Thursday 28 November 2019, 13:08

Yaya Toure: Legends visit to Maldives a really uplifting experience

  • FIFA Legend Yaya Toure has been to the Maldives

  • Itinerary included visits to football academies and schools

  • Ivorian a firm believer in the development of Maldivian football

Yaya Toure has starred all over the world in his 18-year playing career. Starting out with ASEC Mimosa in his native Côte d’Ivoire, he went on to play for the likes of Monaco, Barcelona and Manchester City before moving to his current employers, Chinese club Qingdao Huanghai.

The midfielder has played for eight clubs on three continents and has also travelled far and wide in making 102 appearances for his country. One place he had never been to, however, was the Maldives.

Thanks to the FIFA Legends Programme, he has now made that trip. The Ivorian midfielder travelled to the island nation in the Indian Ocean to assess how the game is developing there and promptly found out just how popular he was with the locals.

Toure saw the development of new sporting infrastructure and, in particular, a football academy in the capital city of Malé funded by the state and the FIFA Forward programme. This project, which comprises an administrative building and artificial turf pitch, is due for completion in April 2020.

The Ivorian legend was also invited by the Football Association of the Maldives to their Annual Kids day, which brought together more than 600 children at the National Stadium, and took part in a fan interaction session, with autographs and selfies aplenty.

Toure spoke to about his visit.

Yaya Toure’s Maldives mission:

  • Meeting with officials from the Maldivian Football Association, among them the president, Bassam Adeel Jaleel

  • Visits to schools and football facilities

  • Running the rule over the new part-FIFA Forward-funded academy in Malé

  • A match with young Maldivian players

  • Attending the Maldives FA's Kids Day and interacting with the young fans present You’re back from the Maldives, but you weren’t on holiday, were you?

Yaya Toure: No. It was my first time there and I was really curious about the place. The first thing that came to mind when I thought about the Maldives was that it was a nice place for people to go on holiday, all exotic beaches and picture-postcard scenery. And though I definitely wasn’t disappointed on that score, I realised that there’s a lot more to the country than that. It has so many other things going for it, starting with the kindness and the energy of the people. And just to top it all off, they love football too.

What makes you say that exactly?

You just have to talk to the people and to children to see it. I visited a local school and it was a really uplifting experience. And I was surprised to see how much they knew about the English league in particular. I think it meant a lot to them to have a visit from a former Premier League player. They gave me an amazing welcome and I was really moved by it.

Children love meeting players but what did you get out of it?

It’s lovely that kids recognise you and to know that you’re a role model for some of them. They’re hungry to learn. They want to have the same career as you. And they dream of travelling as much as you. It’s really flattering. It’s moments like that that make you realise just how lucky you are to have this career.

What’s the first piece of advice you gave them?

They have to believe in themselves but they also have to enjoy it. They need to see football as a game more than anything else. The main thing is to have fun, but you also have to entertain people too.

The lowdown on Yaya Toure:

  • FIFA Legend, midfielder, 36

  • Club career: KSK Beveren (BEL), Metalurh Donetsk (UKR), Olympiakos (GRE), Monaco (FRA), Barcelona (ESP), Manchester City (ENG), Qingdao Huanghai (CHN)

  • International career: 102 appearances for Côte d’Ivoire (19 goals)

  • Three FIFA World Cup™ appearances: 2006, 2010 and 2014

  • CAF Africa Cup of Nations winner in 2015

  • UEFA Champions League winner in 2009

  • FIFA Club World Cup winner in 2009

  • African Footballer of the Year in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014

You also met the people who are promoting the game in the Maldives. What do you make of the work the national FA is doing to develop football there?

Their personal investment, their willingness and their commitment are amazing. President Bassam Adeel Jaleel and his team are doing a huge job. They are devoting all their energies to looking for the best resources to develop our sport on the island, and that’s not easy. The country has one big geographical obstacle and that’s the fact that it’s a little island. There’s water everywhere, but that doesn’t stop President Bassam. They’re developing quality infrastructures. Everything is being done to allow talented young players to develop and that policy is about to bring its reward. Football is really coming on there.

You’ve been playing in China PR, the most populous country in Asia, and here you are travelling to one of its least populous countries. Is there just as big a difference in terms of the passion for the game?

The passion for football is the same but the resources for developing the sport are different. China has moved onto another level. Having spent some time there, I’ve seen for myself how the Chinese game is progressing. The country has set some big objectives and is doing everything it can to reach them. The Maldives doesn’t have the same human, geographical and economic resources, though. They’re using the resources they’ve got to hand and they’re starting from a bit further behind. Even so, the progress is clear and it’s not close to stopping.

What was the standout moment of the trip for you?

Going to the stadium with around 500 or 600 youngsters. It was really something. All the events I went to were rewarding, though. I met with children, with the Minister for Culture, and with club directors. I was keen on doing this trip and it’s been fulfilling for me. It’s interesting to see a sport like football make a place for itself on an island and to look at the challenges linked to its development in a country that’s surrounded by water. And the conclusion I reached is that it all looks very encouraging. The infrastructures are starting to take root. There’s a residential football academy that is getting ready to welcome talented young footballers. You need talent to succeed in football, but you also need the right working environment and conditions to keep on developing that talent.

This was also your first appearance as a FIFA Legend. What did you make of it?

I had been invited before to attend to a FIFA Legend activity but, because I was playing in China at the time, it didn't work out. This time when I received the invitation, I was excited by the opportunity - not only to visit a new place but also to see how football is in such a small country. I knew about the passion of the local fans, particularly for the English Premier League and La Liga. In the end it was an unforgettable experience for me - I felt the love for game and was extremely happy to see so many young boys and girls smiling and playing football together. I must say that to be invited as FIFA Legend to attend to this visit in the Maldives made me feel proud, and I also felt a responsibility to pass the best message possible that, via football, we can inspire the lives of children and teenagers around the world. I am looking forward to being invited again. I'm happy to be part of this Legends programme and ready to contribute.