The Ivorian midfielder wants Manchester City to be as loved as Barcelona while remaining committed to his troubled homeland
The Premier League is a global village these days, and the Manchester derby long ago outgrew its parochial past. The top scorer in Premier League meetings between City and United is Eric Cantona, the last player to appear for both sides is Carlos Tevez, back when he was playing, and the winning goalscorer when the two clubs met at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final was Yaya Touré.
City signed the Ivorian midfielder specifically because they wanted to import a winning mentality and some first-hand experience of success into the club, and Touré came with not just the kudos of winning the Champions League but of having done so with Barcelona. He was very much the international superstar when Roberto Mancini landed him two summers ago, the manager succeeding in a statement of intent after Mark Hughes's somewhat frivolous pursuits of Kaká and John Terry, yet, growing up relatively poor in Africa, Touré was 10 years old before he owned his first pair of football boots.
"I just had a normal African childhood," he explains. "We played football a lot, but it was always in the street and always without shoes. Boots were very expensive, and when there are seven in your family and you say you want to buy a pair your father wants to kill you. Life was always a struggle when I was growing up, but that was before the war came. Now when you go back home you can see in people's faces that life is more difficult than before. That is why it is important to keep going back. Whatever we can do to help, it's very important to show the people I'm still with them. They are amazing, they love football, and we have to do something for them."
When Touré won his Champions League winner's medal in 2009 he did so against United, playing out of position at centre-half, a little-remembered fact that backs up Mancini's assertion that really good players can operate anywhere on the pitch.
"When you are a top player you can play in every position and for me Yaya is one of the best players in Europe," the City manager says. "He has always played for top teams, he is strong in the air, he has everything technically and he brings a lot of experience. You don't often get all that in a player who is big and physically strong, he reminds me a little bit of Ruud Gullit."
Touré smiles and accepts the compliment, but takes issue with being billed as City's best player. "That's very kind, but we have a lot of good players here now," the 28-year-old says. "We have David Silva and Mario Balotelli, and in the summer we brought in two more in Sergio Agüero and Samir Nasri. For me the most important thing is the team, anyway. The project here is to build a team, and when you look at the players who have been signed you can see this club has fantastic ambition.
"Some of the top players in the world are here. I didn't know whether I was making the right decision when I came from Barcelona, I knew I had to move somewhere because the last season had been so difficult, but now I am here I don't believe I made the wrong choice at all. I was told this club was a story waiting to be written, and that is exactly what it feels like.
"The players feel it too. We all want to be part of the story of a big club, and City can be a great club. We know the fans are happy, because 35 years is an awfully long time to wait to see your team win a trophy, but now we have won the FA Cup we want to follow it up with some more trophies. To do that we must keep improving."
Improving on a record of only one derby win at Old Trafford since the Premier League began would be a start, though at least City are visiting their neighbours as league leaders for the first time since 1968. Touré is realistic. "Manchester United have a big history," he says. "They have been a big club for a long time. Perhaps more important even than that, they almost never lose at home. Their record [24 home wins in the last 25 league matches] is fantastic, so the game at Old Trafford will be a big test for us. We have to keep our minds positive and try to come out with a good result, but I don't think it will be a draw. I think both sides will be going out to win. We want to do it for our fans and I imagine United will feel the same."
Touré speaks highly of the City fans, though unlike some of them he has not been spending his time replaying the goal he slotted past Edwin van der Sar in the FA Cup semi-final over and over again. It was just a goal. "It was an important goal, I guess, and I certainly enjoyed the celebrations afterwards, and playing in the final against Stoke," he says. "But it is in the past now. You have to move on, there are fresh challenges ahead."
Uppermost among them, one suspects, is to fully convince himself he has not taken a step down from the mighty Barcelona just to earn big but win relatively little in England. Unlike at least one of his cosmopolitan team-mates, Touré has bought into the City project to the extent of wanting to make it work. "It is impossible to replicate Barcelona," he says. "They are out on their own and probably will be for some time. They have the best player in the world in Messi and he is still young. But we can try to be like them.
"We must work hard and keep improving, but if we keep bringing in fantastic players we can hope that one day we will be as fantastic to watch. I came to a new country to join my brother and a new team, and everything so far has been just as good as Kolo told me it would be. One day I hope we can be loved like Barcelona are, for our football as well as winning. But Barcelona win several trophies every year. We have only just started. But I think if we win some more, the fans will like us even more."