Barely a month ago AS Monaco were plumbing the depths in France's Ligue 1. With a dismal record of two wins, a draw and eight defeats, the 2004 UEFA Champions League finalists looked to be facing up to a relegation battle.
Now though, after only one defeat in their last seven games, the Monegasques have managed to stop the rot and climbed to a seemingly comfortable 14th place. Suddenly, the future looks a whole lot brighter down in the Principality.
The turning point came with the sacking of Romanian coach Laszlo Boloni, whose rigid working methods had failed to inspire his charges, and the subsequent appointment of the relatively youthful Laurent Banide. ASM's steady climb back up the table would not have been possible without the 38-year-old coaxing the club's star players back to form, chief among them the Ivorian international midfielder Yaya Gnegneri Toure.
The younger brother of Arsenal defender Kolo, Toure endured a nightmarish start on the Cote d'Azur after arriving in the middle of August fresh from Germany 2006 and a dispute with his former club Olympiacos. Carrying a few extra kilos and singled out for criticism by Boloni, Yaya failed to find his rhythm.
Even when the Romanian disciplinarian packed his bags, the new boy gave vent to his frustrations with a serious of choice quotes to the media. Slowly but surely, the man who many people had been tipping to become the new Patrick Vieira seemed to be talking his way out of the club.
'He can do just about anything'
All that changed with the 0-0 draw against Nice on 4 November. The hard-earned point took Monaco out of the drop zone and also saw Toure wile the game away on the subs' bench. "He was putting pressure on himself with his comments and that meant he wasn't performing at his best," explained Monaco's technical director Jean-Luc Ettori. "We had to show him there were certain standards that had to be met."
Sure enough, the young defensive midfielder mended his ways and began to string together some classy performances, with an impressive tally of five goals from his last seven games helping keep him well away from the dreaded bench.
Coach Banide sees the physically imposing Ivorian as the potential linchpin of the team. "Yaya has got terrific technique and uses his body strength to great effect," he enthused. "He can do just about anything. He's in such good form that it's helping everyone to raise their game."
Watch Toure in full flow and it is hard to argue with Banide's comments. The technically gifted powerhouse has gradually carved out a niche for himself alongside Didier Zokora in the national side. Given his amazing ability to distribute possession and shoot from distance with deadly precision, Toure has all the makings of a truly great holding midfielder.
Not that the man himself is getting carried away. "I still want to prove myself, to get better and show what I'm capable of," says the modest Ivorian. "I give it my all in every game I play and hold nothing back. While I may have had a decisive role to play in the last few games, that's also down to the hard work of my team-mates." The 23-year-old is aware a lot is expected of him, but knows full well that he has to let his performances on the pitch do the talking.
With a career best six goals to his name already this season, Toure is starting to show the kind of form that made him one of the brightest talents to emerge from ASEC Abidjan's renowned Academie Mimosas. After spells with Beveren (Belgium), Metalurg Donetsk (Ukraine) and latterly Olympiacos (Greece), the young international is aiming for the very top and, on current form, it is easy to imagine him making it.