.
Toure joined Olympiacos in 2005 and soon thereafter debuted for the senior squad. His lone season at the club was a success as Olympiacos would win the league and Cup double. His play reminded many of France international midfielder Patrick Vieira. He began attracting interest from other clubs and in August 2006 signed with French Ligue 1 side AS Monaco. He started off slowly but finished the season with a flourish following a managerial change during the season. He established himself as a key midfielder for the club, and with that came more interest from around Europe.
Yaya Toure joined Spanish side Barcelona in the summer of 2007 and made his league debut on August 26 in the opener against Racing de Santander as a defensive midfielder. But despite his impressive performances at Camp Nou, he struggled for regular first-team football thanks to the emergence of Sergio Busquets during the 2009-10 season. He was allowed to leave the club in the summer of 2010 and joined Premier League club Manchester City for a transfer fee of about $40 million.
Toure made his Premier League debut in a goalless draw against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. He scored the lone goal in the 2011 FA Cup Final win over Stoke City, ending City’s 35-year title drought. In December of that year he was voted African Footballer of the Year for 2011. He was given a more attack-minded position under Roberto Mancini during the 2011-12 season and the player flourished, helping City overcome an eight-point deficit to Manchester United to capture their first league title in 44 years. He finished 2012 with a second African Footballer of the Year award. In 2012-13, under new manager Manuel Pellegrini, Toure had perhaps his best season ever. He became just the second midfielder in Premier League to tally 20 goals as City won their second league title in three years. He was named as one of the six nominees for the PFA Player of the Year award.
Yaya Toure made his debut with the Ivory Coast national team in 2004 and has been a regular member ever since. He helped the Elephants qualify for their first-ever World Cup in 2006 and played in all three of the team’s matches there. Ivory Coast would also qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Toure again played all three group stage matches, with a goal in a 3-0 win over North Korea.
Yaya Toure also represented the Ivory Coast at five Africa Cup of Nations tournaments (2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013) finishing runners-up in 2006 and 2012.