Coinciding with the launch of the new PUMA Ivory Coast World Cup kit, Manchester City’s Yaya Touré looks ahead to the tournament in Brazil and says Africans live for football.
Almost more so than any other continent or country, African football seems to have a spirit – a certain passion – surrounding the national teams. In your opinion, what do you think fuels this passion or enthusiasm towards the African national teams?
I think in our day, there is a lot of enthusiasm in Africa because, when we compare it to other continents, the African continent is not so rich in sport. That’s to say that, in Africa, there’s only football. In Europe, there’s football, there’s basketball, there’s American Football, there’s really a lot of sport for people to play and to watch. So, because of this, I think that people in Africa have more hope in football. For example, if you take ten Africans, at least nine out of the ten will be good at football, because they have a passion for it. Football is something big, it’s something exceptional that we do because, for those nine Africans, they live only to play football and they sleep only to play football. That’s why players like us – those who play in Europe in the big clubs – we’re idolized, we’re loved. When they see us, it’s exceptional and they’re very happy.
Can you talk a little bit about your best experience or your best memory with the national team?
There’s been quite a few. I think that in 2006, I had one of the best experiences with the team. It was my first African Cup of Nations and we unfortunately were eliminated in the finals during a penalty shoot-out. The second great memory I have is the African Cup of Nations in Ghana in 2008. There, we were really good – a superb team, very in sync. We played and beat almost all our adversaries with two or three goals difference. We were eliminated in the semi-finals by Egypt who made a swift turnaround and that was it, they even won the tournament. But, I hope that at some point the same thing will happen in our favour.
This could potentially be the last time you play in the World Cup. It’s also the case of a lot of other players from the same generation: Drogba, Zokora and your brother, Kolo, for example. Do you think knowing this gives you extra motivation or, oppositely, does it increase pressure going into the competition?
It definitely gives me extra motivation. Why? Because this generation that we have – it’s true that it arrived at the right moment when were all the right age for it – and as it went along, we grew and played together. I think that we gained experience and now, we don’t want any negativity. We want positivity. I think with the team, the happier we are, the tighter and more intelligent we will be on the field. And since it could be the last World Cup for some of us, I think it’s worth it to put in the effort. I think we are more serious and more competitive and that’s the spirit we’re bringing with us to the competition. Ultimately, it depends on the physical states of the players that will arrive. I hope that we won’t have any injuries and that physically, we’ll be good because Japan will be a very physical match. It will be the first match and they will be fresh, so yeah, it will be very difficult. It’s a playable group, but I think that if we are a lot more serious and we apply ourselves, it could go very well.
What is the Ivory Coast’s most powerful strength?
The most powerful strength, I think, is the attack. Offensively, we have players who can make a difference at any moment. But, it’s true that when there is a big strength, there is always a weakness and it’s true that defensively, we have quite a few things to sort out. But, I think that we’re on the right path. It hasn’t been long since our match against Senegal when they created a number of problems for us because, defensively, we weren’t tough enough – we weren’t aggressive enough. But, we are training ourselves to overcome these hurdles, to work on our weaknesses because the World Cup is right around the corner and even the tiniest error could be our downfall, so I think one needs to be prepared before going.
Some people think that Group C is the easiest group in the competition, or perhaps, the most open. Do you see it this way?
I would say yes, the most open, because any team could progress to the next stage. All the teams stand a chance, but it will depend on the first match. Those who have a good start to the competition, I think, will have a good chance of continuing. But, one should not rely on that idea because we know that Colombia today is fourth or fifth in the FIFA rankings. And Greece is always a team that should not be underestimated. Japan is one of the most physical teams in their efforts. They work together and are difficult to beat. They are inexhaustible. So, with that, it will be very, very complicated. Us, as players, as participants, I think we know what to expect in terms of public opinion. They’ll say it will be easy enough for us because we have Drogba, Gervinho, Salomon and that could be true, but don’t forget that underestimating your opponent is already losing a battle. Today, I think the most important thing – especially if you’re talking about underestimating your adversary – is to be there and to be present on ‘D-Day’.
Have you ever been to Brazil?
