Troubled Toure’s distant behaviour raises questions over City future

The four-times African Footballer of the Year has looked out of sorts at the Afcon, unhappy with his team’s tactics as his former boss openly touts a move to Inter

Troubled Toure's distant behaviour raises questions over City future

Eight minutes before the end of Cote d’Ivoire’s 1-0 win against Cameroon on Wednesday Yaya Toure was taken off. It was the second time in three games that the supposed talisman of African football was replaced.

Yaya, who won the Confederation of African Football’s Footballer of the Year award for a fourth straight year just before the Africa Cup of Nations started, has not looked happy in Equatorial Guinea. He mumbled his way through a press conference before Cote d’Ivoire’s first game, a disappointing 1-1 draw with Guinea, and has not faced the press since, despite being captain.

He brushed past reporters after the Cameroon match saying only “there’s no problem, there’s no problem”, before boarding the team bus. He had needed treatment after a firm challenge by Stephane Mbia but will be fit to face Algeria in the quarter-finals on Sunday.

He is clearly not enjoying his role as a deep-lying midfielder, while his former boss at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini, is publicly discussing taking him to Inter.

The contrast with his elder brother, Kolo, could not be more noticeable. The Liverpool man has been a straight-backed, commanding presence who has clearly enjoyed his football. Kolo has been talkative, positive, confident and arguably the best defender of the tournament.

Yaya, on the other hand, has trudged off, shoulders slumped. He has worked hard, taken a few knocks, but has not yet controlled a game as he does for City.

On the day of the Cameroon game the Manchester Evening News carried the headline ‘Man City need to plan future without Yaya Toure’.

In Italy, Il Giornale published an interview with Yaya’s former manager, Robert Mancini, in which the Inter boss said: “He’s one of the best players in the world, he can still have his say. He played for many teams, in many leagues like Belgium, Spain, Russia, England. He only lacks Italy, this may be a good chance for him. We’re working on it. You know, there are some players who can change a team and Yaya is one of them. Next year we may try.”

Perhaps the transfer talk is bugging him. City reportedly harbour a lingering resentment over his behaviour last season, and have identified the likes of Paul Pogba and Ross Barkley as potential replacements.

Perhaps he is distracted by thoughts of missing Chelsea vs Manchester City on Saturday. Maybe he is simply not satisfied with his form or his role.

Herve Renard, the Cote d’Ivoire coach, talked about Yaya’s positioning ahead of the Cameroon match.

“Ivory Coast are not Manchester City,” he said. “The potential of the player is not the same.

“Manchester City have so many top-level players to defend, to build play very well, and Yaya can play further forward, behind the front two. It’s different for us. We do not have Fernandinho.

“We have to ask Yaya to do a different job, to play further back. But he is a professional, he will do as I ask. I explain what I want and he does it.

“Besides, he is very comfortable with this position, as he used to play there earlier in his career, especially at Barcelona.”

There was more of the same after the win that took Cote d’Ivoire through. This time, in response to questions about Cote d’Ivoire’s unadventurous performance, Renard said: “We are not Germany. We cannot attack all the time”.

The statistics show just how restrained Yaya has been. In 258 minutes on the pitch he has had one shot at goal, and that was not on target.  His passing has not been great, either – 27 of 140 attempts have gone astray.

Renard demanded more from Yaya after an “average” opening game. He helped to create Max Gradel’s equaliser against Mali in the second match, but Yaya was forced back again against Cameroon, as part of a successful defensive operation that denied the opposition a single attempt at goal.

Meanwhile Kolo has been talking about how much he enjoys guiding the new young defenders through a game, speaking of the strong spirit and confidence of a team in transition after the World Cup.

Before the tournament, Yaya said: “I have been lucky enough to win many trophies during my career but the Cup of Nations has always been my goal as an African.”

If he is going to win it this year, he needs to put his troubles behind him – whatever they are.

