Few would dispute the start of the power shift in Manchester can be traced back to that April afternoon at Wembley in 2011, when City banished United en route to FA Cup glory and a first trophy for 35 years.
Yet for Yaya Touré – City’s hero that day and in the final against Stoke to follow – it was at Old Trafford, six months later, when Sir Alex Ferguson was subjected to the heaviest defeat of his managerial career, that the momentum truly began to swing towards the blue half of Manchester.
United 1 City 6. Visit the Etihad Stadium on a match day and you will still hear City fans singing regularly, and with relish, about that game. “You lucky b-------, it should have been 10,” the chant goes. Touré still has the original team-sheet, with the scoreline written on it, in a frame at his house in Ivory Coast. And not just any frame. “It’s in a United frame,” he says, laughing.
The scoreline has added resonance, too, because it was on goal difference only that City pipped United to the Premier League title that season – the first of the seven to come – on an extraordinary final day no supporter of either club will ever forget.
‘You could see the camera on Ferguson’s face and it was red’
“I think what hurt United the most – the club, their fans – was the 6-1 win,” Touré says. “After the FA Cup semi-final win, we believed we could beat them, even at Old Trafford with Ferguson.
“Ferguson is one of the great managers. Old Trafford is the most emblematic stadium in the world. It was like a slap in the face of United fans, even [the] players in front of Ferguson.
“I remember watching highlights of the game and you could see the camera on Ferguson’s face and it was red. He didn’t say anything. You could see it in his eyes. He was like, ‘Oh’. It was incredible.
“We played much better than we did in the FA Cup. We won that game 1-0 but we got dominated in the first half. The one chance we got I scored. But at Old Trafford, the 6-1 was different. It was in their stadium, against the best manager in the world, and we battered them 6-1. What’s better than that?”
Touré is coaching Tottenham’s Under-16 team these days and dreaming of a career in top-level management. He seems to have made a strong early impression, too. The parents of those Spurs youngsters are already coining his football “Yaya-ball” and the infectious enthusiasm evident throughout Telegraph Sport’s near hour together is clearly rubbing off on those impressionable minds. The future looks bright for Touré.
For now, though, he is delving into his rich past as a midfielder of serious standing and the prospect of City and United meeting again at Wembley for the first time since that transformative clash 12 years ago brings all sorts of memories flooding back.
“I think we celebrated more then than actually winning the final,” Touré says. “The feeling was like, ‘This is it now, change is coming now at Man City’. The fans realised it as well. Everyone around the city started to realise it.
“Before then, [it was] United fans asking, ‘So what did you do City? Losers’, that kind of thing. After that game all those things changed. We started to get more respect.
“I remember when I went to the shops or supermarket and even United fans would say, ‘Oh Yaya, you guys, jeez’. The celebrations were so important – I think more than when we eventually won against Stoke, with the greatest respect to them.”
Touré, of course, was scorer of the only goal in both games. City rode their luck in the first half against United but, seven minutes after the restart, Touré intercepted a pass from Michael Carrick, thundered past Nemanja Vidic and slipped a cool finish under the legs of the advancing Edwin van der Sar. Power and poise. It was the Ivorian all over. “I think that few seconds against United was like a résumé of my career at Man City,” he says now.
Against Stoke, he thrashed home an unstoppable finish from near the penalty spot after the ball had ricocheted off Ryan Shawcross and then Marc Wilson into his path. “It’s only now that I feel I should have celebrated it more,” Touré reflects. “In that period, I was still young – 28 – and I just felt like it was a duty really. That FA Cup was so important in terms of changing the mentality, the culture at the club.”
The final celebrations were something of a bittersweet experience for Touré. His brother Kolo, who was so influential in persuading him to join City from Barcelona in 2010, should have been playing alongside him. But the former Arsenal defender was ineligible after he was suspended for failing a drugs test, and later banned for six months. “That day at Wembley was difficult for the family – it can be divided, if you know what I mean,” Touré explains. “I remember my wife and his wife were happy because all the family came to the stadium but there was a bit of regret, but that was part of football. Kolo said to me, ‘Look, we are family – you win, I win. I feel more proud because I played a big part in persuading you to come to City and the Premier League’.”
The City project had actually pricked Touré’s attention 12 months before he arrived in England. Or rather, it had captured the interest of all Barcelona’s players at that time, including Lionel Messi, owing to Carlos Tevez’s decision to defect from United to City in 2009. The Argentina forward had been part of the United side that overcame Barcelona in the 2008 Champions League semi-finals before beating Chelsea in the final, and which had lost to the Catalans in the final in Rome a year later.
“When I was at Barcelona – I had some team-mates who were Argentinian, too, Gabriel Milito, Messi – and everyone was talking about it because Tevez is a great player and what he’d done at United at that time was incredible,” Touré says. “So to see one of their talismen go to their rival like that was something – you could see something was changing.”
What angered Ferguson almost as much as the transfer itself was the “Welcome to Manchester” billboards of Tevez that were erected around the city. It prompted Ferguson to deride City as a “small club with a small mentality” but, even from a distance, Touré could sense they were getting under United’s skin. “You don’t talk about someone like that if you don’t fear him,” Touré says. “When a manager starts to talk about other clubs it means he’s scared. You had to be on edge because Tevez was one of the biggest players and to take him from a big rival … you can maybe understand why Ferguson was frustrated and p-----.”
After Vincent Kompany in 2008, Tevez in 2009 and Touré and David Silva a year later, City, in 2011, signed Sergio Agüero. He would, of course, go on to score that most dramatic of winning goals against Queens Park Rangers in the final seconds of the final day to clinch the club’s first top-flight title for 44 years, and crush United in the process.
Touré had been forced off at half-time with an injury – and has never forgotten that feeling of being utterly powerless to help. “In that moment I realised how tough it is to be a football fan,” he says. “When you play on the field, you trust your ability – fans cannot read what is going on in your head. ‘Why is he so calm and cool when we’re still missing chances?’ But in that period I think I lost two or three kilos because I was watching it like a fan. When you’re playing, even if you’re losing 2-1 with 20 minutes to go, I feel like I can make it because I can conduct games with my team-mates. But the fans – you’re powerless. In that moment I found out how difficult it is.”
Touré’s key role in City’s ascent under Abu Dhabi rule is undeniable. He straddled the Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola eras and won league titles under all of them, scoring 79 goals in 316 appearances over an eight-year period. Yet, whereas other stalwarts such as Kompany, Silva and Agüero all have statues in their honour outside the Etihad, Touré does not, a consequence of a troubled relationship with Guardiola. It is not a subject Touré wishes to engage on but he is looking forward with purpose.
“I love doing what I’m doing at Tottenham and what I can carry on giving to them but I feel like I’m looking for a new challenge,” he says. “My desire, ambition and passion is clear. I dream to one day be a manager. We never know in life, maybe I’ll meet Man City one day again. I hope there’s going to be a great story.”