When he was at the top of his game, Nigerian international centre forward Yakubu was one of the most unstoppable finishers in the Premier League. Stocky, adroit, supremely powerful, he belied a languid manner to score goals with abandon. Alas, after a prolific first season at Goodison, injuries ravaged his career and he never seemed quite the same player when not performing at supreme level of fitness.
Hailing from the southern Nigerian city of Benin City, Yakubu started out with the Bridge Boys (also known as Julius Berger FC after the German company that founded them in the 1970s), a nursery club that had produced internationals such as Taribo West, Sunday Oliseh and Rashidi Yakini. Still a teenager he joined Maccabi Haifa, where his prolific record earned him two Israeli league titles and the opportunity to play in the Champions League.
A move to England with Derby County collapsed over work permit restrictions, but in 2003 the Nigerian joined Portsmouth, initially on loan. His goals at Fratton Park – one every two games – elevated Portsmouth to the Premier League, and 16 from 35 appearances in 2004/05 maintained Pompey’s top flight status. At the end of that campaign he joined Middlesbrough for £7.5million and he was part of the team that reached the 2006 UEFA Cup Final.
Through the summer of 2007 Yakubu was linked with transfers away from the north east, while Everton needed to redress a goalscoring problem and replace the hapless James Beattie, who had joined Sheffield United. Late in the summer transfer window David Moyes made the Nigerian Everton’s £11.25million record signing.
Perhaps wary of the vast pricetag and nomadic reputation, Yakubu’s arrival wasn’t greeted with universal delight by Evertonians. He scored just ten minutes into his debut versus Bolton Wanderers, but initially looked overweight and off-the-pace.
Everton’s form, nevertheless, picked up through the autumn of 2007, with the team playing sumptuous football. And for Yakubu the goals started to flow. Strikes against Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City were followed by a brace in a 7-1 hammering of Sunderland, then a hattrick against Fulham. He scored a last minute winner against West Ham in a League Cup quarter-final and followed it with a goal against the same club in the Premier League 72 hours later. By the season’s end he had become the first Everton player in a generation to score more than twenty goals in a season. This was despite arriving a month into the campaign and missing a further five weeks to play in the African Cup of Nations.
Goodison roared to chants of ‘Feed the Yak and he will score’ but his all round play was assured too. ‘Yakubu played really well up front,’ Moyes said after a UEFA Cup tie with SK Brann – pointing to Yakubu’s largely unheralded teamplay. ‘He kept hold of the ball, linked the play well and worked really hard for the team. I was pleased with him.’
In finishing the 2007/08 season fifth, Everton had earned their highest points tally (65) in twenty years. Only the uniquely competitive landscape of the Premier League that year prevented a stronger challenge for a Champions League spot. Great things were expected ahead of the 2008/09 season. But Everton’s propensity to start slowly cost them badly and Yakubu looked sluggish and was frequently withdrawn before the 90 minutes were up. 14 Premier League games into the new season disaster struck. In an away match at Tottenham, Yakubu went down awkwardly under an innocuous challenge from Ledley King and ruptured his achillies tendon. The prognosis was dire: ten months on the sidelines, which saw him miss the 2009 FA Cup Final.
He returned the following August as a substitute in a Europa League tie against Sigma Olomonuc. But always a man who thrived when at the peak of physical condition he never again looked same player. The thrust and hustle and bustle of his play had diminished and the chances that such physicality brought him started to fade.
He appeared at the 2010 World Cup Finals for Nigeria, but at Everton his career was on the wane. Having become a bit-part player at the club, in January 2011 he was loaned to Leicester City. The following August, and now into the final year of his contract, he joined Blackburn Rovers for a fee believed to be around £2million.