Europe-bound teen Mbele ‘can’t recall’ club debut

The teenage Equatorial Guinea defender already has a hard-man image, but he was so young when he made his Vegetarian Lions debut that he cannot recall his actual age

Europe-bound teen Mbele 'can't recall' club debut

Kolo Toure has more than 100 caps for Cote d’Ivoire and is the senior, stalwart defender at the Africa Cup of Nations. His stellar club career has taken him to Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool, and he has looked as good as ever in his country’s back four, guiding his younger team-mates in what will be his last appearance at this tournament.

But the most impressive youngster in any team’s back line is half Toure’s age. His club career so far starts and ends at the team with the best name in world football, Leones Vegetarianos (Vegetarian Lions), of Equatorial Guinea. Judging by his performances in Group A, he will not be staying long.

Diosdado Mbele Mba Mangue – known simply as Mbele, after his late uncle – has been a revelation in the host nation’s draws against Congo and Burkina Faso. He made his international debut for the Nzalang (Lightning) in 2013, two months after his 16th birthday. He played against Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente at the same age, when Spain won a friendly 2-1 in Malabo. He will be 18 in April.

So when did he make his debut for the Veggie Lions, the Equatorial Guinea cup holders? “I can’t remember when that was,” Mbele told Goal. “I was so young I just can’t recall.”

He has always been a defender. “I really enjoy playing in defence,” he said. “I can play elsewhere but I prefer defence.”

Mbele has had a lot of help from Spain but, if he is to move to a European club, perhaps it will be Belgium, the route to professionalism for so many Africans. He is trialling at Royal Antwerp.

Javier Balboa is a Spaniard who once played for Real Madrid and, through blood ties, captains Equatorial Guinea. Another Spain-born team-mate is Emilio Nsue of Middlesbrough.

“They have both given me a lot of encouragement, a lot of help,” said Mbele. “My first ambition is to grow and learn, grow and learn – and Balboa and Nsue both help me. And my great dream is to play at the World Cup with the Nzalang.”

Mbele v Negredo

The coach he learned the most from is also a Spaniard. “That was Andoni Goikoetxea,” said Mbele. The former Equatorial Guinea boss was known as ‘the butcher of Bilbao’ during his playing days and his influence is there for all to see.

Mbele gave Llorente some rough treatment in that friendly, and has been booked in both matches at this tournament, so he must sit out the crucial game against Gabon on Sunday.

His favourite player was Brazil’s goal-scoring centre-back, Lucio, and his favourite African defender was John Mensah, the rugged Ghanaian who was built like a tree. Mbele is clearly not a defender to mess with, despite his age. Maybe, in future, he will be known as ‘the butcher of Malabo’.

Mbele is hoping for a win against Gabon so he can sample knockout football at international level. “We are confident we will win that one,” said Mbele. “If I had been playing, I wouldn’t have been nervous about marking [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang.”

Equatorial Guinea selected their squad, many of them dual-nationals, from all over the world. They have players from India, Hong Kong, Andorra, Gibraltar and Estonia. Two of the six playing in the Equatoguinean League look destined for Europe – Mbele and the 21-year-old Deportivo Mongomo goalkeeper, Felipe Ovono.

The Cano Sport Academy in Malabo, the city where Mbele is a student at Bioko North Institute, is beginning to produce talented players, and the Veggies have sent a couple for trials in Denmark, as well as Belgium.

The future looks bright for the Nzalang and Mbele.

Breaking down the AFCON 2015 Draw

The draw for Equatorial Guinea 2015 throws up a lot of interesting talking points and subplots

Ghanaischer Jubel gegen die DFB-Elf

So, unless you live under a rock (no disrespect to those who do, of course), you are aware that on Wednesday, the gladiators of the 30th Africa Cup of Nations were dealt their hands at the poker table of chance. While some fist-pumped in joy, others clasped their foreheads in disbelief.

The draw makes for a fascinating tournament in prospect. It makes you wonder what might have been had CAF heeded ‘conventional’ wisdom and opted to postpone the tournament. We are not out of the woods yet; the same Ebola concerns which led Morocco to abdicate their hosting rights are still very salient. The assurances of President Teodoro Obiang Mbasoko have gone a long way to allay fears though. Measures will be taken, and we will once again have out biennial festival of the continent’s best.

