MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) - Pep Guardiola has challenged Yaya Toure to win back his place in the Manchester City team after the veteran midfielder's recent absence from the squad.
The Ivorian has not featured this season and was left out of the party that travelled to Rotterdam for the club's impressive 4-0 win over Feyenoord in their opening Champions League group game on Wednesday.
He also failed to make the bench for City's 5-0 thumping of Liverpool last weekend.
But Guardiola is urging the 34-year-old to knuckle down and prove he is worthy of a place in the team.
"We need him. I need him and the team needs him. He was so important last season. He'll be so important this season," Guardiola told reporters in Manchester on Friday (Sept 15).
Speculation about the midfielder's future has been rife at the Etihad ever since Guardiola's arrival, especially as the Catalan manager had allowed Toure to leave for City in 2010 while in charge of Barcelona.
It looked like the same might happen at the beginning of Guardiola's City tenure when Toure was frozen out of the first team as the relationship between manager and player soured over the outspoken comments of the midfielder's controversial agent Dimitri Seluk.
But despite the off-field drama, Toure made an impressive return, playing 31 times for City last season despite only returning to the team in mid-November.
He was the only player out of contract in July to be given a new deal as a raft of senior squad members were released to spark a summer re-build.
But after being left out of the past two squads, questions have again been asked about Toure's future.
But Guardiola, whose side travel to Watford on Saturday, has been quick to knock back any idea of a fallout and says the Ivorian will be a key figure for his team this season.
"He's a part of the group," he said.
"He's a guy who I admire. What he's done in his career, he's an exceptional player."
Guardiola hinted ahead of Wednesday's win in the Netherlands that he had spoken to Toure about why he had been omitted from the squad, blaming "sporting reasons" and insisting there had been no personal disagreement.
With Ilkay Gundogan still recovering from a torn cruciate knee ligament, City's only other fit central midfielders are Fernandinho and Fabian Delph.
Guardiola is aware he will have to use the full extent of his squad as fixtures come thick and fast.
"All the teams that play in Europe have a lot of games," he said.
"Every three days until the next international break - there are many, many games to play.
"There are many games and I think everybody will be involved. It is so important, but I'm thinking of what is the best team to play for every game."