Despite his pride at representing the Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations, the tournament could hardly come at a worse time for Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure.
City’s expensively assembled squad is trying to clinch the club’s first English championship since 1968, but Toure could miss about a half dozen Premier League matches if his country makes it to the final of the 21 January – 11 February competition.
With Toure a driving force for the Premier League leaders, the scheduling of the tournament in the middle of the European season could seriously hamper the club’s momentum.
“It’s a very big problem because your mind is with your club,” Toure said Monday. “You want to try and help your club but you have to go away and do other things with your country. We don’t have any option.
“If you stay with your club and don’t play with your national team, you get suspended. You have to go and help your country. It’s difficult.”
Toure’s importance to the side was illustrated at the end of last season when he scored the winning goal in both the semifinal and final of the FA Cup to clinch City’s first major trophy since 1976.
The team has improved further this season, scoring 39 goals in 11 matches to head the Premier League by five points from defending champion Manchester City.
Toure said the improvement can be attributed to the players’ greater familiarity with each other’s game as they spend more time together.
“The communication between the players is so important,” Toure said. “Now it’s a year that we have lived together, and although some players are new, it is amazing the way we have developed in the defense and in the middle.
“You have to know each other a long time. When you see the big teams like United, Chelsea or Barcelona, they don’t change these areas a lot: you need to have the confidence there.”