ON this day in 2013, fans’ favourite Kolo Toure made his Liverpool debut as The Reds won 1-0 at home to Stoke City. Toure made himself a cult hero during his three seasons at Anfield and was particularly influential during the 2013-14 season. In their book Make Us Dream, The Anfield Wrap’s own Neil Atkinson and John Gibbons dedicated a chapter to the Ivorian’s influence on Liverpool’s title challenge and they explained how he won the hearts of the supporters…
LIVERPOOL 1 Aston Villa 3 – 15 December 2012. Liverpool crumbled to a defeat under an aerial bombardment. Christian Benteke bossed Liverpool into submission. He wasn’t the first to do this. Far from it.
Benteke, and the Bentekes, are terrifying. Physical centre forwards change football matches. It isn’t as simple as winning a few headers. It’s the pace, the disruption, the aggression. But also the touch. Everyone used to laugh about Crouch being described as having a good touch for a big man. The reality is that footballers playing centre forward at this level tend to have an excellent touch. You don’t get this far without it.
Benteke, and the Bentekes, have always been kryptonite to Liverpool defences I’ve watched with the exception of those helmed by Sami Hyypia. Hyypia wasn’t impervious to good footballers putting themselves about – no one can be. But he improved Liverpool markedly overnight, and progressively for years.
Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 2 – 31 March 2013. Liverpool got battered first half. Benteke was everywhere. Second half they came out and played. They played and played and Villa couldn’t cope. They got themselves ahead and Villa came with a late bombardment against us but we held out.
Aston Villa 0 Liverpool 1 – 24 August 2013. And nothing. Liverpool dominated the first half against Villa, Sturridge did marvellous things. And at the other end – one chance for Benteke. One half-shout for a penalty. No panic. No battering. No disturbance. Yes, Liverpool sat deep second half but they never felt anywhere near as stressed and stretched.
Kolo had turned up, told the world and the dressing room they could win the league. Told everyone how magnificent they were. Told them they were leaders and men and footballers. They seemed to have more fun. Gerrard in brightly coloured boots and with a beard. He gave the club the boost a two-time league-winning player can give. He wasn’t jaded, he was genuinely pleased to be here. Liverpool was a privilege, not a chore. These players weren’t limited, they were limitless. Kolo was the first to say in one sense, ‘We are Liverpool. Tra-la-la-la-la.’
And then he played against Stoke.
Kolo against Stoke was magnificent. Crouch couldn’t get near the football match, Liverpool were well marshalled and tight. And then Kolo attacked. A red streak charging forward in a straight line. The move broke down. Kolo charged back. A red streak charging backwards in a straight line. Stoke punted the ball upfield. Kolo headed it clear. The Kop cheered, sang his name, and Kolo clapped back.
Benteke was beaten back by the Liverpool led by Touré. If Touré didn’t win the first ball, he pressed the second. He wasn’t interested in being dominated. Benteke’s only a fella, he seemed to be saying. He’s only one guy. We can deal with this. After the game he got a special ovation from the away contingent. They loved him and he loved them, giving the impression every weekend he had spent not playing for them had been a weekend wasted.
He came, he played, he was larger than life. He was prepared to be larger than life.
There’s a simplicity to his impact. He never hit the heights of these two league games again. But on and off the pitch he talked. Some stories need big characters to introduce them. The start of our tale is glorified by Sturridge. The start of our tale is antagonised by Suárez. But the start of our tale is defined not by a heroic goalkeeper, nor an inspirational captain, but by an Ivorian who knew what the business was about and spread, through word and deed, the idea that the business could be done.