Yaya Toure says 'out in cold hurt now I want to shine' for Pep and Manchester City
It seemed most unfortunate timing that just as Yaya Toure was addressing the question of a possible new contract at Manchester City, in his first interview since being offered salvation by the club, Pep Guardiola should walk past.
This is the manager who found the pronouncements of Toure's agent Dmitri Seluk so offensive that he publicly volunteered the information that the Ivorian would not play until an apology was forthcoming, yet a smile played across the Spaniard's face as he walked through the depths of the Etihad Stadium, spotted Toure and leaned into the huddle.
Toure, taking a second or so to realise this, briefly continued before dissolving into laughter. Sometimes, a scene can say more than words about where a sportsman is with his coach.
The equation has changed in many ways since Guardiola cast the 33-year-old out of his Champions League squad and omitted him from the Premier League scene entirely before a comeback at Crystal Palace on November 19, in which he scored twice.
A cruciate injury to Ilkay Gundogan strengthens the need for his presence and Toure has demonstrated what he still brings. City have won all four of the Premier League games he has subsequently started and generally found him a key presence.
Toure can speak of ambitions for his City future now in a way that suggests he will sign a contract extension if one is offered. He wants to make City "bigger than (Manchester) United" he says and adds that two Premier League titles in England is not enough of a tally. "Another new story," is the aspiration he speaks of.
Behind the machinations of who would blink first over Seluk's battery of insults, this is a story of Guardiola's management muscularity, driving a player to be physically capable of delivering to expectation. Toure has lost eight kilograms in weight and is thought to have undertaken substantially more physical work to get back into the side. His deployment higher up the field, breaking the lines and linking play, looks his more natural domain than the holding role, as it always did.
"I feel 20 now..." he said. "I'm joking. But I always love this position, to help the team. I always give the pass to the guys in front, (Sergio) Aguero, (David) Silva, because it's more their role than mine.
"My role is to keep the team moving the ball, organise, talk to them."
There is a sense in what he says that he is also seeking to bring some circumspection to the Guardiola method; encouraging a level of protection against the counter which the ambitious new manager did not initially want.
"I have the experience," he said. "We are a team that wants to play football, but sometimes you have to tell the players to be careful, especially on the counter-attack. This was a big test for us. I'm not a manager but for me we took another little step. We have a bit more trust that when we go forward, we have to concentrate for the counter-attacks.
"I think (Guardiola) has seen how difficult this league is physically. He always has to win, to conquer a league, but he's seen that here in England it's complicated because as we've said before in England you need to be very strong in the second balls, and also the third and the firsts."
Guardiola is not averse to players expressing opinions. They say that it is not an autocracy that he runs, despite the physical demands he sets.
Toure doesn't pretend that life outside the starting XI wasn't killing him. "I belong on the field," he said. "Even if I'm not playing I want to be at the stadium to watch. Away from the stadium is going to be difficult.
"Even when I finish, when I'm going home, I am thinking about my football and what I did and how I played and what I could change. I always want to progress.
"I want to be involved, but it depends on the manager. I have played a lot of football when you look at all my stats, but at City, the fans at this club are the ones who always sing my name, give this happiness to the family. If I can do more, I will do it…"
Toure will not be looking for a new club from January 1, despite entering the last six months of his contract and being entitled to do so.
Though he has the opportunity of a huge salary in China, where his former team-mate Carlos Tevez will earn an estimated £615,000 a week with Shanghai Shenhua, he is likely to see out the season, at least.