FeatureMy Liverpool Story... with Kolo Toure
In the first of a new feature on Liverpoolfc.com, Kolo Toure tells the story of his Liverpool career in his own words...
It was less than a minute into my Liverpool debut – a game at Anfield with Stoke City on the opening day of 2013-14 – and I remember going up for a header with Peter Crouch.
I leaped, won the challenge and just heard this roar of passion from the crowd. That was a special moment for me. You could feel they were fans who really knew the game and were engaged with it. My sort of people.
I knew I'd made a good move, a perfect one in fact.
The season before, I found it hard not really playing that much at Manchester City. Then, all of a sudden, you hear Liverpool are interested in you... wow. Aged 32, I was still hungry and wanted to show what I was capable of doing.
I can recall my first pre-season tour with the club – visits to Indonesia, Australia and Thailand – being something I've never experienced in football before. Just the amount of fans in our hotel lobby waiting hours and hours for a sighting of you. It made you realise how big an institution Liverpool was.
That 13-14 campaign was just incredible throughout. Playing for one of the best clubs in the world and with Stevie G, Suarez, Sturridge, Raheem, Coutinho under a great manager…
The football we were playing was simply unreal. The players totally bought into what Brendan Rodgers wanted us to do. Man, that intensity and speed...
It was an incredible season. The club was buzzing as we looked to make history and I was just so happy to be within it. Everything was there but we were really, really unlucky to not win the Premier League. It still lives with me.
I played a fair bit but, off the pitch, I think I was also brought in to add some experience to a relatively young side, especially as Jamie Carragher had just retired.
I've always been a really enthusiastic person. It's a natural thing for me. I'm from a family of nine, you know? I needed to be able to properly connect with others – understanding each other, helping each other.
My religion pushed me to be really open with people. Welcome people, be nice, try to motivate.
At times I wasn't playing but I was always supporting my teammates. Obviously you don't like it when you're not playing, but the ultimate goal for the team is to win football matches. I lived by that.
You need to be in an environment that's competitive. The one who plays, he has to deserve that spot. And the other left out has to support him.
Every time I stepped out on the pitch, it was work and I wanted to show to my teammates that I was better than the guys who were in my position and I deserved to play. That was my mentality. But when you're done working and you're in the dressing room, for example, you need to enjoy it. Team spirit is everything.
I think the biggest compliment I ever received was seeing Stevie lead the squad in singing me and my brother's chant in Dubai.
I was supposed to be on that trip but I couldn't go because I had to do something quite important. I think I was at home with my wife and we saw the video. My immediate reaction was like, 'Oh my God, I needed to be there, man!' I would've been next to Stevie and leading it. What a captain, what a leader, what a man.
In terms of another Liverpool icon, I was at the club for the beginning of the Jürgen Klopp era.
His man-management is incredible, I have to say. I was really surprised with how he managed players – players who don't play, players who did play. Everybody was happy.
Being able to manage 25 players and still make them feel part of the project is an incredible skill. I've tried to take that into my coaching career now.
The first time you shake his hand, you feel somebody really warm. There's no trying to be something he's not. He's a natural man.
With his stature physically and in the game, you think you're going to see somebody very serious or someone to be scared of. No, no. He makes you feel like you're a friend. He tried to show you you're part of his family.
I always loved his analysis meetings. That was a moment to really know what he wanted from you, from the team. It was always a positive environment. He was detailing exactly what he wanted from you as an individual and as a group. You had total clarity.
I'm glad I could play a small part in the incredible journey that's happened since.
My last game for the club was the Europa League final defeat to Sevilla. But the truth is, I had an opportunity to stay.
I spoke to Jürgen and he told me my contract wasn't going to be renewed – but he did, however, want me as a coach in his backroom team. That was massive for me.
I think I was in Africa when he made the call, 'Kolo, we want to keep you but I want you in my coaching staff.' I told him I needed to think about it.
Having the opportunity to work with him as a coach was immense – it was going to be fantastic for me. But at the same time, I was talking with Brendan at Celtic as well. Brendan was offering me one more year as a player. It was a hard decision to make, very hard.
Liverpool was a great place for me. With the intensity of the game and my personality, it all fit really well. But ultimately, I wanted to play one more year and then just see what came after that.
Of course, I'd follow Brendan to Leicester City as a first-team coach and we'd come up against Klopp's Liverpool. Oh man, preparing for those games... (even though we did well in some).
Without fail, you always knew you were going to play against a very intense team with world-class players. You couldn't focus on one or two, you had to focus on four, five, six, seven really because the squad is so strong.
It was always special to return to Anfield. It's a place where you were playing for really hard-working, honest people that knew football really well – three characteristics I loved. When you gave your best, your heart, your energy, the crowd loved you. The feeling was mutual.
I'll see you there soon.
All the best,
Kolo Toure was speaking to Liverpoolfc.com's Glenn Price