As expected with the seeding criteria and constitution of the individual pots, there are not one but two Groups of Death. Rather less expectedly, both are in the second half of the draw. It makes for immediate fireworks at the group and quarter-final stages, and will likely see a very intriguing semi-final line-up with real potential of late giant-killings. Talk about intrigue.

All the talk is expectedly of Group C, where Ghana are joined by Algeria, South Africa and Senegal. This group could not have been tougher by much, though the universe did grant the seeded Black Stars reprieve by not bequeathing them Cameroon into the mix.

Ghana will go into the tournament under new management to boot, and while the nebulous nature of Avram Grant’s brief – “to do well” – will make planning hard, I would not worry too much about them. A tough group may prove a blessing in disguise for Ghana, who struggle to raise and impose their game against lesser teams. Their most impressive results in the last 18 months have come in games in which they were expected to either lose or struggle, witness: their 6-1 evisceration of Egypt in World Cup qualifying, and their spunky 2-2 draw against eventual World champions Germany in Brazil.

Knowing Me, Avram Grant, Knowing you, Black Stars

Algeria are hot title favourites, but have often underwhelmed on the continent. Only Egypt have managed a North African AFCON win in sub-Saharan Africa; the Desert Foxes must match this feat to add to their sole victory on home soil in 1990.

They have their most exciting generation of the last 30 years, and play a slick brand of attacking football based on overloads in wide areas and slick interplay in the final third. Where they may trip up – and this might prove an equaliser in the group – is the state of the playing surface in Mongomo. Recent reports do not suggest vintage carpet, and the 2012 competition witnessed a tropical rainstorm in Bata when Zambia played Libya; similar conditions could scupper their passing game. Still, they should have enough to make it through.

Senegal do not have fond memories of Equatorial Guinea. They lost all three group games in the 2012 edition, and will face similar problems here: a lack of balance in attacking areas. They are bursting with attacking talent, and Alain Giresse must find a way to keep everyone happy while tightening a midfield that it short on quality.

The signs were encouraging in qualifying, but one suspects this tournament will come too early for the Teranga Lions to make a real impact. The same goes for Shakes Mashaba’s South Africa, especially if talismanic forward Tokelo Rantie does not recover from his shoulder injury in time.

Group A is interesting without possessing star power. The hosts will slug it out against Republic of Congo, 2013 runners-up Burkina Faso and dark horses Gabon. The Panthers will hope to make a splash like in 2012, when they were perfect in the group stage, before bowing out unluckily via penalties to Mali in the quarters.

Aubameyang & Gabon | Set for something special?

That squad has matured together, and break-out star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has developed his all-round game to become a fearsome attacking presence. They are favourites here, and with the potential of an ‘easy’ quarter-final draw, they may be the one team from the first half of the draw no one in the second wants in the semis.

The second Group of Death is Group D: Cote d’Ivoire won all four games in the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo in the 2012 edition, scoring eight goals and conceding none. They would go on to lose the final, their nemesis on that occasion was Herve Renard, who will now oversee their latest assault on the continent’s top prize.

They will have to go through a revitalised Cameroon (who can forget that 4-1 beat-down in Yaounde in qualifying?), the unerringly consistent Mali and Guinea, who overcame the stricture of playing home games in Casablanca to qualify.

The most evenly-matched group in the draw features Zambia, DR Congo, Cape Verde and Tunisia. Coach Honour Janza deserves credit for incorporating new talent into the Chipolopolo, who qualified comfortably behind the Blue Sharks.

DR Congo qualified as the best third-placed team, no mean feat in a group which featured Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire. They have dominated domestic club competition on the continent in recent times, and must finally make good on their promise. Tunisia are overwhelming favourites to win the group: unbeaten in qualifying and with a fierce fighting spirit under Georges Leekens.

The 2015 AFCON promises to be the most exciting in recent times. No group is easy to call, and there is enough of a contrast in styles to ensure some truly memorable match-ups. The fireworks begin in January.