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Kolo Toure's drugs-test troubles couldn't have happened to a less suitable player, says Just Football editor Jonathan Fadugba
Arsene Wenger has had a few surprises to deal with in the last week. But when asked about Kolo Touré’s failed drugs test, the look of Gallic bewilderment on his face told its own story. “It is a complete surprise,” said Wenger, who introduced Touré to English football when he signed him for Arsenal from ASEC Mimosas in 2002.
“He is a boy who has a clean life, very honest living, always at home, a family man, and I do not suspect him at all to have taken drugs to enhance his performances,” Wenger continued, leaping to Touré’s defence. The look of conviction in his eyes also told a tale – one of complete trust in the word of the Manchester City centre-back. "He wants to control his weight a little bit because that's where he has some problems and he took the product of his wife."
All that said, it does nothing to lessen the gravity of the situation. "Manchester City confirm that the FA has informed Kolo Touré that an 'A-sample' provided by him has tested positive for a specified substance," the club said in a brief statement on Thursday. "As result of this, he has been suspended from participating in all first-team and non-first-team matches pending the outcome of the legal process."
NEWS, Fri 4 Mar: Shock Toure suspension stunts City trophy pursuit
The news came as a huge shock to the football world and could severely damage the career of a man who turns 30 in just over a fortnight. What outcome the legal process brings will be revealed in due course. But what is extremely difficult to doubt is the character of a man who is one of the most popular and respected figures within the Manchester City dressing room.
Far from the self-entitled celebrity bubble that surrounds many a modern-day footballer, the life of Kolo Touré is a humble one underpinned by three ‘F’s’ – football, family and faith. Son to a member of the Ivorian military, Kolo grew up in a big family with a disciplined background. The Touré clan is nine-strong – six brothers, two sisters and Kolo, the oldest of three professional footballers that include fellow City teammate Yaya.
Though Kolo was born in Bouaké, civil war in Cote d’Ivoire made travel tough. The Tourés eventually settled in Abidjan. At 12, Kolo announced his desire to become a footballer. His father Mory was less impressed, wishing for his son an altogether more ordinary career path. But before long, Touré was spotted by former France international Jean-Marc Guillou and signed to the academy at ASEC Mimosas.
Kolo himself was never the best player at ASEC’s academy. He wasn’t even the best player in his own household. That was Yaya, a supremely gifted talent who has come to be widely appreciated: you don’t play for Barcelona unless you’re something special. But Kolo possessed strength, hunger and a burning ambition to succeed and was prepared to make the sacrifices needed. He himself corroborates this.
“I wasn't the best player but, at the academy, I used my time the best,” Touré said. “I didn’t think about going to the cinema or going out to find a girl. I was always thinking about work, about my future.”
Those were the qualities that attracted Arsene Wenger to Touré when he first watched him play in a youth tournament at Feyenoord. After seven years, 326 appearances, one Premier League title, two FA Cups and a £16m outgoing fee, the £325,000 Arsenal paid to sign the powerful centre-back is still one of Wenger’s shrewdest moves.
As Wenger noted in his press conference, Touré is very much a family man. He would spend his ASEC bonuses on rice for the family and at Arsenal he became chief provider, buying a home for his entire family – nieces and nephews included – in Yopougon, Abidjan.
You won't find this player linked with prostitutes or air rifles. At Arsenal his favourite pastime was Pro Evolution Soccer. “I can beat Adebayor!” Touré exclaimed, before revealing his will to win: “But I haven’t beaten Thierry Henry yet.”
His warm spirit is famous in the dressing rooms of Highbury, the Emirates and Eastlands. Lee Dixon tells the story of a bright-eyed Ivorian new boy walking into the Arsenal dressing room on his first day and instantly winning everyone over with an affectionate smile. It comes from his mother’s side. Kolo was very close to his mother (now deceased) and wears a silver pendant with “I love my mum and wife” inscribed on the back.
Having Yaya around and playing with his brother week-in, week-out at Manchester City is a source of great pleasure for Kolo and indeed it will be interesting to see how any suspension affects his younger brother.
Yaya has been one of the revelations of the Premier League this season – driving City on with his energy, intelligent play and crisp passing. It has been suggested elsewhere that City’s billionaire owners might look to wash their hands of Kolo, not deeming him important enough a player to get their hands dirty in the media scrum and legal battles that might ensue.
This may be the case. But if true, City’s directors will need to be highly sensitive to the effect any swift judgements might have on Yaya, one of the club’s most valuable assets. Blood is thicker than oil, contracts and club image.
While Kolo Touré walks through a valley of dietary-supplement-induced darkness, with a potentially lengthy ban pending, if one thing is certain it is that he will seek guidance from that final ‘F’ – his faith. Touré is a devout Muslim. A page from the Koran hangs between the framed shirts of Yaya and Kolo on the wall of his family home back in Abidjan. He prays regularly. He observes Ramadan. One of the first things he did upon signing for City was head into town to find a suitable mosque.
“My religion is most important for me,” Touré says. “It doesn’t matter where I go, I will still do my prayers because that’s my main thing. And I’m just really happy because in Manchester there is a big community of Muslims. Every Friday I go to the Mosque and for me it’s very, very important.”
He will need to draw upon this deep inner resolve to get through what could be a prolonged period on the sidelines.
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