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There aren’t many players who fit the mantle of cult hero more than Yakubu. A decade long association with English football for the Nigerian has resulted in him being warmly remembered across the board. He is the third-highest scoring African in Premier League history (after Adebayor and Drogba) and third-highest scorer for his national team. The famous tagline that surrounds him goes ‘feed the Yak and he will score’. And score he did. Spells at Portsmouth, Boro, Everton and Blackburn are littered with strikes.
Perhaps what makes him such a nostalgic figure is that be never moved to a bigger club, he happily delivered the goods at lower levels. Yakubu remained the big Yak in small mountains, where he was able to accumulate his admiration. His four goals against Swansea are as astonishing as they are mesmerising, his choice of the number 22 at Everton as that was his goal target and lovely hand celebration are all great memories. Even the two yard open goal miss for Nigeria only elevates the mythology of the man, who could be so wonderfully brilliant, but never made it at the biggest stage.
Signed by none other than Harry Redknapp, Yakubu moved from Israel to the English Riviera to find himself in the second division. An excellent first season resulted in a permanent £4 million move after promotion to the Premier League. He spent a further two years with Pompey, becoming the club’s record Premier League goalscorer in the process. A record transfer for a Nigerian to Boro followed and culminated in a European charge to the UEFA Cup final. Another record transfer, this time Everton’s, was smashed to bring Yakubu to the club. Here, he scored 21 goals in his debut season. He was the team’s focal point up top, delivering the best goal return from an Everton player since Peter Beardsley. Yakubu was proving himself in domestic and European competition as an excellent finisher.
These steadily improving moves for Yakubu surely pointed to a big club in the very near future. Akin to Alan Shearer, delivering excellent performances for clubs just below the threshold of brilliance, but for some reason or the other, never breaking through the glass ceiling to the highest echelon. For Yakubu, a ruptured Achilles in November 2009 ruled him out for the whole season. A cruel, indignant ending for his Everton career, and his chances of pushing on above it. After his return from injury, he couldn’t get back to his previous form and a move to Leicester which the annuals of history seemed to have swallowed, came and went. Yakubu was on a gradual incline, a roller-coaster starting mechanism dragging him from Portsmouth to the top. His injury meant that The Yak was no longer being fed, instead hooked up to an IV drip attempting to return to the peak of his powers. This is when Blackburn arrived in an imperfect perfect harmony.
Signed by walking disaster Steve Kean, Yakubu had one of his best individual seasons as a player, despite ultimately facing relegation and a live chicken-led fan protest. His four goals against Swansea in a 4-2 victory stand out, for the quality of the goals, as well the variety of finishes. The first, a sweeping left footed shot that flew across the goal and into the far corner. The additional level of pace applied to the ball from Givet’s already skidding cutback, meant the ball rocketed into the top corner. His second and third goals were expertly poached headers, lurking on the goal line like that prick you used to play with at school. Even with a hat-trick under his belt, the game was still perched at 3-2, showing Blackburn’s soft belly to contradict their Yak’s horns. His fourth goal, a perfect penalty that sent the keeper the wrong way. His celebration was simple, arms held outstretched, cool, calm and collected in his capabilities.
This was only Blackburn’s second win of the season and the first since victory over Arsenal in which Yakubu also scored. At the end of the December, a famous 3-2 win at Old Trafford in which Yakubu scored twice had Blackburn fans dreaming of survival. In almost every game in which Blackburn won that season, Yakubu scored. He couldn’t do enough to keep the club from slipping into relegation. Kean was one of the worst managers in recent Premier League history. The club’s owners, Indian chicken magnates the Venkys, were utterly incompetent at every single level in the boardroom. Seven losses in their last eight games of the season ensured their relegation from which they have yet to return from. 18 goals in a very poor side was an incredible return for the Nigerian, this could be a chance to rekindle his climb to the peak of club football.
Instead, Yakubu chose to be one of the first major players to join the Chinese football revolution. The move was uneventful, a classic case of a player moving East and not doing anything worth writing home about. Yakubu’s choice to move to China in fact only elevates his cult status in England further. He came for a decade, scored loads of goals, won the hearts of fans and further compounded the excellent talents of African players in Europe. Brief returns to England with Reading and Coventry were difficult to endure, his injuries only hampering his previously undeniable skill. Having retired nearly three years ago, it is important to recognise Yakubu’s legacy in England. So, whatever era of Yakubu you most fondly remember, you must always know that if you feed the Yak, he will score.