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Trio of awards sees Toure step out of shadows

Updated: 2014-01-11 07:57
By Reuters ( China Daily)

Cote d'Ivoire midfielder making mark in Europe after slow start

A hat-trick of African Footballer of the Year awards has seen Yaya Toure step out of the shadow of some of his more charismatic compatriots to claim a place for himself among the continent's greats.

Toure won the award for a third successive year on Thursday, pipping John Obi Mikel of Nigeria and his national team captain, Didier Drogba, for the continent's top individual award.

It puts him in elite company with Abedi Pele of Ghana and Samuel Eto'o from Cameroon as the only players having won a trio of successive titles.

Despite his imposing frame and impressive engine, it has taken time for Toure to claim some of the spotlight and the adulation enjoyed by Drogba, Eto'o and even his elder brother, Kolo Toure.

For all his dominance on the field, the 30-year-old lacks a demonstrative nature on it and charisma off it; his face often carrying a hangdog look, and he will likely only be properly appreciated for his ability and achievement once his career is over.

The trio of awards recognize more his individual prowess and place as the most dominant African player on the European club stage in recent years than his contribution to national team success.

Cote d'Ivoire has become better known as choker than achiever after a series of flops at the past five African Nations Cup finals.

Toure, whose rise to the top has come in circuitous fashion, has delivered most at club level, scoring the FA Cup winning goal for Manchester City that ended a 35-year trophy drought in 2011 and playing in its championship-winning side the following season.

He also won a Champions League medal during his time at Barcelona. But with his country, it has mostly been a series of disappointments.

With a less showy role in his position as a box-to-box midfielder, Toure was always bound be somewhat overshadowed by other African players, although a penchant for flair was no more evident than just 24 hours before he was handed the award in Lagos when he ran from the halfway line to score in City's 6-0 thrashing of West Ham in the League Cup semifinals.

For much of his career, Toure was the younger and more reserved brother of Kolo, although always physically far bigger. While Kolo was a regular at Arsenal, Yaya was slow in finding his feet on the Europe circuit.

Both were graduates of the ASEC Abidjan academy and first went to Beveren in Belgium, but while Kolo was then snapped up by Arsenal, Yaya failed to impress Arsene Wenger in a trial and instead went to play in the Ukraine, Greece and Monaco before his potential began to be noticed.

Barcelona paid nine million euros ($12.2 million) for him in 2007 and three years later, Manchester City paid a reported 24 million pounds ($39.5 million) to take him to the English league, which has been the primary stage for his run of the African Footballer of the Year awards.

Ironically, he could be on for his best year yet, with 2014 providing him with a chance to win the title in England again and help City to the Champions League.

Plus a more favorable draw gives the Cote d'Ivoire a chance to cast aside its demons at the World Cup in Brazil.