As the first player from Côte d'Ivoire to win the UEFA Champions League, Yaya Toure became a national hero when he carried the trophy home in June 2009 to share his success with his compatriots.
This will be the second consecutive FIFA World Cup™ for the former ASEC Abidjan kingpin, six years after he was handed his first international cap against Egypt. Kolo Toure's younger brother played just twice in the qualifiers for Germany 2006, but being picked by Vahid Halilhodzic for seven of the qualifiers for South Africa 2010 confirmed his new-found status, and he found the net twice during the qualifying campaign.
He also represented his country in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola, playing in the quarter-final defeat to Algeria. That loss must have been difficult to swallow for Yaya, who is not used to losing with Barça. He has had an up-and-down season at club level this time around, but Pep Guardiola still has a very high opinion of him. Toure was the player he called on, for instance, to replace Rafael Marquez in central defence in the return leg of the 2009 UEFA Champions League semi-final against Chelsea.
His first year at Camp Nou was a very good one, and Yaya was one of the few bright spots in a 2007/08 season that failed to deliver. He played 26 matches in La Liga and nine in the UEFA Champions League that year. "The first time I took my place in the Barcelona dressing room, I was nervous and a little intimidated. You have to try not to get distracted and concentrate on the job in hand. I found it a bit difficult to adapt but I soon realised I didn’t have a choice,” he told FIFA.com in November 2009.
Then, in 2008/09 under Guardiola, he was one of the driving forces behind the team that rewrote footballing history by winning six trophies in a single season.
His first cap for the national side came in 2004, at the age of 21. Like his brother Kolo, Yaya got his first taste of European football at Beveren, a year after starting his professional career at 17 with ASEC Abidjan. He stayed in Belgium for two-and-a-half seasons, quickly becoming a first choice in the starting eleven. Then, in the winter transfer window, he left Beveren for Metalurg Donetsk, where he made regular first-team appearances for another season and a half. Summer 2005 brought a further move, this time to Greece. Although his league form with Olympiakos was not outstanding, he conjured up some commanding performances in the Champions League. By the end of the season, he was a target for a number of clubs and finally opted for a move to Monaco.
Monaco coach Lazlo Boloni left him on the bench for the first few weeks, but things changed under his successor, Laurent Banide. A successful season in France marked by five goals and as many assists in 27 games was followed by a dream move to Catalonia. The only thing missing now for the 27-year-old is a major title with the Elephants, so unsurprisingly, he is keen for the FIFA World Cup to get underway. “I don’t know if we’re going to win, but we’ll do everything we can to win. We know what we’re capable of. In 2006, we had the desire but not the experience. Since then, we’ve learnt to play as a team,” he said six months ago.