Yaya Toure will make his 316th and last appearance for Manchester City against Brighton on Wednesday night. The 34-year-old Ivorian has won three Premier League titles in eight years at Etihad Stadium and Frank Lampard, who played with and against him, tells BBC Sport why he was so important for City – and what makes him such a special player.
I would put Yaya Toure in the top five of the toughest midfield opponents I faced in my career, and at his peak he could change games on his own.
Steven Gerrard probably edges it as the best I have played against, for his consistency over the years, but Yaya is up there along with Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira and Paul Scholes – which shows how highly I rate him.
Every midfielder has different attributes but the best players are the ones you fear, and I certainly did that when I was up against Yaya.
Even some of the very best play within themselves slightly, but he didn’t. He would hurt you by going forward and by scoring goals at the end of it, which is always a great trait that not many midfield players have.
When I faced him, I knew he was very good on the ball and could pass it around me if he wanted to. He knew the moments to keep it simple and move the ball around.
But if you got too close to him to try to stop him doing that, he also had that ability to drive through midfield and his physical power and pace – which was deceptive because of his big stride – made it so difficult to stay with him.
Either by making a one-two or just by facing me up and running straight past me, he would be gone.
‘He was bought to be a superstar – and he lived up to it’
Yaya is leaving Manchester City at the end of the season and I am glad he will get a proper send-off in Wednesday’s game against Brighton, because he definitely deserves one.
In his eight years at the club since arriving for £24m from Barcelona in 2010, he has played a huge part in City’s rise, initially by being one of the first signings they made of a really top player from a big club.
Along with David Silva and Sergio Aguero, who followed him to Manchester, he was bought to be one of City’s first superstars and he has lived up to that with the way he has performed down the years.
Yaya was integral to their first two title wins in 2012 and 2014, particularly that second success when he scored so many goals, and was the dominant force in midfield in the Premier League all season.
Yaya has played in so many positions but I preferred him as a deep-lying midfielder because he could do things there that others were not capable of.
He controlled possession and set the tempo for the team – then he unloaded and went forward to create or score. I loved that because it made him different, and made him very difficult to mark.
He has been a lot quieter this year but, in his first five or six seasons at Etihad Stadium, he was a big factor in the revolution of the club and signified the change that was happening there.
‘You get defined by big goals – and Yaya scored plenty of them’
The big players score big goals in big games and Yaya has always done that for City.
Right from the start he has played a huge part in helping them win trophies, scoring the winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United in 2011, and doing the same against Stoke in that year’s final.
I could go on, but the point I am trying to make is that there are certain players in your squad – even a squad as strong as City’s – that you look to and rely on in moments like that, and Yaya is definitely one of them.
I found out for myself when I was at City for a year. The 2014-15 season was probably not Yaya’s strongest campaign but I knew when he was in the team that he could pop up and make a difference in tight matches.
That is one of the differences between a good player, and a great one. Yaya produced when it mattered.
He was a regular goalscorer, a great penalty and free-kick taker, and a big character at the club.
‘He had an aura – from the way he trained and the way he played’
As a team-mate, it was Yaya’s presence that counted more than anything else in the dressing room.
I did not find him to be a big speaker – he was quite private and he is a family man off the pitch.
Some people might take it as a negative that he did not say much but I think it is just his personality. Some players are like that, and I don’t mind it.
The way he was a big influence was the way he trained and the way he played. That gave him an aura.
When I walked into the City dressing room, I could sense it straight away that he was one of the main characters there, on and off the pitch.
‘He has had to adapt to becoming a bit-part player, and he has taken it very well’
There has been another revolution at City since Pep Guardiola took charge in 2016 and Yaya has not been involved as much, especially this season.
I know myself as a player that, later on in your career, it is not easy when your role changes. He has had to adapt to becoming a bit-part player, which not every big player can handle, and I think he has taken it very well.
I would not have been sure that he would do that, because I never got that close to him personally. He was one of those players you did not quite know what he was thinking.
But like I say he was always quiet and got on with his job and I think it is to his credit that he has done the same even when he has been out of the team for so long.
Last season he was completely out of the picture at first under Pep, but got himself back in and earned himself another year’s contract.
I think he deserves huge respect for that, because it is definitely not easy when you are in your mid 30s, and he also did it without complaining at all.
What next? ‘He has the quality to stay in the Premier League’
Yaya has crossed eras at City and I think he will understand his future lies away from the club now.
He turns 35 on Sunday and things have probably come to a natural end for him at Etihad Stadium.
What next? Well, I am sure there will be interest from abroad, including China and the United States.
He has been linked with City’s sister club in the MLS, New York City, in the past – which, from my own experience there, is a move that would definitely work for him.
The MLS is a physical league but, if his mind is on it, I would have no doubts he could play there for a year or two.
It might depend more on whether he fits into New York City’s plans because I know they are looking to be more youthful in their approach than in previous years.
|Yaya Toure – from Bouake to beyond…|
|Born: Bouake, Ivory Coast Age: 34 (he turns 35 on Sunday)|
|Clubs: Les Inconditionnels (1995-96), ASEC Mimosas (1996-2001), Beveren (2001-03), Metalurh Donetsk (2003-05), Olympiakos (2005-06), Monaco (2006-07), Barcelona (2007-10), Manchester City (2010-2018)|
|Country: 100 Ivory Coast caps, 19 goals|
|Languages spoken: French, Russian, Greek, Catalan, English|
|Honours: The 2009 Champions League. League titles in Greece, Spain and England, and domestic cups in each country too.|
Yaya will not be short of offers from Premier League clubs either, and he apparently would prefer to stay in England.
He is a big lad and, when you are built like he is, you have to stay on top of things fitness-wise because otherwise the game is so quick, it gets difficult.
But in terms of the quality he has, I think he is more than capable of extending his career here.
It comes down to what he wants, and he deserves the opportunity to decide because he has been a great servant for City.
Wherever he goes, he will be fondly remembered at Etihad Stadium, because I know their fans recognise what he has done for them.
Frank Lampard was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.