THERE is a smashing story that is told about Kolo Toure.
No, it’s not the one you’re thinking of (though that is a cracker in its own right). The one I am talking about centres around Toure’s trial with Arsenal and comes from Ray Parlour, via John Cross’ book Arsene Wenger: The Inside Story of Arsenal Under Wenger. I’ll let Parlour take up the tale:
“They rolled the ball into Thierry Henry. Kolo Toure from nowhere smashed him, right from behind, two-footed tackle, a terrible tackle. Seriously could have been a red card in a normal game. Our best player is on the floor rolling around. Arsene Wenger screams, ‘Kolo, what are you doing? Don’t tackle, don’t tackle!’
“Next minute, the ball goes into Dennis Bergkamp. Kolo Toure, exactly the same, two-foots Dennis Bergkamp. We’re thinking this is unbelievable.
“The next ball comes in and he makes a great tackle, Kolo Toure, but the ball flips up in the air and Arsene Wenger used to stand right in the middle between the midfield and the forwards and he’d try to look at all the movement.
“The ball’s gone up in the air and where did it land? Right at Arsene Wenger’s foot. He’s two-footed Arsene Wenger! Proper tackle!
“The lads are thinking this is unbelievable. The trialist has taken out Henry, Bergkamp and Wenger on his trial.
“Now Wenger’s had to limp off, he’s gone back to the medical room so Kolo Toure’s nearly crying. He can’t believe it. It was his big day at Arsenal and he’s took out two of our best players and the manager.
“That afternoon Arsene Wenger’s sitting there with a big ice pack on his ankle and I felt sorry for Kolo Toure and I said, ‘Boss, I don’t think he meant to kick you like that’ and he said ‘Look at my ankle’.
“I said, ‘He didn’t mean it, boss’ and he said ‘I know he didn’t mean it. I like his desire. We sign him tomorrow’ and that was it, he signed him.”
Now, frankly, if that story does not make you glad that Kolo Toure is at Liverpool Football Club, I’m not sure there’s much hope for you.
Every single time I read those few paragraphs, I cannot help but smile. I’d have signed him too, Arsene.
The point of re-telling this story is that I have developed a little game I play in my own head, call it the ‘Kolo Test’ if you like, where I try to imagine a given Liverpool player in that exact same situation and see if there is any way even one of them reacts the way dear Kolo did.
For the most part, I can’t. This isn’t a bad thing — however good the story is, you don’t want a squad full of headbangers who are liable to start slide tackling anything that moves in training.
There is one player, however, that I think just might have gone as tackle-crazy as Toure did. Mamadou Sakho. After running every Liverpool player through the Kolo Test, only Sakho passes.
Gareth Roberts made an excellent point regarding Sakho on The Friday Show analysing the first leg against Bourissa Dortmund.
He said that fans, including himself, often got mixed up between Sakho the player and Sakho the man when dishing out praise for the centre half. I think the crux of the point was that we go easier on Sakho and give him credit easier than we do other players because he seems like a top quality human being who will paint your house or come and visit you in the hospital when you’re sick (he has done both of these things off his own back in the past year).
- The Friday Show: Borussia Dortmund revisited – click below to listen to a free clip of our latest TAW Player subscriber show
While it might be the wrong time to try writing with anything approaching a clear head (I am writing this the afternoon after the Dortmund game at Anfield), as obvious as it is that the actual on-pitch football playing side of stuff is what really matters, what makes up the man is also extremely important when evaluating a player’s worth — especially in Sakho’s case.
Thursday’s game was essentially his Liverpool career in microcosm.
Part of a defence (and entire team really) that was blown away in the first 10 minutes, you felt, rightly or wrongly, that he could have done more for their second and that he absolutely could have done more for their third when he played Reus onside by not being up with the defensive lines.
And then he went and scored the equaliser and did some sort of Hulk Hogan flexing pose to celebrate. Nervy moments and a mistake or two, but also some vital inputs as well as some primal show of force and strength.
I get why fans aren’t convinced by his every performance. We saw plenty of it against Dortmund. But I also get why so many fans love him, not just for the way he can chest a ball down and play into the midfield, but (probably more so) for how he is as a person.
Personalities as big as his aren’t easy to come by.
He is a leader, that much is certain. Being captain of PSG by age 17 tell us that. But it isn’t just his leadership ability, nor his Hulkamania impressions. He draws this squad together.
Last week, during the league game against Stoke, the television camera cut to the stand where Sakho sat with Christian Benteke.
For whatever reason, Benteke seemed to be getting off early and as he got up to leave, Sakho engaged him in a handshake routine and flashed him a warm smile.
Then, in the aftermath of Dejan Lovren’s equaliser on Thursday, Sakho found a phone on the pitch and proceeded to take a selfie with Divock Origi as his team-mates and the Kop celebrated behind him.
In the euphoria of post-match, Sakho crashed a television interview being conducted with Lovren and Origi and interjected that this was a great victory for “the Liverpool country”. He gets the club and he gets its people.
With Toure looking less and less likely to be at Liverpool next season, players of true character and personality are vital to have in the squad.
With Sakho, these traits are handily combined with a willingness to play the ball to feet and lead from the front.
We must be careful not to over-prescribe praise to any player just because we like their snapchats of “lovely scouse dogs” (I swear I’m not making this up). But, especially with characters as great as Sakho, we must also be careful not to dismiss the impact their influence can have on a squad.
Sometimes, you just want your centre half to head a corner to safety or hump a ball into the back of the stand. Other times, you want him to slide tackle your manager in training.