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Soccer-World-Ivory Coast colossus Toure fights for African pride

Reuters

ABIDJAN, April 28 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast midfield colossus Yaya Toure has few obvious reasons to be unhappy - he is enormously successful, earns more than $350,000 a week at Manchester City and will soon play at the World Cup.

Yet Toure says the fact he comes from Africa means he is not properly appreciated.

"In the minds of people, they think Africans are like animals, are not human beings," he told the BBC in April, saying he was determined to raise the continent's profile during the finals in Brazil.

Toure's uncompromising comments reflect a drive for success that took the powerfully built player to Belgium at the age of 18 and then in quick succession to teams in Ukraine, Greece and France before he signed for Barcelona in 2007.

The 30-year-old (birthdate May 13, 1983) was part of the team that won the Spanish title in 2009 and beat Manchester United in the final of the Champions League, a match where he showed his flexibility by playing out of position at centre-back.

But frustrated by a lack of playing time and tempted by the enormous salary on offer, he moved to Manchester City the next year, reuniting with his elder brother Kolo.

The move was a great success and Toure can hardly complain about being overlooked this year. He is on the shortlist for the players' Player of the Year award in England and was named African Player of the Year for the third consecutive year.

Yet what he perceives as second-class treatment of African players by fans, media and the soccer establishment upsets him. Everyone in Africa knows who Barcelona's Lionel Messi is, he told the BBC.

"But when you come to Europe and say 'Yaya Toure' they say 'Who is that?' Some of them will hear my name but they don't know my face," he said.

He says other under-appreciated top players include Ivory Coast teammate Didier Drogba and Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o.

LANGUID SWIPE

At Barcelona he played a more defensive midfield role but, at Manchester City, then-manager Roberto Mancini allowed him to prowl further forward.

Toure is now famous for box-to-box runs and the ability to score spectacular long-distance goals with a seemingly languid swipe of his boot.

He was a crucial part of the City team that won the Premier League in the 2011-12 season. Juan Mata, then of Chelsea, told The Sun newspaper last year Toure was "the complete player."

Mata said: "He can defend, attack, score, dribble, he has great skills and he's so tall and powerful. It is so difficult to defend against him."

Toure has scored 16 goals in 82 appearances for the national side and although he predicts an African team will soon make it to a World Cup final, it is unlikely to be Ivory Coast.

The Elephants lost the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final to unheralded Zambia and were eliminated at the first stage of both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

The team's outside chances of glory will not deter Toure from pursuing his new role in Brazil.

"I am very proud to be African. I want to defend African people and show the world that African players can be as good as the Europeans and the South Americans," he said. (Reporting by David Ljunggren, editing by Mike Collett)

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