Yakubu Aiyegbeni: A forward Nigeria may never have again


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When names of some of Africa’s greatest strikers are mentioned, the likes of Roger Milla, George Weah, Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew and Nigeria’s Rashidi Yekini come to mind. These men thrived in the 80s and 90s, demonstrating considerable attacking prowess and terrorising Africa’s defences.

In the 21st century, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Asamoah Gyan are among the continent’s top picks, but Yakubu Aiyegbeni also deserves consideration among these all-time classic African hotshots.

The widely travelled forward has confirmed his retirement at the age of 35, and his is a career worth celebrating.

Starting his professional career on the local scene with Julius Berger FC of Lagos in 1997, the Yak moved to Maccabi Haifa in 1998 and it was here his reputation for scoring goals came to the fore as he registered 24 league goals in 49 apperances for the Israeli outfit.

Aiyegbeni made a bigger name for himself during the 2002/2003 Uefa Champions League season where he banged in a hat trick in a 3-0 triumph over Olympiakos, and also scored from the spot in another 3-0 victory over heavyweights Manchester United.

Aiyegbeni retirement stats

Portsmouth took him on loan in January 2003 and he was an instant hit, scoring seven goals in 13 games as Pompey gained promotion to the Premier League.

His move was made permanent that summer and the Nigerian would go on to become a household name in the English top flight. Over the course of spells with Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Everton and Blackburn Rovers, Aiyegbeni scored 96 Premier League goals, the second highest African after Didier Drogba’s 104 strikes.

He scored a total of 119 goals in English football, playing for seven different clubs.

Aside from his successful stint in England, Yakubu piled his trade in the Chinese Super League with Guangzhou R&F FC between 2012 and 2013, scoring 24 goals in 43 apperances. Some of his less successful spells came with Qatari club Al-Rayyan and Turkish Super Lig side Kayserispor, but at this stage, his prolific career was coming to an end.

Yakubu Aiyegbeni Everton

One of Yakubu’s qualities, something which not all of Africa’s top hitmen have managed, is to demonstrate his goalscoring form both at club and international level. 

His form in front of goal in the Premier League was translated to his Super Eagles career, where he scored 21 goals in 57 appearances at a ratio of 0.36 goals per game, making him the third highest Nigeria goalscorer in history behind Yekini and Segun Odegbami.

One of Aiyegbeni’s worst days as a player came in the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa when he missed a sitter from six yards in the final Group B game against South Korea.

 

It was a game Nigeria needed to win to stand any slim chance of qualifying for the last 16, having lost to Argentina and Greece already. Although he scored from the spot to level things up at 2-2, his miss remains unforgivable among Nigerian fans to date, and he continues to be a subject of bantering.   

Yakubu’s commitment to the national team has however been questioned in the past.

During the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations, he, along with Victor Agali and Celestine Babayaro, were sent home for indiscipline. Aiyegbeni refused to play at the 2006 edition of the competition, and while this irked Nigerian supporters, his then club – Middlesbrough – praised him for his decision.

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Hate him or love him, Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s efficiency in front of goal at his peak made him a class apart and a terror to goalkeepers. None of the current crop have come close to his record both at club and national team, and it’s hard to see how he will be emulated any time soon.

For all he’s contributed to the beauty of the game, the Yak is going to be missed.

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