Yakubu Aiyegbeni and his circus legacy

Yakubu Aiyegbeni called it quit on football on his 35th birthday, ending his 20 years service to the beautiful game. While some entered a petty argument over the credibility of his birth certificate, others nosedived into a broader conversation of how Yakubu Aiyegbeni should be remembered.

How Yakubu Aiyegbeni should be remembered shouldn’t be misconstrued as a divide in opinion on if he is a legend or not. It is consensus that Yakubu is one of the greatest African strikers of all time.

In 20 years, Yakubu Aiyegbeni played for 14 different clubs,

but some historians who probably watched Jesus taking a free-kick in Nazareth, will also tell you Yakubu also played for Okomu Oil FC, which a side in the lower division of Nigerian football and could hardly be considered a professional club.

In the Premier League is truly where Yakubu Aiyegbeni made his mark, earning him the nickname “The Yak”. In his prime, he was a handful and one of the strikers you pray not to meet on your bad days. Only two African have gone on to score more goals than Yakubu’s 96 Premier League goals; Emmanuel Adebayor (97) and Didier Drogba (104).

Before making his move to England to join Championship side Portsmouth from Israeli club Maccabi Haifa, Yakubu had become the first African to score a Champions League hat trick, when Maccabi Haifa faced Olympiakos.

In England, Yakubu Aiyegbeni quickly became a force to reckon with and a nightmare for defenders. He established himself as one of the best strikers in England, first by helping Portsmouth gain promotion to the Premier League and his last game for Portsmouth, would also be an equalizer he scored against Bolton, which ensured Portsmouth’s stay in the league. Within two season in the Premier League with Portsmouth, Yakubu had scored 28 league goals and he is still the club’s highest ever scorer in the league.

Yakubu Aiyegbeni moved to Middlesborough in 2004 and in three seasons, he helped the club reach the final of the UEFA Cup (now Europa League).

Everton would be the next stop for Yakubu in 2007 for a fee of £11m. In his typical nature of never being scared of a challenge, Yakubu picked the number 22 jersey as a goal target in his first season and he only fell just a goal short of his target.

Yakubu scored his 100th goal in English football against West Brom in 2008/2009. He continued to walk through the door of different clubs from Leicester City, Blackburn, Guangzhou R&F, Reading, Kayserispor and finally Coventry.

Like every journeyman’s career, it can all seem a little too much and distracting with too many going on. Performance scattered here and there. Playing for 14 different clubs makes it hard for fans and media to focus their lens on Yakubu’s greatness because their just too much details in the background. It’s a circus, too much activities going on, some actions are breathtaking while other performances are stuffs of clowns. Yakubu’s career has had positives more than negative but it’s certainly hard to see from a distance unless you look closely

In football, being seen as a legend is closely tied to longevity at a certain club, where cult heroism is built overtime with fans. Players don’t become symbol of a club after two or three seasons, this is usually consummated after years of service. Yakubu Aiyegbeni hasn’t spent enough time at a certain club to build that feeling among it’s fans.

Shades of mediocrity is also associated with a journey man’s career and maybe that is the feeling many Nigerian fans get when Yakubu Aiyegbeni is mentioned.

Hours after his retirement was announced, the one video Yakubu Aiyegbeni would not want to see, circulated more than any video; his point blank miss against South Korea at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

It was a moment that ended his Super Eagles career and is almost defining his international career too despite scoring 21 goals for the Super Eagles, placing him third on the all time list.

At the time, it was unforgivable but it is silly to still hold him to it seven years after. There were many wrongs in that World Cup campaign and Yakubu’s miss isn’t at the top of the list but scapegoatism is also a form denial especially on a broader problem.

Yakubu Aiyegbeni isn’t the first to lose a sitter, even greater talents have and he hasn’t been the last, we’ve seen worst miss since then. Yakubu deserves more respect than what he gets.

Snap out of your pettiness and put some respect behind the name ‘Yakubu Aiyegbeni’. He shouldn’t be remembered as the guy who missed a sitter, his greatness should be remembered instead.


Written by Joseph Bassey –follow @akajoebass