Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

For City, a Colossal Hole to Fill in Midfield

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

For City, a Colossal Hole to Fill in Midfield

Article excerpt

City's manager admits there isn't an easy way to make up for the massive Yaya Toure when he leaves after this weekend to play for Ivory Coast in the Cup of Nations.

No team ever won England's marathon league during the month of January, but Manchester City is more than halfway there.

The questions concerning City's prospects of becoming the champion for the first time since 1968 have not been about money or player recruitment since the Abu Dhabi royal family purchased the club three seasons ago. But, with the giant Manchester United just down the road, City still needs to demonstrate that it has the know- how, the reserves, the mental and physical powers of recovery, to last the distance.

Those things cannot simply be bought.

Especially at this time of year, when the British clubs plow on through the holidays enjoyed by the rest of European soccer, the schedule is draining. City traveled to Sunderland on Sunday, losing to a goal in the last seconds of a dour contest. On Tuesday, back in its home stadium, where City has been impregnable this season, the team crushed Liverpool, 3-0.

It was not the size of the score line, but the demonstration of City's powers of recovery that impressed.

Liverpool, itself a big spender in the league this season, had the benefit of two extra days' rest and recuperation between games, and so Roberto Mancini, the City coach, juggled with his resources, making six changes to the side beaten at Sunderland.

One player he did not leave out, and dared not leave out, was Yaya Toure.

This fellow is immense in size and stature. He stands 1.92 meters, or more than 6-foot-3. He weighs in around 90 kilograms, or 200 pounds. He bestrides the midfield, the toughest place to play in terms of physical output.

But not for nothing is Yaya, the younger of two Ivory Coast brothers in the City ranks, considered an immovable force. "I have tried to find another Yaya in my squad," said Mancini, with a heavy touch of Italian forlornness. "But there isn't another Yaya." Whether it be driving the light blues on from the halfway line, galloping with long and devouring strides through the tackles of opponents or, as on Tuesday, heading in a goal from a corner kick, this Toure is a colossus.

His journey out of Ivory Coast is typical: discovered playing academy soccer, taken to Belgium, and then onward and upward via Ukraine, Greece, France and Spain, and then sold for huge profit by Barcelona to Manchester City for Pounds 24 million, or $37.5 million, two summers ago.

Too big, perhaps, for Barca's swift and nimble passing game, he fits the English profile with power to spare. His stature reminds me of the Cuban runner Alberto Juantorena, who won gold in the 400 and 800 meters at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. So big and so powerful was Juantorena that he was known as El Caballo -- the Horse. …

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