Remember a couple years ago when Yaya Touré was considering leaving Manchester City because they didn’t bake him a birthday cake It was an entirely ridiculous story but it managed to fuel nearly a full summer’s worth of transfer rumors. It might’ve been the story of the summer if, you know, there wasn’t a World Cup going on. It even resurfaced a year later It was a story that just refused to die.
It would be easy to be seduced by the headline and laugh off the whole thing as yet another pratfall in the eternal churn of football news. It helps distract from the fact that it was a manufactured controversy, fed to the sporting media machine by an agent that never seems to hit above the belt.
Whenever there’s a transfer rumor or some other weird story surrounding Touré, you can be certain that his agent, Dimitri Seluk, is behind it. Now the high-powered Russian negotiator is at the center of another controversy— and his client is once again caught in the middle.
Touré was left out of Manchester City’s 25-man Champions League squad when it was announced a few weeks ago, a move that, while not totally out of left field considering his age, was still somewhat surprising. Considering some of Pep Guardiola’s other moves in the squad— like sending Joe Hart out on loan to Torino— it seemed like the kind of housecleaning every new manager does in their first season at a club.
Seluk, however, wasn’t having it. If he wouldn’t abide the lack of birthday cake, you could be damned sure he wouldn’t stand for this.
When the Champions League squad was announced, Seluk gave an interview saying that if City fail to win the Champions League, Guardiola will be obliged to personally apologize to Touré.
”If he wins the Champions League for City this season then I will travel to England and I will say on television that Pep Guardiola is the best manager in the world. But if City don’t win the Champions League then I hope that Pep has got the balls to say that he was wrong to humiliate a great player like Yaya.”
You couldn’t say for sure, but it’s not difficult to imagine Manuel Pellegrini letting that comment go. Say what you will about him, but the previous City manager was known for not letting this sort of thing distract him.
Pep, on the other hand, doesn’t back down from a fight.
The former Barcelona manager addressed Seluk’s comments in a presss conference ahead of City’s upcoming League Cup match against Swansea. Guardiola said that until Seluk retracts his statement, Touré will not play.
”He must apologise to his team-mates, to the club. If he doesn’t, he won’t play. It was difficult to leave him out of the Champions League squad but [the] day after, his [agent] went to the media. He has not had the courage to call me. From that moment he was out. [...] I cannot imagine in my period when I was a football player, my manager going to the media and speaking against Johan Cruyff, about this and about that. If he has a problem call the club, and they can talk, until he speaks, Yaya is not going to play.”
So this is a pretty strong statement. I’ll leave it to others to say whether Pep was right to pick at this particular scab. But it’s worth remembering that this isn’t an isolated incident, and City has been on the receiving end of Seluk’s media tantrums for years.
Seluk, of course, is patently unaccustomed to taking one for the team (or his clients) and moving on. His response to Guardiola was simple and incendiary: if he wants a war, he can have one.
”Pep didn’t like my opinion? But what does he expect me to say when he does this to Yaya? I spoke out because I felt that Pep was being vindictive to Yaya. Unfortunately for Pep, we live in a world where you have the right to free speech. He has reacted to what I have said about him by punishing Yaya again. But I’m not surprised. Pep doesn’t want players with personality. He only wants players who are scared of him and will do what he says. The first thing he did when he arrived at City was to pick a fight with Yaya and Joe Hart, two of the club’s biggest players. [...] When you first go into someone’s house then you should treat them with respect. You don’t go into someone’s house and ask them to leave. He was the same at Barcelona. [...] It has to always be about Pep Guardiola, no-one else.”
But wait! It gets better.
”Guardiola wins a few games and thinks he’s king. I live in Europe so I can say what I like and Guardiola can’t stop me. I will apologise to Guardiola if he will apologise to [Manuel] Pellegrini for what he did to him. If you are a gentleman this just does not happen. He signed a new contract last year then he gets pushed out for Guardiola to come in. Pellegrini was a gentleman. Guardiola also needs to apologise to Joe Hart. It’s not right to come to England and then get rid of a few English players. Guardiola wants a new future for Yaya, for Hart, and they won’t be the last.”
A reporter sought final clarification on whether an apology was forthcoming and Seluk replied in Trump-esque fashion: “Well, what do I need to apologise for?”
All of this leaves Touré in a difficult spot. His club won’t play him again until this drama is settled, one way or the other. He just retired from international duty. The January transfer window is three and a half months away. It’s unclear whether any club would want to try and hire his services, since dealing with Touré means dealing with Seluk. (Can you imagine MLS trying to negotiate with this guy?) And the player will be 34 at the end of the season. In short, Touré has dwindling options, no real leverage, and his agent seems intent on burning bridges before crossing them.
Seluk has made it clear he won’t apologize to City or to Guardiola. But by the end of this, he might have to apologize to his client.