Kolo Toure has won three league titles, two
FA Cups and one Africa Cup of Nations. He has over 500 club appearances and 120 international
caps to his name. Those bare facts make up a career that most would be utterly delighted
with, but combined with a style of play that you might call ‘enthusiastic’, he was one
of the most likeable Premier League players of the last 15 years.
Born in 1981, Toure started his career at ASEC Mimosas, in the Ivory Coast capital of
Abidjan. Toure is one of a long line of players to come from the club, such as Gervinho, Salomon
Kalou, Boubacar Barry and of course his brother, Yaya. In early 2002, he travelled to London
for a trial with Arsenal, a trial that was a little more eventful than most.
In journalist John Cross’s book about Arsene Wenger’s tenure at the club, Ray Parlour tells
a story about how Toure began charging around the training ground. “I remember the ball
was rolled into Thierry Henry and Kole Toure, from nowhere, smashed into him from behind,”
said Parlour. It was a terrible tackle, a red card in a normal game, and our best player
was rolling around. “Wenger was shouting: ‘Kolo, what are
you doing? Don’t tackle!’ The next minute, the ball was into Dennis Bergkamp and Kolo
did exactly the same. Wenger said: ‘No more tackling’.“Next thing you know, Kolo Toure
took Wenger out with a two-footed tackle! All you could hear was Wenger screaming.”
Parlour went to the physio’s room, where Wenger had an ice pack on his injured ankle, to make
the case for the young player, and reassure Wenger that Toure was probably just being
over-enthusiastic. He need not have worried. “We’re signing him tomorrow,” said Wenger.
“I like his desire.” Toure made his debut in the 2002 Community
Shield, and initially performed a utility role, but it wasn’t until the following season
that he really made an impact at the club. With only Martin Keown, who was 37, and Pascal
Cygan, who was Pascal Cygan, as alternative partners for Sol Campbell, Toure was moved
to the centre of defence and it was there he stayed for the season. He played in 37
games of the unbeaten league season, as Arsenal became the first team in over 100 years to
achieve that feat in the English top flight. “Kolo is genuine, honest, highly motivated,
good at work every day,” Wenger said of his player. “The problem was to get him off the
pitch, it was not to put him on.” Toure established himself as one of the better defenders
in the Premier League over the next few seasons, eventually being named Arsenal vice-captain.
He scored the goal that eventually sent Arsenal to the Champions League final in 2006, which
they lost 2-1 to Barcelona. By 2009, his form had been up and down, and
after a training ground argument with William Gallas, he asked to leave Arsenal. “One
of us had to leave, and it was me,” said Toure later. He moved to Manchester City for
a fee of £16million, joining Emmanuel Adebayor in moving north.
It was around this time that Toure also appeared on the front pages of newspapers, after reportedly
having an affair with a young model during which he told her he was a car salesman from
Ghana called Francois. It was only after a friend of the woman recognised him, and she
took a photo of him peering out from behind a shower curtain, that his ruse was uncovered.
On the pitch, Toure was appointed City captain by manager Mark Hughes, and was a key part
of their team as they established themselves as a challenger for a Champions League place.
Yet when Hughes left and Roberto Mancini took over, Toure became more marginalised, less
of a first-team player. After a game against Manchester United in
2011, when Toure was an unused substitute, he was called for a random drug test. He failed
it, blaming the result on some diet pills given to him by his wife. He was banned for
six months, which stretched into the following season and was at least part of the reason
that he was only a bit-part player in the team that so dramatically won the league title.
When Sergio Aguero scored that 94th minute goal against QPR and everyone around him was
losing their minds in celebration, Toure could be seen shuffling around the touchline with
his hands in his jacket pocket, a look of quiet satisfaction on his face.
He remained a squad player in the following season, before moving to Liverpool on a free
transfer. There he became something of a cult hero, not a first-team regular but popular
nonetheless. In March 2015, he came on as a substitute against Manchester City, making
it the first ever time he had faced his brother Yaya in a competitive game.
Then in 2016 he made what would be the last move of his career, spending a year at Celtic
as they went unbeaten in the Scottish Premiership, the second such season of his career. He announced
his retirement this summer, and joined Celtic as a coach.
“Even when he was a baby, we knew there was something different about him,” said
his brother, Yaya. Different, enthusiastic, eccentric: maybe he was all of those things,
which is part of what made him one of the most endearing players of the era…