Kolo Toure’s grand plan to become pioneer for African coaches
Kolo Toure has followed Brendan Rodgers from Celtic to Leicester City, where the 39-year-old is now a first-team coach, but at some point he will branch out on his own. For now, he is happy at City, but weeks before he completes his UEFA A License – he is speaking at St. George’s Park, where he is completing the final furlong – Toure’s thoughts have naturally turned to what his ultimate aspiration, in management, might be.
The plan? Club, then national, team, then “the World Cup, for [an] African team”. He estimates the last one could be twenty to thirty years in the making, “but the day is going to happen”. Until then, the more immediate goal is to fill the dearth of black coaches in the English game. There is the old adage that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’: at various points in Toure’s career it has been hard to pinpoint an iconic African manager or player in whose footsteps to follow, because there have been so few.
“When I came to the UK, we had no-one from the Ivory Coast in the Premier League,” Toure says. “I had no-one to aspire to, no-one I could look to for inspiration. We had players coming from different countries – like from Cameroon, or Nigeria with Kanu – I’m used to the situation where you have to come from a long way because you have no idols, no role-models to look up to.
“The first thing is to have the knowledge. I am doing my badge here because I know I am getting the best advice, the best management skills, the best way to coach players, communicate with players, impact the players. Some of my friends who have been playing maybe haven’t thought of that. But I want to do it because I think Africa needs that. Africa needs people who can inspire them. It’s difficult. You are putting yourself out there and it’s going to be hard. But there always has to be one person to start – and then the rest will follow.”
Toure remains the African player with the most Premier League appearances – 353 – and the second-most capped player of all time for the Ivory Coast. He is one of only eight players who have won the Premier League with two clubs – Manchester City and Arsenal – but in those early days, arriving at Arsenal after brother Yaya’s failed trial, felt a pressure to represent those who would follow. “I felt I had to do everything properly,” he says. “Because when you are the first player to come from your country, people judge every other Ivory Coast player by how you do. If you do things right, they will always think, Kolo Toure comes from the Ivory Coast and he’s doing well. That means there are other good players in the Ivory Coast. They will go and find new talent there.
“I was really proud of that because Drogba, Yaya, Zokora, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, many players from the Ivory Coast came here to express their talent. The one thing I really like about the Premier League [is] it doesn’t matter where you come from. People judge you on what you do. The song we have, me and my brother Yaya – people were singing our names here more than in [our] own country. Of course people in Africa love us, but the expression of love here is unbelievable. We were coming from another country but people will embrace you. Of course, up and down, there is bad and there is good. But the good is much bigger.”
It has not always been smooth sailing. In 2011, while at Manchester City, Toure received a six-month ban, backdated to March of that year, after testing positive for the weight loss drug bendroflumethiazide, which he claimed, at the time, to have been contained in some water tablets he obtained through his wife. The commission chairman said that he was satisfied Toure had not intended to enhance his performance, but had not worked hard enough to check the content of the tablets.
“The worst part was doing something and not knowing I had done anything wrong,” Toure says now. “All I did was take something to make me do more pee-pee. I am very careful of my weight, even now, and weigh myself pretty much every day because I don’t want to put any weight on. I have done that since the start of my career. My weight had been up and down a little bit. When you put on two, three, four kilos, you are a different player.”
He did not expect to fail the test. “I was shocked. Honestly, I was shocked. The thing that hurt a lot more is that my 15-year-old daughter just came to me and said to me, ‘Dad, you took drugs?’ I think one of the boys at school made a comment to her. ‘We’ll have to test you,’ he said, ‘because your dad took drugs.’
“I said to her, ‘No, no, darling – it’s not ‘drugs’. In the football world, when people say ‘drugs’, it can just mean something that is banned and you cannot have. But it is not cocaine or anything like that.’ “Having to explain hurt a little bit. That is the bad side of it – explaining to her at the time. I told her not to worry about it, but I felt like I had hurt her a little bit.”
His daughter is 15 now, understanding more every day, and Toure knows she must be thin-skinned if and when he takes the leap to become a head coach. “They’re growing up and they know a little bit,” he says. “I’m used to that, but they will get used to it anyway.”
They will have to, given their father’s certainty that this is what he wants to do. Once his playing career finished, he thought about “what I could bring to the world” and considered going into finance, “but there are people who can do that.
“The only thing I know, and the only way I can help people and young people from my continent, is football. One of the most important things – touching my heart – is that I am from Africa. I have a dream that one day an African team may win the World Cup. This is what I am working for. I want someone from my continent to win it. It is going to be difficult but it’s in my head. It’s my target.”