The Toure brothers were icons who inspired a generation. This is the story behind their careers.
‘Kolo Kolo…Yaya, Yaya,..Toure!’
On the outskirts of Abidjan, a little further from the Ebrie Lagoon, there is a large hut surrounded by emerald green fields and willowy trees.
It is an elongated hut, neighboured by another. Their colour is pastel white, blotted by a myriad of windows to ventilate the inhabitants from the scorching temperatures outside.
It is a humble lodging. At first glance one would find it hard to believe that merely 20 years ago some of the era’s finest footballers learned their trade in that exact spot.
Twenty years ago, only two people believed in such a bold dream, Jean Marc Guillou and his assistant Mamadou Wad.
In the early 90s, Guillou had a mission. For years he had seen the marvellous prospects who ventured to his homeland from the African continent. He had heard them lament how they were merely ‘a small drop in the ocean.’ He knew how poverty had thwarted the fledgling careers of many aspiring African footballers and he sought to change that.
So he went to Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast and birthed the JMG academy.
A story of brotherhood
It was on the radio and the television. It was what all the kids talked about. JMG, a big football academy with a European coach was coming to Abdijan.
It was an opportunity of a life-time. What all the kids had dreamt of. Kolo knew it was his chance to shine. He had played football from the moment he could remember. He had played on the fields of Bouake with his father’s military friends. They always begged him to play. Sung him praises. He hardly ever lost.
‘Jean Marc Guillou had prepared for six years,’ Mamadou Wad, Guillou’s assistant and JMG coach recalls exclusively to First Time Finish.
‘We organised the detection, we checked them for their weights and we watched them play. That’s how we first saw Kolo Toure, he was very good’ Mamadou remembers.
It didn’t take long for them to convince Kolo’s father to allow him to join the academy.
But Guillou and Mamadou Wad have Kolo to thank for the discovery of his brother, Yaya.
‘One day Kolo said to Guillou,’ Mamadou Wad remembers.
“Coach, I think you have to take my little brother, because he is better than me and I think he will be taller than me.”
At first the coach said: “That’s not possible.” But Kolo insisted so Jean Marc Guillou said:
“Okay when you go home, bring your brother back to the academy.”
And that’s how Yaya came to JMG.’
Kolo had faith in his younger brother. He might have missed him too, the academy could be a lonely place at times, but he also knew Yaya was special.
‘When Yaya came to the academy, Guillou turned towards him and said:
“Your older brother said you are very good and you’re better than him so I want to see you training for one week. If you are really good I will take you.”
It didn’t take long for Yaya to convince Guillou.
‘In his first training when Yaya touched the ball, Guillou said: “Oh this boy is good, he won’t go back home, he will stay here with us.”
Legends in the making
‘For Yaya everything was easy,’ Mamadou remembers. ‘He was not very fast without the ball but when he had the ball he became a cheetah, it was impossible to get the ball away from him.’
The two brothers were ultimately joined, by their youngest sibling, Ibrahim and they thrived under Guillou’s stewardship.
‘Off the pitch Yaya was a big boy, he talked too much when he was not playing. He was always joking and laughing and spending his time with Ibrahim. Kolo was a bit more reserved, quiet and responsible.’
‘Yaya had more natural qualities than Kolo, but Kolo had the mentality of a warrior. Kolo wasn’t easy on the eye, but he worked hard. His mental quality and physical quality was very good.’
It was something which was spotted by a close associate of Guilliou in Arsene Wenger.
Kolo showed his mentality of ‘a lion’ in his Arsenal trial. He famously two-footed Thierry Henry, Denis Bergkamp and Arsene Wenger himself on his first training session with the Gunners which was enough to convince Wenger to bring him to North London.
Happy 37th birthday to Kolo Toure! 🎉
Here he is talking about his first day at Arsenal and the infamous slide tackle on Arsene Wenger 😂 pic.twitter.com/g95Xtk3tCp
— Ladbrokes (@Ladbrokes) March 19, 2018
Kolo convinced Arsenal to give Yaya a chance, just like he did with Guillou at JMG. But ultimately the pair’s paths diverged.
Kolo became an invincible. Yaya fought himself to the top from Ukraine, Greece and France all the way to Barcelona.
They would reunite at Manchester City where they became fan favourites for three fleeting years.
It’s where the famous ‘Kolo… Kolo…Yaya…Yaya…Toure’ chant was birthed upon City’s nail-biting Premier League victory in 2012.
During the 2013/14 season with Kolo having moved to pastures new, the brothers became fierce rivals as they fought for the Premier League title.
Ultimately it was the incredible individual performances of Yaya that season which clinched the title for Manchester City. The youngest brother scored 20 goals from midfield and was completely unplayable at times.
A year later, they would both contribute to the country’s greatest triumph helping Ivory Coast lift the African Cup of Nations in 2015 to conclude an extremely successful career.
But despite the plethora of successes, they haven’t forgotten their humble origins.
‘We still talk sometimes, on FaceTime and messages,’ Mamadou Wad says fondly. ‘They are great guys.’
From Abdijan to London, Barcelona, Manchester and Liverpool, the Toure brothers have left an indelible mark in football and they are among the greatest siblings to have played the sport.