Yaya ready to extend Wembley reign
For three decades, Manchester City were strangers to Wembley. While others visited it for cup finals, their only trip came in the play-offs and, exhilarating as the end of their 1998-99 season was, it was embarrassing that City had fallen to the third tier.
So, as dozens of former City players never went near the national stadium, the reality that they now possess a Wembley specialist is a welcome novelty. Yaya Toure has an enviable track record under the famous arch. In 2011, he scored the goal that eliminated Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-finals, and he repeated the feat against Stoke to clinch City's first major trophy for 35 years. Last month, he delivered a man-of-the-match performance when Chelsea were beaten to take City to a second final in three seasons.
Few things, then, could unsettle City in the build-up to Saturday's final with Wigan quite like the discovery that the seemingly indestructible Toure was injured. He was substituted at half-time in Saturday's 0-0 draw at Swansea and, when City beat West Bromwich Albion on Tuesday, was at home resting. "It is a worry for the club when he goes off so close to a big game," his midfield ally Gareth Barry said. "It will be a big plus if he is fit."
Closely as they combine on the pitch, the news had taken time to filter through off it. "I am already fit," Toure said. The muscle fatigue that manager Roberto Mancini had diagnosed is no longer a factor. "I am good," the double African Footballer of the Year smiled.
Life, indeed, is good for Toure. In April, he signed a lucrative four-year contract extension to keep him at the Etihad Stadium until 2017. If the presence of brother Kolo in the City defence was a reason he joined City three years ago, another part of his thought process remains as relevant now as then. Toure speaks with a quiet intensity and his mantra is making history at a club that was starved of success for too long. He left one of European football's storied greats, Barcelona, because of the challenge City offered.
"That's why I came to City, to make history, to be part of the history of the club and to help the club achieve things," he added. The FA Cup was won two years ago, the Premier League title 12 months ago, but his appetite is not sated. "It is not finished here yet," he explained. "I want to do my best to achieve the most trophies that is possible."
His personal haul includes league titles in his native Ivory Coast, Greece and Spain as well as the Champions League, which he won as a makeshift centre-back for Barcelona in 2009. Mancini has spent the season talking about bringing silverware to the Etihad Stadium every year and Toure, who has won major honours in each of the last four campaigns, agrees. "I hope we win the trophy this year because it is very important for us," he said.
Perhaps, too, it has a special significance. He was particularly keen to win the FA Cup two years ago for Kolo, then suspended after taking a slimming pill that contained a banned substance. Now, with the defender leaving City in the summer, this could be the Toures' last shared success.
The elder sibling has long been overshadowed by his younger but bigger brother. Kolo is on the margins of the team, Yaya the main man in midfield. While he possesses the power to gallop across Wembley's big pitch long after others are tiring, he provided a modest explanation of his excellence there. "I think I have luck," he said.
It is no coincidence, however, that the major occasions often bring the best from Toure. Last season's title decider, when he dominated the midfield against Manchester United, was a case in point. "I love to play big games because the big matches are so important and I am so determined," Toure said.
He has respect for Saturday's opponents. "Wigan are a great team with a great manager and they have quality players. It is difficult but with the quality we have and with the players we have, I think we can win." Should they do so, it will be a double celebration for Toure, who turns 30 on Monday.
And if he can repeat his goalscoring achievements of 2011, it will extend a remarkable record. The other recent guarantee of brilliance at Wembley is Didier Drogba. Between them, the two Ivorians have scored in the last four FA Cup finals. A third, Arouna Kone, leads the line for Wigan but, once again, City's hopes will rest with their towering talisman.