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Yaya Toure leaves Man City as the Premier League's forgotten legend

Pep Guardiola says Yaya Toure will get the send-off he deserves against Brighton after confirming the midfielder will leave Man City at the end of the season.
English Premier League: Gabriel Jesus (88') Manchester City 5-0 Swansea

Mohamed Salah created a piece of history earlier this week by becoming the first African to win the Football Writers' Association's Footballer of the Year award.

For an honour dating back to 1948, Salah's success was perhaps overdue, especially considering the great African players to have graced English football's top flight during the Premier League era, but many would argue that the Egyptian should have been beaten to that distinction by a player who will depart the stage in the next week to far less fanfare than he deserves.

Because of the way he has been left to fade away at Manchester City by Pep Guardiola this season, Yaya Toure is in danger of becoming one of the forgotten legends of the Premier League.

But with the clock also running down for the likes of Arsene Wenger and Michael Carrick -- both men have been afforded warm tributes in recent weeks -- and Andres Iniesta's departure from Barcelona being accompanied by tearful teammates at a news conference this week, Toure's contribution at City deserves greater acclaim.

But for another Liverpool whirlwind by the name of Luis Suarez, Toure would almost certainly have walked away with the Footballer of the Year trophy in 2014 and beaten Salah by four years to the distinction of being the first African winner.

The Ivory Coast midfielder scored an incredible 20 goals in 35 Premier League appearances that season as City mounted a late surge to the title to deny Suarez and Liverpool in the final straight, but after his own impressive campaign, the individual award went to the Uruguay forward.

Didier Drogba and Riyad Mahrez have both gone close to winning the award, while Nwankwo Kanu and Michael Essien also advanced the cause of African players in England with their performances for Arsenal and Chelsea, respectively.

But Toure is perhaps a unique case when it comes to his status in the game because, as his time at City draws to a close, his contribution during the past decade continues to be largely overlooked beyond the blue half of Manchester.

There would be a strong case to suggest that not only has Toure been the best African player to play in the Premier League, but he has arguably been the most influential of any player in English football in recent years too.

He was the first big signing at City back in 2010, the one whose arrival from Barcelona persuaded the likes of David Silva and then Sergio Aguero to follow.

He was a crucial figure in all of City's successes, prior to this season, with his winning goals in the 2011 FA Cup  -- in both the semifinal against Manchester United and final against Stoke City -- and a pivotal strike at Newcastle in the 2011-12 title run-in some of the most important moments in the club's history.

Off-field issues have not helped Toure secure the legacy he deserves. The ridiculous fuss over City's apparent failure to celebrate his birthday properly in 2014, which led to him eventually being given a birthday cake, turned Toure into a figure of fun and unfairly shifted the focus away from his playing ability.

The cake saga continues to hang over him, but that confected row should not be allowed to deny Toure his place alongside Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard as the most dominant midfielders of the past 20 years, both in terms of impact and longevity.

At his best, Toure was unstoppable -- a buccaneering powerhouse who could destroy and create, score goals and take charge of a game through his sheer physical presence.

There is a debate among City as to the best player in the club's history -- Silva tends to win that one, but Toure is up there with the Spain playmaker.

As it stands, though, the 34-year-old enters the final week of his final year as a City player having made just nine Premier League starts this season.

Guardiola's team has undoubtedly moved on this year, with Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho forcing Toure out of the picture, but there was a time not so long ago when the Ivorian did the jobs of both players under the management of Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini.

He has been underused at times by Guardiola, whose public spat with Toure's agent has left the player frozen out for periods during the past two seasons, but now is the time for City to give Toure the sendoff he deserves.

He is likely to claim the spotlight by facing Brighton at the Etihad next Wednesday, but his contribution during City's rise to the top merits more than a wave to the fans on his final home appearance.

Considering their successes of recent years, City have yet to find a way to truly celebrate their greats of this golden era.

Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, Joe Hart, Gareth Barry, James Milner and Mancini all played significant roles in their rise, but they have been airbrushed somewhat by the focus on Guardiola and the Catalan influence at the club.

Toure started all that, though. He moved to City from Barcelona before it was a well-trodden path and he has since illuminated the Etihad and the Premier League.

He has also been the best African to play in the league, a genuine trailblazer, so Toure deserves to be celebrated by more than just those of a City persuasion.

Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_

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