By Jay Jaffa
In almost every meaningful statistic Yaya Toure lags behind his competitors for the PFA Player of the Year award. By the end of the season he may have nothing but a Capital One Cup medal to remind him of 2013-14. Yet the Ivorian, already recognised as one of the most complete players on the planet, has elevated his game way beyond the benchmarks he has set in his four years in Manchester.
Whether that will be enough to see him crowned the best player in England remains to be seen but the fact he was shortlisted without a single murmur of discontent goes to show how impressive he has been this season.
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“People talk about Suarez and Hazard – and let me say that they are two players I really admire – but when it comes to scoring goals, making goals and performing at a high level in the most important matches, they don’t even get close to Yaya,” he told The Mirror.
“Toure has scored more than 20 goals from central midfield – and as an all-round footballer he has absolutely everything. No-one has come close to him this season.”
It is hard to argue. For four years Toure has devoured opponents in his own half, trampled them in theirs and dragged City to victory in the biggest games. This season alone, he has netted goals in both Manchester derbies, the 6-3 romp over Arsenal and got City rolling in their 5-1 win at Tottenham.
The Capital One Cup, Manuel Pellegrini’s first trophy in England, was turned on its head by one of the goals of the season; Toure wistfully bending a 30-yarder across Vito Mannone and into the top corner. From there Sunderland wilted, losing 3-1 at Wembley.
In all competitions, Toure has scored 22 goals from midfield this year. Frank Lampard only bettered that once (27 in 51 games in 2009-10), while Steven Gerrard (also shortlisted for the award) went beyond that figure twice (23 in 53 in 2005-06 and 24 in 44 in 2008-09). Paul Scholes’s biggest haul was 20 in 52 games.
As far as goals per game go, it is only Gerrard’s total from five years ago that competes. With 45 matches under his belt, Toure has played one more game than the Liverpool skipper but his contribution to City’s cause is no less diminished.
Of course City have been no strangers to goalscoring this year. They have netted a stunning 145 goals over the season and figures like this should not be the ultimate factor for personal accolades.
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What do these players have in common? Only Terry and Giggs were part of title-winning sides and a long way shy of being their respective club’s top scorer. The others, aside from Gerrard, did not win a trophy in the year they were voted the best player in the country.
Again, as Vieira says: “When you are voting for the best player, it shouldn’t just be about the number of goals you have scored or the number of assists you have made.
“It should also be about whether you have done great things against the biggest teams in the biggest games. If you take that into account, then no one in the Premier League comes close to Yaya Toure.”
He is an iconic figure at the Etihad Stadium. An all-action bruiser; a colossus in the heart of midfield yet with a refined quality with the ball at his feet. A midfield matchwinner - the rarest and most valuable of assets.
He has evolved in every season, shaking off the belief that his strength lay as a holding midfielder almost instantaneously. He has notched 50 goals in 180 games for City but this year has seen Toure comprehensively surpass the standards set in three previous years.
That he has scored over twice as many he did in the last two campaigns suggests he is peaking at the age of 30. His current injury is a blow and will count against him in the final vote, particularly given the points his side have dropped in his recent absence, and it will be a major surprise if he did trump the likes of Suarez.
As observers it will be interesting to see if this bothers the Ivorian, especially after his pointed remarks in the press last week that he feels he is underappreciated by the media. It is true that over a career that has seen him play for Monaco, Barcelona and Manchester City, Toure has received very few individual honours.
The fact that his three most prestigious awards have been as the African Player of the Year adds some semblance of logic to the claim that players from his continent are ignored for the major awards. This award though, is voted for by his peers - and will have been made in early April. If he is to be overlooked it is very little to do with the media.
Perhaps Toure is doomed to finish empty-handed. No African player has won the PFA Player of the Year award, surprising given Didier Drogba’s consistent brilliance for Chelsea and it seems like Toure has an uphill battle to snatch it from one of Liverpool’s contenders, namely Suarez.
The timing of the voting and Liverpool's surge to the summit of the Premier League mean it is almost inconceivable that Toure could be handed an accolade that would mean more to him than most.
As his manager says: “Hopefully we win the title and then he can be the best player.”