Are you excited to go? To discover the country?
Absolutely, if I could, I’d go today! I want to get on an airplane and go now, but, I think I have a few things to do before then: championships to play, the Cup to play, the FA Cup too and the Champions League. Everything in its own time, I think. But I’m very excited to participate in the World Cup because it’s going to be really special. Before this one, four years ago, it was in South Africa and now it’s in the biggest football country that has produced players like Pelé. There’s nothing better.
What is your ambition for this World Cup? What will make you say at the end of the tournament, “That was good. That was a success.”?
Well, I’m not as vain as that, but okay, I think that already, the objective for Africans is to go as far as possible. I think that the goal of Africa today is to get to the semi-finals or maybe the finals. Without underestimating our adversaries: there’s Spain, Brazil, Argentina and plus, it’s in South America, so it’s going to be very, very complicated. But, we don’t know. The most important thing for us is to take things a step at a time. If we pass the first round, we’ll be up against Italy, Uruguay and England, which will also be very tough. I think for us the goal is to pass the first round. And after that, we’ll see.
Do you think that countries like Germany or England, those that aren’t used to Brazil’s hot and humid climate, will be at a disadvantage in the competition?
A little bit because if you’re playing in temperatures of 30, 35 degrees like us Africans who are more or less used to it, it’s still difficult. We often see eliminations whether it’s the African Cup of Nations or the World Cup. The African zone has to go play on the terrain in Mozambique. It’s interesting. It’s 40 degrees out and it’s difficult. And well, I think that there will certainly be an advantage, but it’s not enough. It won’t be enough of an advantage because today, all countries, big football countries, are well prepared for this. I’m not saying that they’re going to arrive with umbrellas on their heads, no. But they play physically and it’s for this reason that I said it depends on a player’s physical state: a player that does well in all his matches arrives in Brazil and even if it’s cold or even if it’s nice out, the player’s physique will suffer a little bit. So, I think the most important thing will be to be fresh and also not to get injured.
You were voted the Best African Player for the third time in a row. What does that mean to you? Does it put additional pressure on you in regards to the selection or is it something that pushes and motivates you?
No, it’s something positive, because it tells me that I’m working hard and that I’m on the right path. It’s my ambition to go as far a possible whether that is achieving an individual or a collective trophy. But, I say to myself, “I’m on the right route. The right thing to do is to continue because I am insatiable. I want to win everything.” It’s true that it’s not always possible to win and that defeat happens, but I think, for me, the most important thing is to never give up, never rest and that summarizes a little bit my whole life. I’m a very, very, very hard worker who never wants to stop.
Speaking of African national teams, Ghana made it to the quarter-finals in South Africa in 2010. It feels as though African teams are getting closer and closer. Do you think this is the case? Do you think African teams are close to reaching the semi-finals or the finals?
Yes, we feel it because we already see it with the junior teams. I think, two or three times now an African team has won the FIFA U-17 or U-20 World Cup. At the senior level, we are getting closer and closer, too. It’s true that the two levels are different because, well, at the top level, the players are really exceptional, but I think we’re getting closer and that the goal is to get as far as possible. I think that African countries are well represented this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if two or three went a little further.
If the Ivory Coast hadn’t qualified for the World Cup, which team would you have supported?
Cameroon. It’s true that we’re friends, but I really like Cameroon. And Ghana and Nigeria. I like Nigeria because Stephen Keshi is a great manager and Cameroon because of Samuel Eto’o, who is a good friend. Ghana I like because of Asamoah Gyan, Michael Essien, all these players, it’s like a family – like friends. An African can’t help but support an African.
What do you think of the Ivory Coast kit for the World Cup?
I’m excited to play in it because I really like it. I like it and I hope that it brings us luck.
Do you like the ACTV technology in the kit?
Yes, I can feel it in the back. The taped support in the back is great, and I really can feel the difference. I’m excited to wear it.
Yaya Toure wears the new Ivory Coast World Cup kit by PUMA, available from Kitbag.com from Wednesday March 5th. For more information on PUMA’s national kit sponsorships and evoPOWER and evoSPEED boot ranges head to http://puma.com/football