Kolo Toure was a revelation this season for Liverpool. After a few rocky years at Anfield that were punctuated more by his blatant defensive errors than his runs of good form, Toure had a fantastic 2015-2016 season. Coming into the season at 34 years of age and after years of inconsistency Toure was valued as nothing more than a rotational center back on his last legs. Thrust into more of a first team role due to injuries and suspensions, Toure made 28 appearances with six of them as a substitute. Toure’s late career revival was crucial in Liverpool’s run to the Europa League final when starter Mamadou Sakho was ruled out due to suspension. Despite his age, Toure’s impact on the pitch and in the dressing room this season was key in the successes of the club.
Toure’s true impact this year is not really shown in his defensive statistics. He averaged only 1.5 tackles, 1.5 interceptions, and 4.5 clearances per game—all numbers that are substantially weaker than teammate Dejan Lovren, with the exception being his tackles per game. Toure’s age prevented him from being able to match speedy attackers, forcing him to use his experience to read the game and limit the number of times he was put in challenging situations. One stat that illustrates this part of Toure’s game is the number of times he drew the opposition into playing a ball to an offside player. Toure won an average of 1.3 offside calls per game in his Europa League appearances, significantly better than Lovren’s mark of 0.5 in the same competition. Toure’s ability to expertly read the game and prevent chances for the opposition was tremendous especially for a player of his age with so much mileage on his legs. Although his numbers may suggest otherwise, Toure was every bit as effective as Sakho late in the campaign. Most Liverpool fans expected the defense to crumble when Sakho’s suspension came down from UEFA. Sakho had been a mainstay in the Reds’ backline, with tremendous performances in some of Liverpool’s biggest matches. However, thanks to Toure’s excellent performances the Reds did not miss a beat defensively. His experience really shined through in the Europa League final when virtually everyone in the side completely disintegrated in the second half with Toure being the lone exception.
At 35 and no longer under contract, Toure’s Liverpool future is in doubt. Even after his fantastic season, there is a strong chance that Toure may have played his last game in a red shirt. Without European football next season, Liverpool’s squad no longer needs quite as much depth as in previous years. Furthermore, Lovren, Sakho Joe Gomez, incoming arrival Joel Matip and new midfielder turn center back Lucas Leiva are all under contract for next season. Despite Liverpool’s strong depth at this position, Toure should still be brought back to the club. Once Sakho returns from his suspension, Toure will likely be Liverpool’s fourth choice. However, Kolo is well aware of what type of player he is at this stage of his career. He does not expect to play every week and with his experience, Toure could still be a great center back to have in the side for cup matches and in an injury crisis. He proved this season that just because he may no longer be fleet of foot, he can still be effective when called upon.
Whether it be as a player, coach or even a player-coach, Toure can still have a positive impact on the squad. He is the most beloved player in the dressing room (just watch the players’ reaction when he scored against Aston Villa) and his experience could be incredibly influential in mentoring Liverpool’s defensive players. The respect he commands from his teammates is unmatched, and he has repeatedly stated his intentions of wanting to return to Anfield, so there is no reason for Liverpool to not offer him some sort of a role at the club. Toure’s knowledge of the game and energetic personality are infectious. He brings a positive energy to the table that the Reds’ management would be foolish to overlook, and his addition to the coaching ranks would be tremendous for Liverpool’s defenders. Sakho has publicly stated his respect for Kolo numerous times and I’m sure this impact would be sorely missed in the Reds’ inexperienced dressing room. Combined with the rumors that Steven Gerrard may be returning to the club after the MLS season also as a coach, the Reds may be able to add two heavily respected former players to the coaching staff.
In any case, Liverpool needs to keep Toure. The impact he has on the club in so many ways is truly invaluable and cannot easily be replicated. Liverpool’s squad is very young and Toure’s mentorship is an intangible that is extremely hard to find. Kolo’s energy and infectious personality can be a big part of Liverpool’s bright future under Klopp. Hopefully, President Ian Ayre and company feel the same.