The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: Y - Yakubu (Don't publish until rest of A-Z is done)

The Nigerian striker was just five goals shy of a century in the Premier League.

The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: Y - Yakubu (Don't publish until rest of A-Z is done)
Defenders across the country struggled to stop the Nigerian (photo: Getty Images / Matthew Lewis)

"Feed the Yak and he will score". A common phrase that was heard up and down the country for a decade at the turn of the century when Yakubu Aiyegbeni made a name for himself as one of the best African players to grace the Premier League.

Play up Pompey

Yakubu announced himself on the European stage at the tender age of 20. After a couple of seasons embedding himself into Israeli side Maccabi Haifa, the powerhouse netted seven times in eight Champions League appearances, including a penalty in a shock 3-0 win over Manchester United during the 2002-03 season.

Had situations worked out differently, Yakubu may not have even been playing European football that season. In the summer preceding that breakthrough campaign, the Nigerian trained with Derby County but could not obtain a work permit. 

However, in January 2003, the shrewd Harry Redknapp was able to take Yakubu to then First Division side Portsmouth. Already an established international with Nigeria, the striker adapted to English football immediately and scored seven goals to help Pompey to promotion...his first brace came against Derby of all teams.

The move was made permanent at the end of the season with the South Coast side securing Yakubu's services for £4 million. As with the First Division, Premier League football did not phase the scoring supremo. 16 goals in 35 starts helped Portsmouth avoid relegation with Yakubu ending the season sixth in the league goalscoring charts.

He went into the 2004 African Cup of Nations on the back of 11 goals in the last 10 Premier League matches, netting four on the last day of the season. Yet Yakubu was sent home from the tournament early, alongside Celestine Babayaro, for indiscipline.

Nigeria's loss was Portsmouth's gain as he scored another 13 goals in the league. His goal in the penultimate game of the season saved Portsmouth from relegation and left Yakubu as Pompey's top Premier League goalscorer when he was sold that summer.

Record fees and numerous goals

In summer 2005, Middlesbrough came calling with an offer Portsmouth could not refuse. The £7.5 million fee was the most ever paid for a Nigerian footballer. Yakubu scored a critical goal against Roma in the UEFA Cup Round of 16 on their way to a surprise final in the competition. However, their dreams were abruptly ended when Sevilla thrashed them 4-0 in the final.

At the end of the season, Yakubu refused to join his country at the 2006 African Cup of Nations, stating his dedication to working on his form at Middlesbrough. After two seasons, he left the club with 25 goals in all competitions before Everton stumped up a club record fee at the time of £11.25 million.

The striker took the number 22 shirt as a target for the number of goals he wished to score that season. He fell one shy with 21 in all competitions and 15 in the Premier League, including a vital double on the last day of the season. That brace helped Everton qualify for the UEFA Cup as Yakubu became the first player to score over 20 goals since Peter Beardsley.

The powerhouse looked in great form again during the 2008-09 campaign and scored his 100th goal in English football. However, he ruptured his Achilles tendon at the end of November which ruled him out of competitive football for over a year.

Despite appearing and scoring in the 2010 World Cup, Yakubu failed to rekindle his previous form and eventually left Everton in 2011 after 25 goals in all competitions - matching his total at Middlesbrough.

The latter years

After joining Leicester City on a loan deal and scoring 11 goals in 20 appearances, the Foxes opted not to sign the striker and he moved to Blackburn Rovers instead. Including a four-goal haul against Swansea City, Yakubu netted 18 times for the former Premier League champions. However, his goals failed to keep Blackburn in the top-flight and he left the club after stating he did not wish to play Championship football.

Brief spells with Chinese side Guangzhou, Reading, Turkish team Kayserispor and Coventry followed but a lack of form and fitness was gradually bringing Yakubu's career to a close.

In November 2017, he announced his retirement from football with impressive statistics. His international record is 21 goals in 57 appearances, whilst 95 strikes in 252 Premier League games leaves him in the top 30 of top goalscorers in the 25-year history of the competition. Didier Drogba is the only African player to have scored more.