The Qatar World Cup aims to be one of the great sporting events of the year, and one of its ambassadors is Touré Yaya. The former Barça footballer attended Mundo Deportivo to talk about the tournament and also to analyze the current moment of the Barça club, including the imminent signing of his compatriot Franck Kessié.
What does Touré Yaya do today?
Now I have finished the coaching course in Wales, I already have my license, and I have been working at the Tottenham academy to gain experience and become a great coach. At the moment, that is what I am doing, in addition to the role of ambassador for the World Cup in Qatar.
What is your goal as a future coach? Is there a team you would like to lead?
I haven’t thought about it yet, but I would like to be a top coach and be able to coach one of the big teams. But first, you must take the right steps to understand the magnitude of the work. Going fast is not always the best, as I know from my experience as a player. For me, it is more important to understand all aspects of the game. I am working hard to understand everything and also to know how to manage the players.
Xavi has just started at Barça. How does he see him?
Xavi is already establishing himself as a top-level coach. He had a very clear plan for how he wanted to pursue his coaching career. He wanted to start first in Qatar despite everyone knowing he could have gone to the Barça youth academy before. He did very well at Al Sadd and won many titles there. It was very interesting for the development of it. He is now at Barça, and he is doing very well. When he arrived, the team was fine, but they didn’t earn enough, and there were many problems, including financial issues and other things about the club. After his arrival, some signings were made, and the club won again. He finished second, and it was something incredible. Now it will be his second season at Barcelona, and he has to try to compete with the great coaches like Ancelotti or Pellegrini, who was my coach. As a former culé, I always had a feeling for Barça, and I was delighted when I was there. When I saw that they weren’t playing well at the beginning, I suffered, but now we are winning again, and that is what we want. We want to see Barça at the top, competing for the Champions League and winning trophies.
Barça has very young players. Do you follow Pedri, Gavi, Nico, and company?
There are many very talented youngsters; for example, Pedri is one of the best in the world, but he is not the only one. It reminds me of a cross between Xavi and Iniesta. I have seen him play a lot, and Xavi has given him confidence, which is very good for young players like him. He won the Golden Boy and the Kopa Trophy. You have to keep betting on the youngsters so that the team grows. Another that I like is Eric Garcia, whom I met at City. He had some problems, but Xavi is also giving him confidence, and he is a great player. At Barça, you have to know how to manage the pressure from the fans, and from the beginning, you always have to play at the highest level. Xavi is doing well supporting the younger players. Players like Messi have left, and other veterans look like they will leave the club soon, so another generation of players must be created to take over. It is very important that a coach knows how to take over from the best players to the younger ones. In Barcelona, it is not easy.
One of those who aims to arrive this season is your compatriot Kessié. Is it true that you called him to convince him to sign for Barça?
It’s true that I called him during the negotiations with Barça… How do you know? (laughs). We have been in contact this time, and he called me several times because he knew that I knew Barcelona. To be honest, we talked for days because I wanted to know everything that would be found here. Milan offered him a new contract, a great club too, but Barcelona was behind. I told him not to hesitate, that if he wanted to leave, he had to go to Barcelona. I explained many things to him in detail and that he had to play well from the beginning, have a good attitude, and be as focused as possible. Barcelona is a big city, and I told him not to go out much at night, to be careful (laughs). You have to be focused on the games because they will judge you in all of them.
What can Kessié bring to Barça’s game?
Physically he is a very powerful midfielder, and I think he can still improve in various aspects. He is a great player, and if he has the confidence he had at Milan, I think he will be a great signing. I also told him that he had to be prepared for the high level of competition at Barça because there are two or three players with whom to fight for a starting position. He is fully aware and has me almost like an older brother. He listens to me a lot. Now he will be in a top club, surrounded by great players. I am very happy for him and Barcelona.
Going back to Xavi, he always speaks highly of Qatar, and now you are an ambassador for the World Cup. How do you see the organization and the country facing the appointment?
Being a World Cup ambassador is a source of pride for former players. Xavi is also one of the project’s ambassadors and has had the experience of spending several years in Qatar. When he first came to Qatar, he was here too, and we met. He told me that he was very happy to have gone to Qatar and gave me great enthusiasm about the World Cup and the country. Qatar is a different country, of course, and it will be the first time that it has organized a World Cup. It is also special for me because I am a Muslim and have close people here. People won’t be disappointed, that’s for sure. Obviously, the culture is also different, but there are many things that we have to learn from them and they from us. In Qatar, people are very passionate about football, and that surprised me. The organization has a great plan for fans around the world. People are used to spending a few days in Qatar, whether for vacation or work and now they will have the opportunity to enjoy the country for longer. They want to show the world that Qatar is a very interesting country with many possibilities.
What has surprised you most about Qatar’s organization or programs for the World Cup?
There are several things that I think people will also be surprised like me. When they explained the project to me, I already thought that if everything went ahead, it would be spectacular. One of the best things is that the stadiums are very close to each other, which will be of great help to the fans so that they can enjoy most of the matches. They will even put all the facilities to be able to move from one stadium to another with shuttles. The World Cup is very important for the people of Qatar, and they will find great hospitality. There is also a large security device so fans can go with all the peace of mind in the world.
Have you visited the stadiums? What are the ones that have caught your attention the most that you have seen?
Yes, I have seen them all, and they are spectacular. They are not very big, but they have all the comforts. The one that impressed me the most was the 974 Stadium, made of shipping containers. After the World Cup, the stadium will be demolished, and the containers will be used for charitable causes in Africa. I loved the idea, and it is a very nice project. That makes it clear that Qatar also has people with fewer resources very much in mind.
The World Cup will be played on an unprecedented date. Do you think it will affect the club competition?
It can be a problem for the clubs, but I think it is very positive for the players physically. Normally the seasons end at the end of May, and the players arrive at the World Cup afterward with a lot of fatigue and accumulated exhaustion from the whole year. What they want is to rest and go on vacation. Now the players will come with physical fullness and will be able to give their best level. The travel issue will also be different because all the stadiums are close, and they will not have to travel to several cities. That will help them to recover better, and they will be one hundred percent.
What selections do you see as favorites for the title?
It is very difficult to choose a favorite for the World Cup. Many teams have top players, and the team with the most fit players and adapts to the weather conditions will win. I am waiting to see everything that happens. The truth is that I want the World Cup to start. As a former footballer, I am a little jealous but very excited as an ambassador.
Which do you think of the five African teams that will go the furthest?
I think that Senegal has the most options to go through to the round of 16 and play a good role in the World Cup. Ghana has more history in the World Cups, but the past is the past. In Senegal, they were in a group with Qatar, Holland, and Ecuador, and the other African teams have more complicated groups. The important thing is to start the competition well to have confidence. I don’t wish the other teams bad, but I think Senegal is the strongest.