Kolo Toure celebrates while playing for Arsenal
Kolo Toure cannot help himself.
Asked how he feels about Liverpool’s defeat at Watford on 29 February – a result which ended their 18-match Premier League winning run and their hopes of emulating Toure’s Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ by going unbeaten for an entire league season – the former defender says all the right things.
“Liverpool are an unbelievable team,” he says. “What they have done is unbelievable. They won every game. We didn’t do that. We won a few and drew a few. [Going unbeaten] is not something you really care about.”
Except he does. The two secret fist-pumps give him away.
However this coronavirus-disrupted campaign turns out, Toure is still a member of what remains a very exclusive club.
It is now more than 18 years since the short trial at Arsenal that was to change Toure’s life.
He has packed quite a lot into the intervening period. In addition to that momentous 2004 title, he won further trophies with the Gunners and more at Manchester City and Celtic. He played in major finals for Liverpool and 120 times for Ivory Coast.
In 2011, he served a six-month ban after failing a drugs test.
He is now working as a coach under Brendan Rodgers at Leicester and will shortly complete his Uefa Pro Licence course at St George’s Park.
It was during a Football Association media training day that Toure sat down to talk about his varied career, being an inspiration for African players, his coaching aspirations and his brother, Yaya.
A long way from home
Toure was one of the first players from the Ivory Coast to play in the Premier League – and the first to do so at a title-challenging club. He felt failure was not an option if others were to get a chance to follow.
“I did feel like that. I felt I had to do everything properly. If you do things right people will always think ‘Kolo Toure comes from the Ivory Coast and he’s doing well, that means there are other good players in the Ivory Coast’ and they will go and find new talent there.
“I was really proud of that because [Didier] Drogba, Yaya, [Didier] Zokora, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou and many other players from the Ivory Coast came here to express their talent.
“But there were two things I needed to learn very quickly. The language and the weather. It was difficult being without my family. And it seemed like it was always raining.
“On one particular day, I was told to go into London for a scan. I looked out of the window and the sky was blue. I thought ‘what a great day!’. So I put my shirt on and went to London. Unbelievable. I was freezing. I learned straightaway that you always need a coat in this country.”
‘I am more competitive than Yaya’
In July 2009, Toure left Arsenal for Manchester City for £14m. Twelve months later, he was joined by brother Yaya at Etihad Stadium. In 2012 they were both in the squad that won the Premier League title. A song created in their honour by the City fans is still sung to this day.
“I have never had the chance to say thank you to the people who do that. It touches my heart. When you come to another country and the people embrace you and like you, give you praise and even sing your name, it is unbelievable for me and my brother.
“If somebody had told me 15 years ago ‘Kolo, people will be singing your name everywhere in the UK’ I would have said ‘are you joking?’
“I can’t compare myself to my brother. He was a better player than me, for sure. I know he loves City but because English is not our first language, sometimes we say things we don’t mean.
“He did better than me here and he is more talented. But I am more competitive than Yaya. I was a better runner and I worked hard.
“If Yaya had my work, with his talent, he would win the Ballon d’Or.”
‘I felt like I had hurt my daughter with drugs ban’
In March 2011, it was revealed the versatile defender had failed a drugs test. He had taken some of his wife’s water tablets in an attempt to control his weight. He was subsequently banned for six months, missing City’s FA Cup final victory over Stoke.
“It was very, very difficult. I am very careful of my weight. Even now, I weigh myself pretty much every day. I have done that since the start of my career.
“My weight had been up and down a little bit and when you put on two, three or four kilos you are a different player, so I took something to make me go to the toilet more.
“I didn’t know I had done anything wrong. When I found out, I was shocked.
“The thing that hurt a lot more was when my daughter came to me and said ‘Dad, you took drugs?’ One of the boys at school made a comment to her: ‘We’ll have to test you because your dad took drugs’. I had to explain in the football world when people say ‘drugs’ it can just mean something that is banned, not cocaine or anything like that.
“I felt like I had hurt her a little bit. That was the bad side of it.”
Paving the way as a coach
In September 2017, Toure announced his retirement to take up a coaching role with Rodgers at Celtic. He followed the former Liverpool boss to Leicester in February 2019 and became a first-team coach. He hopes to be an inspiration to other African coaches.
“At the end of my career I thought about what I could bring to the world. What is my strength in my life? I thought about other industries but the only thing I really knew and enjoyed was football. The only industry I felt I could really bring some creativity to was football.
“I want to pass my experience and knowledge onto the young generation.
“One of the most important things – touching my heart – is that I am from Africa. There aren’t many African managers in the top leagues in England or Europe. I am used to having to come from a long way because there are no idols and no role models to look up to. That is why I am doing my badges.
“Some of my friends who have been playing maybe haven’t thought of that. But I want to do it because Africa needs that.
“You are putting yourself out there and it’s going to be hard. But there always has to be one person to start – and then the rest will follow.
“I have a dream that one day an African team may win the World Cup. Maybe it will take 20 years, maybe 30. Maybe I will be one of those who tries but it doesn’t happen and it’s left to the next generation. But this is what I am working for. This is my target.
“To achieve something, you have to dream about it. If you don’t dream about it, you will never get there.”
‘When the time comes to move on, everyone will feel it’
Toure has spent two and a half years soaking up the knowledge gained from being part of Rodgers’ coaching team. He is thankful for every minute. And while he has no plans to branch out on his own just yet, he has ideas for when it eventually happens.
“I love the game. I have a passion for the game. I love to be around the players and give advice.
“I like to be positive. You will have ups and downs but the most important thing is to keep fighting and keep believing in what you are doing. I do it naturally.
“People want to work with good people. As long as you are a good man, you have good manners and want to bring the best from the players, the players will like you.
“I am very happy with my progression right now, working with Brendan Rodgers. I am learning a lot. When the time comes, everybody will feel it.”