The Ivorian would have made headlines no matter what would have happened after he was named on Pep Guardiola’s team sheet, but nobody expected this.
Team news announcements rarely contain too many genuine shocks, but news of Yaya Toure’s inclusion for Manchester City against Crystal Palace had the Selhurst Park press room resembling something like an office on Wall Street during the financial crisis.
What was this? How had this happened? Had City’s social media team made a genuine clanger? Surely there was no way Toure, all but a former Manchester City player, was to be trusted by Pep Guardiola.
He was you know.
After more than two months in exile, and with seemingly no way back, Toure returned. It confounded everything anybody who covers the club (first and foremost me) thought they (we) had known.
That Toure’s one prior appearance of the season came against Steaua Bucharest when City had a 5-0 aggregate lead said everything about his place in Guardiola’s early season plans: he didn’t have one.
Not long afterwards he was left out of the Champions League squad all together and Guardiola quickly made it known the Ivorian would have no way back until he apologised for the various incendiary comments made by his agent, Dimitri Seluk, over the last few years.
Seluk took the bait and launched further tirades, and would continue to do so for the following weeks.
Even when Toure apologised (and Seluk immediately claimed he shouldn’t have), it appeared the midfielder had no chance of getting back into the side.
After all, Guardiola had initially said it was a tough decision to leave both he and 19-year-old Aleix Garcia out of his European squad. Garcia, it was supposed, would have taken up a midfield role if Fernandinho or Fernando (or Fabian Delph) were not up to the job.
So how could anybody have known Toure would be there on the team sheet for a meaningful Premier League match?
Perhaps alarm bells should have rung for me personally during the international break when, during a conversation regarding Toure’s plans to buy property abroad, Seluk told me that he was no longer giving interviews, or indeed getting involved in any stories, much less any that could upset City.
It was not clear at the time whether that was merely a ploy to cut the conversation short, or whether it was as clear a sign as any to date that Toure and his camp have made peace with the club. In hindsight, it seems obvious it was the latter. Or quite possibly both.
As chaos reigned following the announcement that Toure would start against Palace, one well-placed City source indicated Toure had been “training like a demon” in recent weeks. Indeed, the 33-year-old did appear to be in fine shape when he trotted out onto a football pitch for the first time since August 24th.
Not that he looked particularly limber in the opening exchanges, when he seemed keen not to stray too far from Fernandinho, the new king of the City midfield, and struggled to have a touch for much of the opening period. In fact, for the opening 38 minutes he looked a much more inhibited version of his former self, as if he had been expressly told to not do what he always used to.
Then it happened.
Stood calmly on the edge of the box, he took a few touches, passed it to Nolito and manoeuvred himself into a bit of space. At this point it must have all come rushing back to him. Everything he had forgotten over the last two and a bit months came flooding back. A ball! Some space! The whites of the goalkeeper’s eyes! He drew his right leg back and the end result was as it has been on so many occasions over the last five years: a Yaya Toure goal.
It came via a small deflection, sure, but let the man have his moment and, please, do not let it detract from just how unlikely this had all seemed up until 13:59 on Saturday, November 19.
But would that be it? City came under pressure after half-time and it did not look like Toure would get his moment when Connor Wickham fired in an equaliser.
Toure, in truth, did not do a great deal else other than find the back of the net. It was a surprise when Guardiola decided to keep him on but take off Nolito and bring on David Silva, if not considering Toure’s lack of match practice as anything else.
There were one or two passes, certainly, but nothing that really stood out.
And then it happened again. With City staring down the barrel of their fourth 1-1 draw in five Premier League games (having gone within inches of making it 2-0 just before conceding), Toure only went and won it.
Silva stepped over Kevin De Bruyne’s low corner and there, remarkably, was Toure. Again! He may not have marauded through the midfield, he may not have pinged a long-range pass, he may not have given Palace too much to worry about for the rest of the match, but he certainly still knows what to do when in a bit of space in the box.
This time he stuck out his right leg and guided the ball delicately in at the far post. Pandemonium in the away end. Those fans saw Toure put in a monstrous performance here to help City towards the title in 2014 but perhaps this one will live even longer in the memory.
One man was so delirious his celebrations spilled over onto the pitch even though he still had his young daughter on his shoulders.
This was truly a remarkable occasion. Toure was not supposed to get a look-in, he was supposed to hang around for the rest of the season, never play again and then leave under a cloud in the summer.
Instead, here he is. The fans sing his name. Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta and Kelechi Iheanacho cannot contain their delight as they walk off the pitch. Even Pep Guardiola gives him a hug!