Kolo Toure keeps me awake at nights. Not in any kind of dodgy way, it’s just I wonder what will become of him. In three or so months his contract extension will be up and as of yet he hasn’t heard what the club expects him to do next. The fans, however, seem more decisive. In an online poll currently underway 71% of those who responded, so far, wanted Kolo retained in a playing capacity next season, even though one option was for him to be retained in a coaching role. Why the loyalty to a player who is, and there’s no getting away from it, in his mid thirties and the twilight of his career?
I think the easy answer is that Toure isn’t following the script. He’s never really been a lightning bolt when it comes to pace but he isn’t noticeably slowing in the way Gerrard did in his final seasons at the club. Neither is his decision-making deteriorating, in fact this season we haven’t seen the occasional calamities from him that popped up from time to time in years gone by. The truth is we’ve seen Man Of The Match performances from Kolo, not least his display against Augsburg. When his fellow defenders were falling by the way side through injury Kolo just got up and did his job, and better than he’d done it in a long time.
Of course, there’s another reason why Toure maintains the support of many fans, I’ll let his own words from a recent interview illustrate this:
“I’ve not been told anything. I am just enjoying every second of being at Liverpool Football Club.
“I am a fighter. The future is not the most important thing for me. What’s important is what’s happening for me right now.
“I’m in the team at the moment and I am showing every game that I’m still here.
“It doesn’t matter what other people say, I’m very happy and I always give 100 percent for this club.
“Sometimes you can make people change their minds by performing well and that’s my challenge right now.
“I can show people by my games that I’m still a top player. That’s all I can do and I will fight until the end.
“I’ve not had any offers for next season yet but if I keep playing like I am at the moment then I’m sure doors will open.”
When Kolo speaks two things are apparent. Firstly, he knows the value of playing for Liverpool and being at this club, so much so he is willing to fight until the very end to keep his place. Whereas players such as Suarez and Sterling viewed Liverpool as a stepping stone to greater things Toure views Liverpool as the destination. Granted, it is likely to be Kolo’s last top level destination but he has never seen Liverpool as something to fill the time until he retires. In many an interview Toure has described his intention as being to get Liverpool as high in the league and tournaments as possible. Unusually for a footballer these weren’t just platitudes, he really seems to mean it.
The second thing that is noticeable from Toure’s interviews is his irrepressible positivity. He may not be entirely realistic in saying his good performances will open doors for him but it is his belief in trying to achieve those things which are hardest to achieve that makes him such an asset to a squad of players. If you don’t have people in your team that think the impossible is doable then miracles like Istanbul don’t happen. My fear is that, leaving Toure aside, there are few, if any, players in our current squad with the hyper-determination of a Gerrard or a Carragher. Maybe it’s a generational thing, fewer players coming through seem to have that ‘running through brick walls’ attitude but Kolo does and we should think seriously before we let it go, it won’t be easy to replace.
There is another factor that should be considered. With the advancement of sports medicine the age of a sportsman isn’t the defining issue it once was. It is possible, given the correct recovery regime and injury treatment, for players to continue past the point when retirement was expected. I believe as technology advances, and the working parts of players are increasingly protected, the age of individuals will become less relevant, it will be their ability to perform on a regular basis that will be paramount.
It’s all of this that keeps me awake at night. It should be easy – a player reaches their mid thirties, they get given a testimonial and shown the door. And yet with Kolo somehow it’s not so easy, partly because the usual declines that should be happening to a player of his age aren’t, quite the opposite, and partly because I fear his absence will leave a Kolo-shaped hole in a particularly young dressing room, a hole that won’t be easily filled.
And then I think – what would Kolo say about my predicament…?