For a man who is so quietly spoken, and so affably light-hearted, Kolo Toure has the most serious football ambition. And we’re not just talking in terms of winning trophies. It goes much bigger.
The 38-year-old wants to be Africa’s first high-profile football coach, a trailblazer, and – crucially – an example to follow.
“As an ex-player, my first idea in my head was to use the experience I have to help the young generation,” Toure, who is now a coach at Leicester City, says. “One of the most important things – touching my heart – is that I am from Africa. As you know, there aren’t many African managers in the top league in England or Europe. I really want to represent 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.
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“At the end of my career I was thinking about what I could bring to the world. What can I bring back to football? What is my strength in my life? The only thing I really knew and enjoyed was football. The only industry I felt I could really bring some creativity to was football. My experience and knowledge of the game. That’s why I am still in the game. I want to pass it to the young generation.
“This is the problem. There is nobody to aspire to. When I came here there was no one from the Ivory Coast in the Premier League. There was nobody for me to look to for inspiration.
“Of course we had players coming from different countries like from Cameroon, or Nigeria with [Nwankwo] Kanu. So 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.
“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.
“I like the idea, I want to try and inspire my fellow friends who play football that it’s possible.”
Right now, Toure is doing his Uefa Pro-licence, and is speaking at St George’s Park on the day in early March that involves training for media commitments. A series of mock situations are held, like press conferences, or interviews. One of the case studies actually involved a media question on COVID-19.
Toure didn’t have to face that, but did handle his test very well. Everyone present felt his body language asserted total command, before he took control of the mock press conference with his words. You can see why Brendan Rodgers likes him, having appointed his former centre-half as a coach at Celtic in September 2017 before taking him with him to Leicester City.
“My progression right now, I am very happy where I am, working with Brendan Rodgers,” Toure remarks. “I have the best advice and best learning. I am learning every day with him and the people at Leicester, like [assistant] Chris Davies.
“I love the game. I have a passion for the game. I love to be around the players. I love to give advice to the young players. I am happy with that. I like to have people around me. I like to be positive. You always have to be positive in life. You will have ups and downs but the most important thing is to keep fighting and keep believing in what you are doing. In my opinion, that is what I like to do. I do it naturally. I like to have people around me.
“The first thing is to have the knowledge. That’s why I am doing the FA Pro-licence. Because if you want to stand out and bring the best to the players you have to learn the best philosophy of football playing. You have to learn the best way to coach players. That’s why 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 – that’s what’s most important.
“I always come back to myself really. It is difficult to judge other people. I want to be the best coach as possible. But before that I need to gather much knowledge – I need to learn the game. It doesn’t mean because you have been a good player you will be a good manager, or a great coach. You to have learn. Learning is the most important thing for me. I know if I am ready and do well, I will have a job.”
Toure likens it to when he arrived as a player, at Arsenal, in 2002.
“When I first came here there were not many African players in the Premier League. I was one of the few and had to make my way. It was really difficult and I did what I could,” he remembers.
“I felt I had to do everything properly. 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 and they will go and find new talent there.
“I was really proud of that because [Dider] Drogba, Yaya, [Didier] Zokora, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, many players from the Ivory Coast came here to express their talent. I was very proud of that.”
He can be proud of much more. Toure became one of Africa’s most celebrated players, especially on signing for Manchester City in 2009 and then moving on to Liverpool and Celtic, but his most impressive feat remains his important part in that great Arsenal team. This interview actually happened two days after Liverpool lost to Watford, preserving his 2003-04 side’s status as the only modern “invincibles”’.
Toure smiles when that is put to him, and does a mini fist-pump for show, before naturally praising Jurgen Klopp’s side.
“Liverpool have been unbelievable and what they have been doing is unbelievable – winning every game,” Toure points out. ”We didn’t do that. We won a few games and drew a few games. But Liverpool are an unbelievable team.”
So were his Arsenal. Toure cites his first few months with Arsene Wenger’s second great team as a key formative period of his football career.
“Unbelievable. We had Martin Keown, Sol Campbell, we had Dennis Bergkamp. All those guys were unbelievable guys, brilliant guys, really honest people,” Toure reveals. “I learned a lot from them. I learned a lot from them. What I learned from this team, that’s what I want to share, to the players, to the club I’m working with. Winning is not everything, but doing everything to win is very important.
“The one thing I really like about the Premier League. It doesn’t matter where you come from – if you are good you will play. People judge you on what you do. I really like that.”
That can be seen – or, rather, heard – in one of the more idiosyncratic supporter trends: the chanting of Toure and his brother Yaya’s names to the tune of 2 Unlimited’s ‘No Limits’. It properly exploded when the Liverpool 2014-15 squad were filmed dancing and singing to it in a Dubai mall.
“Honestly, I have been amazed by that,” Toure says. “And I have never had the chance to say thank you to the people who do that. It touches my heart. When you come to another country and the people embrace you and like you, give you praise and even sing your name? It is unbelievable for me and my brother.
“Fifteen years ago, if somebody had told me, ‘Kolo – people will be singing your name everywhere in the UK,’ I would say, ‘Are you joking, or what?’
“This is a dream for me. Fantastic.”
As regards his more famous younger brother, Toure claims Yaya was a bit of a misunderstood figure – whose sentiments were often misunderstood due to a language barrier.
“He’s a lovely man. He’s a lovely, lovely, guy, and sometimes there is a misunderstanding of his communication,” Toure emphasises. “Because English is not our first language. Sometimes we can say things that you’re not meaning, really, but because you’re on it, you just keep talking, and then that can turn against you. But deep inside he’s a lovely guy and I know he loves City.”
Toure also claims Yaya would have won a Ballon D’Or – if he had his elder brother’s drive.
“I can’t compare my brother. He was a better player than me, for sure. Yaya was a better player than me. I think he done better than me here.
“I am more competitive. He was more talented.
“Technically, he is fantastic, but with running I work harder. Yaya is more talented. If Yaya had my work-rate with my talent, he would have won the Ballon d’Or. That is what I expected for him.”
It wasn’t uniformly fantastic. There was the period when Toure had to serve a six-month ban from March 2011 for testing positive for the weight-loss drug Bendroflumethiazide.
He insists he only took anything to help him urinate – with the tone somewhat broken when he describes it as “pee-pee” in that affable way. The hurt is clear, though.
“It was difficult. Very, very difficult,” he remembers. “But in life you are going to have set-backs and, as a man, you want to be perfect. But of course things come along and you have to deal with them.
“It was a tough, tough time for me and my family but something that happened, I learned from it, and we moved on.
“The worst part was doing something and not knowing I had done anything wrong. 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.”
He maintains the worst part was comments to his children from classmates.
“I was shocked. Honestly, I was shocked,” he recalls. “This is something I just had to deal with. 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 had 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 is 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. That’s the bad side of it.”
The good, however, far outweighed it.
“I’ve never experienced other countries. This is something I found out here. People praised us. The song we have, me and my brother Yaya, people were singing our names here more than in own country,” Toure claims.
“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.”
Now, Toure has much bigger ambitions, that go way beyond just winning trophies as a manager. He wants to be an example for a continent.