There was pure elation at Yaya Toure’s goal-scoring return to action for Manchester City over the weekend.
As he was leaving the field after scoring both of City’s goals in a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, he was given a warm hug by coach Pep Guardiola. As he walked into the dressing room, he was given a standing ovation by his teammates.
Among the fans spilling onto the playing surface amid the celebrations after Toure’s 83rd-minute winning goal was a man who was holding a young girl with his right arm and punching the air with his left.
These joyous moments have been a long time coming for Toure.
A player who will go down in the history books as one of City’s greatest players, Toure has been virtually ostracized since Guardiola took charge in the offseason. The main reason for that was Toure’s agent, Dimitri Seluk, who Guardiola clearly dislikes because of Seluk’s open criticism toward him.
But it also had something to do with Toure himself, with Guardiola regarding Toure as too bulky and not fit enough to perform the type of hard-working pressing game that the Spanish coach wants from his players.
It was a lean-looking Toure who took to the field against Palace on Saturday for only his second appearance of the season, and first since a virtually meaningless Champions League playoff match on Aug. 24. It was one of the most surprising selections of the season.
Somewhat surprisingly, Toure played the full 90 minutes, despite his lack of recent game time, and proved to be the match-winner once again for City.
Just like old times.
“His weight is perfect now,” Guardiola said, “and there’s no doubt about his quality.”
Guardiola spoke in glowing terms about a player he sold when at Barcelona and then has overlooked in his short time at City, saying Toure “is now a real part of the team and can help us achieve our targets.”
There’s even a chance Toure could be part of City’s squad for the knockout stage of the Champions League, should the club advance. Toure wasn’t included in the squad for the group stage, so will lose his place when City plays Borussia Moenchengladbach on Wednesday.
“If we are able to qualify in the Champions League, I will sit with my staff and we will decide who are the best players to help us to achieve what we want in the Champions League,” Guardiola said.
“I’ve spoken many times in the last month with Yaya because he was my player with Barcelona, I know him very well. I know how he is as a player. As a player, there is no doubt. If there was a doubt, he would not be here. He is another guy to compete with our midfield players.”
Toure, however, is unlikely to regain the untouchable status he had under Roberto Mancini and – for most of his three-year reign – Manuel Pellegrini.
He is 33 years old and no longer the dynamic midfielder who powered City to significant victories and trophies since joining from Barcelona in 2010. His latest contract expires at the end of the season.
Also, he has so much competition in midfield these days, with Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan ahead of him in the pecking order as central midfielders and both David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in front of him as attacking midfielders.
Guardiola also has Fabian Delph, who is currently injured, and Fernando as other midfield options, as well as talented youngster Aleix Garcia.
But Toure remains a great option for Guardiola to have. This weekend, for example, Guardiola turned to Toure after giving Gundogan and Silva a rest as they played twice for their countries in the international break.
As backups go, there are worse options.
“I knew,” Toure said, “that one day my manager would need me.”
And his teammates are delighted that one of City’s greatest ever players is back. Toure’s departure from Etihad Stadium might not be so ugly, after all.
“It has not been easy for him in the past few weeks,” City right back Bacary Sagna said. “He kept working really hard in training, stayed professional, and that was his just reward.”