By any measure, Kolo Toure, who turns 41 on Saturday, has had a remarkable career and certainly exceeded expectations after joining Arsenal in a deal struck with ASEC Mimosas in 2002.
The former Ivory Coast defender, who is now assistant coach to Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers, was signed by Arsene Wenger in February 2002 but did not play for the remainder of the 01/02 season.
While stats will show he made 27 appearances in 02/03, just nine were starts, and a young Toure had to play second fiddle to Martin Keown and Sol Campbell in a campaign that saw the northern side of London throw an eight-point lead with nine games remaining.
Back then, the Ivorian was deployed in defensive midfield, central defense and right-back and often looked unconvincing. In all fairness, this was probably due to his mobility in different positions, his age and his relative inexperience at the highest level.
Prior to his introduction to the English game, there was a perception that Wenger had inherited a great defense at Arsenal – Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams, Keown and Lee Dixon – and the feeling was that the Frenchman was going to struggle to build another. strong defensive unit once. these players have aged and declined.
However, the ASEC graduate developed into a solid centre-back and completed a new backline that included Ashley Cole, Campbell and Lauren. German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann also replaced David Seaman in the summer, but the Gunners improved defensively and conceded 26 times in an unbeaten campaign that saw them keep 15 clean sheets.
Only Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea with 21 had more, and the Gunners’ development from the previous campaign was evident. In 02/03, Wenger’s side conceded 42 goals, keeping just 10 shutouts, which was ninth most in the top flight.
A year later, with Touré as a pillar at the back, their progress is marked.
Certainly, while the North London club’s nastiest full-back can’t be attributed to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner alone, his influence has been far-reaching.
His growth from Cordy defensive midfielder, adept at playing different roles, to consistently heading alongside Campbell was truly impressive, and West Africa joined a list of bargains by Wenger that proved to be important players for the club.
Despite Arsenal’s decline, which coincided with their move away from Highbury, Toure grew stronger and he eventually moved to New Rich Manchester City in 2009.
Earlier, the centre-back narrowly missed out on a Champions League winners’ medal in 2006, where the Gunners were beaten 2-1 by Barcelona, after being part of the team that kept 10 successive clean sheets in Europe from matchday three until Barca scored twice. in the decider at the Parc des Princes.
Arsenal’s defense held off Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal on the way to their decider with the Catalan giants.
For context, Los Blancos had Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Raul and David Beckham in their ranks, while the Old Lady was blessed with David Trezeguet, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pavel Nedved, while talented sniper Juan Riquelme and Diego Forlan starred for the sub yellow.
Nevertheless, Touré and co. prevented the aforementioned stars from finding the back of their net on their way to the final, an extraordinary feat.
West Africa had played nine of 10 matches, missing only the 1-0 victory at FC Thun in week five, and scored the decisive goal in the London side’s semi-final against Villarreal, a first-leg final that sealed progress to Arsenal’s first and only Champions League final to date.
Leaving north London was imperative given Wenger’s side struggled to compete with rivals, while a falling out with brandon William Gallas made his time in the Emirates even more uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, the Ivorian’s Man City spell, which produced another Premier League title win in 2011/12, is somewhat overlooked due to the turmoil that followed an encouraging 2009/10 campaign.
Fears over his weight led to the seemingly unintentional ingestion of a banned substance, resulting in a six-month doping ban in March 2011, while a two-year clandestine affair before and after his marriage further damaged his reputation in Manchester.
The first, although unacceptable, can be attributed to naivety but infidelity, and the manner of the facade, certainly tarnished Touré’s image, and he struggled to shake a certain comic perception for the rest of his career.
Certainly, the opprobrium that followed the player meant that his legacy in English football could remain forever tainted.
Accepted, he failed to uphold professional and social mores, much like Rio Ferdinand who was banished in 2004 for failing a drug test, while John Terry and Ryan Giggs breached their marital vows by getting married. engaging in business in the past.
The aforementioned players are widely considered among the best players of the Premier League era, despite their shortcomings, due to their various qualities and what they brought to their teams.
This argument is not made to give Toure a pass, nor can the ex-Ivorian star’s achievements in the English game match those icons, but simply to put everything into perspective.
The former defender is part of a list of nine players who have won the Premier League with two different clubs. This group includes Nicolas Anelka and Ashley Cole with Arsenal and Chelsea respectively, Carlos Tevez at the two Manchester clubs, and recently N’Golo Kante (Leicester City and Chelsea) and Riyad Mahrez (Leicester and Man City).
With 353 top-flight appearances, Touré ranks as the African with the most appearances in the division. That’s 55 more appearances than Shola Ameobi who comes second.
Why, then, do observers not focus on the aforementioned exploits, but rather choose to remember incidents off the pitch when he failed to live up to social norms?