Tuesday sparks will fly as Catalan giants Barcelona travel to England to face off with a very deadly Manchester City side in Champions League play. While the clash promises to be full of excitement, there is one player who will be full of emotions.
Yaya Toure joined Barcelona in 2007 and played a major role at the club, winning the Champions League and several other trophies along the way.
Yet in 2010, the Ivory Coast midfielder left the Camp Nou having lost his starting spot to young Sergio Busquets. Toure was far too good of a player to play a reserve role, but he was also not quite strong enough to command a regular starting spot.
It was time for the strong midfielder to say goodbye and find his place elsewhere. It was soon reported that the then 27-year-old would be joining Manchester City for the fee of £24 million.
Fast-forward to today and Toure still has fondness for his former side. In a recent interview with Champions Matchday magazine (h/t Richard Arrowsmith of the Daily Mail), the midfielder had the following to say as he looks forward to meeting Barcelona on Tuesday.
While at Barcelona I was limited and couldn't leave the middle but here I can go all over, so I am in my groove. Wherever the ball goes I will go. It was a bit difficult because I didn't really want to get Barcelona now. Difficult because it is a club that I have a lot of respect for, a club where I won everything, a club which taught me a lot and a club where I made many friends, good professionals who taught me a lot. I will play against these same guys in the same stadium. It's not what I would have wanted but that's football, it can happen.
With Toure now set to take on his former club and likely to do battle against Sergio Busquets, the question must be asked. What would Barcelona look like today had the club not sold Yaya Toure?
To begin with, it is important to realize what role Toure played at the end of his career with Barcelona. The Ivory Coast star sat behind Busquets as the club’s first-choice defensive midfielder and was sometimes used as a backup when the defense needed someone to fill in.
It’s clear that Toure was utilized solely as a defensive player and mainly just slotted in when the club needed someone of his skill.
The first change that we would see in Barcelona today if Toure had not left would be the absence of Javier Mascherano.
Toure officially joined Manchester City in early July of 2010, and the Catalans immediately looked for a replacement when they signed Mascherano in late August of the same year.
The main reason why Mascherano was even brought into the Catalan club was because Toure left a hole that needed to be filled. Without Mascherano in the current squad, you have to imagine that Toure would be filling the same role.
In truth, that means that today’s defense could look very similar with Toure partnering with Gerard Pique. The 30-year-old featured as a centre-back when needed, which would have likely stuck permanently as it did when Mascherano made the move to the back line.
However, it is also fair to assume that Barcelona could have purchased their needed centre-back long ago had the club not had Mascherano.
Toure was always open about the desire to play in the midfield, meaning the club would have been a bit more reluctant to move him to defense.
If we are being honest, Barcelona’s defensive problems could have been avoided by buying a new centre-back had the club never brought in Mascherano to replace Toure. But there is truly no way of knowing.
It is also important to mention that the Blaugrana midfield would have been heavily affected had Toure remained in Barcelona.
For instance, his ongoing battle with Sergio Busquets for the starting role would have given the Catalans another weapon to utilize. Toure could have formed a double pivot with Busquets when needed, which would have come in handy against counter-attacking opponents.
If Barcelona would have opted for a double pivot, it would have likely meant that Andres Iniesta would have been moved forward to the left wing.
With fewer midfield spots to go around, Barcelona’s later purchases could have been altered greatly.
It is fair to assume that Cesc Fabregas still would have returned home, but other players could have met other fates. For instance, there would have been even less time for Thiago Alcantara to develop, meaning he could have left even earlier or possibly stayed to continue his progression.
At the same time, the recent purchase of Alex Song to back up Busquets certainly never would have happened. There would have been little need and absolutely no room for the former Arsenal man.
It is easy to see that the Barcelona defense and midfield would look very different today had Toure never left, but the Blaugrana offense could be a bit different as well.
With Iniesta likely playing on the wing more often, Barcelona would not have had the need to purchase as many wingers as they have. Yes, that means that the likes of Alexis Sanchez, David Villa or Neymar could have never made their way to the Camp Nou, though some probably would have.
At least one winger would have to have been brought in to provide depth up front, but certainly not everyone currently playing on the wings today would be there.
In fact, the likes of Cristian Tello and Isaac Cuenca would likely have gotten even fewer chances to break into the first team, thus there is no way to guess where they would have ended up.
It is fairly easy to see that every single move a club makes affects the entire squad. This is all conjecture, as there is no way of knowing what tactics Barcelona would have used and which players would have come and gone, but still a lot could be very different today.
Had Toure stayed at the Camp Nou, Barcelona could have bought a new centre-back as well as possibly seen the club switch to playing with a double pivot with Iniesta on the left wing.
With that happening, there is a chance that Neymar would have never joined the Catalan club, but at the same time Thiago may have never left to join Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich.
What would Barcelona be like today if Yaya Toure never left?
However, the complete opposite could be true as well.
Toure could have become what Mascherano eventually went on to be. With Toure at the back, Barcelona could have continued to ignore their need for a true defender while everything else would have likely stayed the same for the most part.
In the end, Barcelona did sell Yaya Toure and we have the squad as we see it today.
What we do know is that Barcelona went on to win the Champions League the season after Toure left the club. La Blaugrana has remained extremely competitive while the Ivory Coast midfielder has become one of the faces for Manchester City.
When Toure faces off with his former club Tuesday, there will be no thoughts of what could have been. Fans will see two massively talented clubs going at it, and it promises to be one of the games of the year.
We can always wonder about what could have been, but true focus must always remain on what can be tomorrow and in the future.
Would Barcelona be a better side today had they never sold Yaya Toure? In what ways would the Catalan club be different? Leave your thoughts and comments below!