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May 12, 2011

Toure en route to City success

For Yaya Toure, all roads led to Wembley but the journey is made more rewarding when a trickier route has been plotted. Had he opted to remain at Barcelona, the 28-year-old would have been part of Pep Guardiola's squad for the Champions League final, perhaps even reprising his role as centre back for the rematch of 2009's victory over Manchester United.

• FA Cup final preview

Instead, the Ivorian has already knocked United off course at the national stadium, inflicting the most serious setback of their season a month ago. Manchester City need no reminding of the circumstances: when Michael Carrick lost possession, Toure, rebranded an attacking midfielder at Eastlands, powered past Nemanja Vidic and guided his shot beyond Edwin van Sar.

Barcelona may be mes que un club, but this was more than a goal and more than a win. The moment that earned City a first FA Cup final appearance in three decades was a vindication of his decision to trade Las Ramblas for the Manchester Ship Canal. Cynics might argue that a reported £240,000-a-week salary influenced his choice, but Toure argues the challenge was the most persuasive aspect. With a top-four finish already assured, he believes in what City term "the project": making history at a club who had become a byword for tragicomic underachievement.

"If I had helped Arsenal or Chelsea or Manchester United to get to the Champions League, it would just be normal for them," he explained. "But for City this is the first time. When you leave a big club like that and come for a new challenge, you don't know what can happen but I'm very proud. It was a big decision but coming to City was exciting. When I came here it was a dream to get to the Champions League and win a trophy, but that dream is coming."

The other element of the dream was to reunite a nomadic footballer who had plied his trade in six European leagues with his older brother. It is a source of sadness that Kolo Toure will not line up alongside his sibling on Saturday; the central defender is suspended by City and awaiting news of his punishment for failing a drug test. A stray slimming pill in his system was responsible, but it gives Toure an added incentive: this, he says, is for Kolo.

"Before I signed for City I told my brother I wanted to come to England to play with him, and to win something together," he added. "That won't happen, and that means it will be a hard moment for him, and for me as well. My brother is very important to me. We talk a lot together, and our family is very proud of both of us. He said if we win the cup we will be winning it for him as well."

Should they win it, expect raucous applause. The decibel level when City last visited Wembley surprised even their match-winner. "It was amazing, the fans were fantastic in the semi-final," Toure said. "I have played in different countries, like Spain and France and I have never seen fans like that, so excited and so happy."

The much-travelled midfielder has become an anglophile, the atmosphere and the competitiveness of the football meaning he hopes his itinerant lifestyle has come to an end.

"When I was in Spain I said I wanted to play in England because I feel the Premier League is the best," he said. The division and the Ivorian have shared characteristics. "It is powerful, and you have to run and fight to win the games. It is the kind of championship I like and I hope I will finish my career in England. For me, it is the best championship in the world. For me, every game I play is a plus."

That is a bonus: there have been 47 of them already this season and, given his box-to-box style of play, Toure may have shouldered the heaviest workload of any of Roberto Mancini's players. Not that Saturday promises to be an easy afternoon either, as he knows.

"Stoke is a strong team physically, very hard and I think will be very, very tough," Toure said. As one of the giants in the City side, he will be among those charged with defending the Potters' infamously proficient set-pieces.

Besides feet and inches, a winning habit should prove useful. A man who helped Barcelona capture six trophies in a year then joined a club enduring a 35-year wait for silverware. Ending the drought matters, as Toure recognises. "It is so important for the club and so important for this team because there have been a lot of years winning nothing," he remarked. They were not sentiments he needed to express at Camp Nou, but then Toure has taken a very different path.

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