The importance of a star player is often felt most in their absence and this was the story as Yaya Toure jetted off for an untimely sabbatical just as Manchester City prepared for a host of season defining fixtures.
FA Cup and Carling Cup glory was still a possibility for Roberto Mancini's men when Toure left to take his place in the Ivory Coast side at the African Nations Cup at the start of January, yet he returned to the City line-up with just Premier League glory left on their domestic agenda after six weeks that confirmed Toure's importance to their midfield balance. Now Toure is set to bounce back into Premier League action against Blackburn this Saturday and the goal of securing City's first domestic league title in a generation was the forefront of his mind.
Do you agree with the suggestion that Manchester City's indifferent form of late has been due to your absence from the team?
Yaya Toure: One-man teams do not exist and it's especially true at Manchester City, where there are excellent alternatives for every position. I'm happy to hear people say I am an important player for Manchester City, but I'm only one brick in this building.
So do you agree that City have looked less than secure in the last few weeks?
YT: Not really. We remain on top of the Premier League table and in my opinion, the title is ours to lose. We have the consistency, the organisation and the multiple match winners. Our rivals know this.
Do you understand the displeasure of club officials who are forced to release their stars for African Nations Cup duty mid-way through the European season?
YT: Of course. It would be strange if the clubs were happy with the situation. Manchester City have huge objectives and they want everyone permanently on board for the entire season. However, the calendar is as it is and for a proud Ivorian, ignoring the call of my country was not an option this time. Your club employers come and go, but it's a matter of heart and blood on the international level. I could never turn down my land. The Africa Nations Cup is as significant to me as any World Cup.
The way the tournament ended for the Ivory Coast must have been hard for you to accept. Do you think you will be back to try and win a trophy for your country at the World Cup?
YT: I don't know yet. I have to wait and decide what is best for my career. The disappointment of losing the Final was so big that I need time to think what the future will hold. I wanted to win for my country so much. It was not to be.
Do you fear you will need some time to adjust to the demands of the Premier League on your return?
YT: I don't expect any problems. The Premier League has no secrets for me and I'll be ready. The chance of winning the championship with City will have me switched on.
It has been said that you have improved as a player since joining Manchester City a couple of seasons back. Would you agree with that assessment?
YT: I've become a more complete player and made a lot of progress in the attacking phase. Whether my side is in possession or not, I feel as if I now make a full contribution. However, I don't see myself as an overnight sensation. Not so long ago I was good enough to play for Barcelona and as much as I love the Premier League, my career did not begin when I joined City.
Which aspect of the Premier League do you enjoy the most?
YT: Each and every game in England is a physical combat and I enjoy this. There is never any let-up in competitiveness. You have to win your battles and be resilient otherwise you are dead.
What do you see as Manchester City's greatest strengths?
You can talk about the intense competition for places in the starting line-up, the individual brilliance of a YT: David Silva, Kun Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Samir Nasri and Joe Hart, our tactical intelligence and the winning mentality of coach Roberto Mancini. However, what makes me so optimistic about our future is the unity we have. People under-estimate the spirit within the squad.
How does this City side compare to the great Barcelona team you were a part of?
YT: I see some similarities. Everyone at City is prepared to run, fight and stand tall for the good of the team as a whole. We have got a solid core and are not easily beaten. This is the mark of our manager Roberto Mancini, as he doesn't only want to win, but he demands us to bring the club victories.
How big a setback was City's failure to qualify for the knock-out stages of this season's Champions League?
YT: It is a big regret, obviously. The Champions League is the top competition in the world and even though we were in a tough group, we should be in the next round. We there to be shot at because of our wealth as a club, but we really ought to still be involved and now the lessons have to be leant. There will be a chance to put things right next season in the Champions League, that's all we can do now.
Is it fair to say the Premier League title was always City's primary target for this season in any case?
YT: For sure. Perhaps you have to walk before you run. Win the English title and then look to dominate in Europe. There's a logic to it, a nice logic.
Do you feel the winning habit you got into as a Barcelona player can help you with City now.
YT: I hope so. My idea is never to be satisfied with anything you achieve in this game I've always thought that the best sportsmen and women are those who never rest on their laurels. Playing for Barcelona gave me a thirst for trophies and that has not stopped just because I changed teams. We won the FA Cup last year and now the Premier League title is the next step.