Ivory Coast utility player Kolo Toure has made a spectacular breakthrough with Arsenal this term, and his manager, Arsene Wenger, has two fellow Frenchmen to thank.
Toure was coached as a youngster at a soccer school set up in the Ivorian capital Abidjan by former French international midfielder Jean-Marc Guillou. It was another close friend of Wenger, ex-Alsatian journalist and Olympique Marseille commercial director Roland Scheubel, who first spotted Toure’s potential as a 12-year-old and informed Wenger.
Scheubel’s eyes had not deceived him. Toure joined top Ivorian side ASEC Abidjan, was a full international by the age of 19, and grabbed his chance at Arsenal last season when given a trial. Wenger paid ASEC a fee thought to be in the region of œ150,000 and handed the youngster a three-year contract.
‘Now I’m at such a famous club as Arsenal I couldn’t be happier,’ said Toure shortly after arriving in London. ‘I feel I’m part of a very special club, where they play good football. It will not be easy to make it here as there are so many great players around, but I don’t think I could be at a better club to learn and develop.’
After overcoming a back problem, Toure was ready to make a contribution to the Arsenal first team by the start of this season. He came off the bench to good effect in a number of Premiership games, notably the 1-1 draw against Chelsea in September, when he scored Arsenal’s equaliser. The goal perfectly encapsulated his all-action style. A determined burst into opposition territory, a pass wide to Ashley Cole, and when, moments later, Sylvain Wiltord’s volley was palmed out by Chelsea keeper Carlo Cudicini, Toure was there to head in.
The Ivorian is very effective breaking forward, is pacy and strong, and also has the ability to quickly pick up the rhythm of a game after appearing as a substitute. But perhaps versatility is his key asset, being able to play in central defence, at right-back or in any number of midfield roles. He says his favourite position is just in front of the back four. However, with Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva ensconced there, Toure will have to look elsewhere for a niche, possibly at right-back, where he could push Lauren all the way for a regular start.
One of Wenger’s star pupils at Monaco in the late 1980s andearly 1990s was flying Ivorian left- winger Youssouff Fofana. Expect the Arsenal boss to bring the best out of his latest Ivorian recruit too.
Club Arsenal (Eng)
Country Ivory Coast
Born March 19, 1981, in Abidjan
Previous club ASEC Abidjan
International debut April 2000, v Rwanda
International caps 17 (1 goal)