x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Yakubu satisfying his hunger for goals at Blackburn

The Nigerian, who scored four times against Swansea on Saturday, is still synonymous with a terrible miss against South Korea at the 2010 World Cup.

Yakubu scored all of Blackburn's goals in a 4-2 win over Swansea City at the weekend, taking his tally for the season to nine.
Yakubu scored all of Blackburn's goals in a 4-2 win over Swansea City at the weekend, taking his tally for the season to nine.

One of the downsides of being a performer in the digital era is that errors are exaggerated, never allowed to fade entirely from the collective memory. Put the word Yakubu into a YouTube search and it automatically suggests what you are looking for is: "Yakubu World Cup miss".

The one miss is more famous than the many hits for Yakubu Aiyegbeni, even after the sort of spectacular day he enjoyed for Blackburn Rovers at the weekend.

Yakubu's four goals against Swansea City served to boost Blackburn when they most needed it; they reminded Premier League audiences why the Nigerian has for the last eight years been one of the more sought after goal-getters in English football, particular by clubs seeking a striker who can make his own chances and impose his will on opposition penalty areas.

Yakubu's quartet bore witness to his range of talents. For the first, a neat flick to confuse his nearest defender, a savvy anticipation to take the return pass from Gael Givet, and a firm finish.

For the next pair, he showed his strength, elevation and thrust, with two headers.

His fourth came from a penalty, converted with poise. All of those qualities would have been familiar enough to watchers of Portsmouth - in their Premier League era - and to fans of Middlesbrough and of Everton.

That list of employers tells you that although Yakubu has reached a European final - with Boro in 2006 - he has played most of his football for teams below the very summit of the Premier League.

There is a sense with Yakubu that he might have achieved more by the age of 28, and that the patented chants - "Feed the Yak and he will score!" - ought perhaps to have been heard more often in, say, a Champions League setting.

It certainly looked as if that sort of environment would suit the teenaged Yakubu. He was born in Benin City but had moved to Lagos, the country's largest metropolis, to pursue his career as a footballer.

At Julius Berger, one of Nigeria's bigger clubs, he was spotted by scouts representing European clubs. He briefly moved to Portugal, and then, more successfully, to Israel and Maccabi Haifa.

Yakubu made history for Maccabi, scoring the goals that made them the first Israeli team to reach the group stage of the Champions League. There, the muscular young Nigerian scored a hat-trick against Olympiakos, and registered a goal against Manchester United.

Yakubu had done more than enough to excite managers in Europe's grander domestic leagues, so it seemed surprising he opted to join Portsmouth in January 2003.

But that was where his connections led him, initially on loan, and by the time his goals had helped the south coast English club seal promotion to the Premier League, he was a permanent member of Harry Redknapp's squad.

He thrived, and an especially accomplished four-goal performance against Middlesbrough evidently stuck in opposition minds because after two and half years at Portsmouth, he moved to Boro, for around £7.5 million (Dh43m). Two years later, his value having risen to around £11.25m, he joined Everton. He hit 21 goals in his debut season at Goodison Park, despite missing a month of it on duty at the African Cup of Nations.

His Nigeria career has been mixed. He made his debut in 2002, but was not picked for that summer's World Cup. He risked his popularity at home for choosing to prioritise his Middlesbrough career rather than travel to the 2006 Nations Cup, but returned to captain Nigeria on occasions.

Yet, alas for Yakubu, it is the miss of an easy chance in a drawn World Cup finals group match against South Korea in 2010 that sticks out in the mind of most Nigeria followers. What the YouTube clips do not say is that Yakubu also scored in that match. Nigeria had needed to win it to progress in the tournament but could only draw.

"I'm still not sure fans have forgiven him," the former Nigeria captain Kanu told me this week. Yakubu has not played for his country since "The Miss" but is keen to play for them again. "Nigeria needs him," said Kanu, "and his goals for Blackburn shows he is back in form."

Of that there had been doubts that go all the way back to an Achilles injury he suffered at Everton.

After it, he seemed for a period to have lost some of his explosive acceleration, became less important to the plans of the manager David Moyes and would be loaned out to Championship club Leicester City.

That was last January. Back in the Premier League, Yakubu is looking like the saviour a struggling Blackburn require. His four goals against Swansea take him to nine in nine matches. They have added something to Lancashire vocabulary, too. What he achieved on Saturday was, apparently, a "Yak-trick".

sports@thenational.ae