Premier League Career: Portsmouth (2003-2005), Middlesbrough (2005-2007), Everton (2007-2010), Blackburn Rovers (2011-2012)
Known as “The Yak,” Yakubu is the finest Nigerian forward to have played in the Premier League. He enjoyed fruitful goalscoring spells with Portsmouth and Middlesbrough and was the star player in Blackburn Rovers dreadful 2011-2012 Premier League campaign which ended with relegation to the Championship.
He ended with 95 Premier League goals. Only Didier Drogba has scored more as an African player in the Premier League and was a fans’ favourite at all of the clubs he represented. At the age of 35, he decided to call it a day and retired in November 2017.
A real powerhouse of a striker, Yakubu first came to the notice of the English public with his performances in the UEFA Champions League for Israeli side Maccabi Haifa. In 2002, he scored a hat-trick against Olympiacos aged just 19 years and 306 days. He is one of only three teenagers, alongside Wayne Rooney and Raul to have scored a hat-trick in the Champions League. In the same year, he also scored a penalty in a 3-0 group stage win over an already qualified Manchester United.
Harry Redknapp took interest in his scoring exploits and signed Yakubu on-loan for Portsmouth in January 2003. He scored seven times in 14 matches to help Pompey achieve promotion to the Premier League. His loan stint became a permanent move when the south coast club paid Maccabi Haifa £4 million for his services that summer.
He was ready for the Premier League and his goals were vital in 2003-2004 to Portsmouth avoiding relegation. 16 times Yakubu found the back of the net, finishing joint-sixth in the race for the Golden Boot. Among his highlights were scoring the club’s first-ever away goal at Premier League level against Manchester City, a winner in a critical South Coast Derby at home to Southampton in March and four goals in a 5-1 thumping of League Cup winners Middlesbrough on the final day of the season.
He added another 13 goals in 2004-2005 and is still Portsmouth’s highest Premier League goalscorer with 28 – nine clear of Benjani in that list. As he continued to find the back of the net, other clubs in the top-flight were keen to add him to their attacking options. He joined Middlesbrough soon after the season concluded for £7.5 million – the highest fee for a Nigerian player in Premier League history. In two seasons at Middlesbrough, he scored 24 goals. In 2005-2006, he scored home goals in fantastic victories over Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea and was part of the Boro squad that made the 2006 UEFA Cup final.
After the first two games of the 2007-2008 campaign, Yakubu transferred to Everton for £11.25 million and showed his ambition by taking the squad number 22. This was a goal target he’d set for the season in all competition and he only fell just one short of reaching this number too. He scored 11 minutes into his debut in an away win at Bolton and grabbed a hat-trick in a 3-0 home triumph over Fulham in December 2007. He became the first Everton player since Peter Beardsley to score 20+ goals in all competitions.
At West Bromwich Albion in August 2008, Yakubu scored the winner which was his 100th goal in English football. It was the highlight of his 2008-2009 campaign which was ruined by rupturing his Achilles tendon in a 1-0 away win over Tottenham Hotspur in November 2008. That ended his season prematurely and kept him out of the first-team picture for 11 months.
As other attacking options came into the club such as Louis Saha and Brazilian Jo, Yakubu fell down the pecking order on his return. He scored in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Chelsea and netted a winner over Stoke City but his time on Merseyside was winding down towards a conclusion.
After a loan spell at Championship club Leicester City during the second half of the 2010-2011 campaign, “The Yak” moved to Blackburn Rovers on transfer deadline day in August 2011. On his home debut, he scored twice to help Blackburn to a memorable 4-3 victory over Arsenal which was their first win of the season. In December 2011, he scored four goals in a game again, helping Rovers to a 4-2 home success over Swansea City and he added two more to his tally in a shock 3-2 away win at reigning champions Manchester United on New Years’ Eve. He finished with his best-ever goalscoring return in a Premier League season – 17 goals in 30 appearances. However, Blackburn dropped out of the top-flight on the final Monday of the season and the Nigerian stated he didn’t want to play in the Championship and therefore, had to leave the club.
For Nigeria, he scored 21 goals in 57 appearances for The Super Eagles and is the third-highest scorer in their international history. He was part of a Nigeria squad that took part in four African Cup of Nations tournaments and also featured at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. He scored a penalty in the 2-2 draw with South Korea during the group stages but he is best remembered for missing an open goal earlier in the match as Nigeria crashed out of the competition.
After leaving Blackburn, Yakubu moved to China where he played for three seasons with Guangzhou R&F. He also spent a year in Turkey with Kayserispor and returned to English football for brief spells at Reading and Coventry City. He left the Sky Blues in April 2017 after not featuring in the plans of manager Mark Robins and seven months later, elected to stop playing altogether.
When at Blackburn, fans had a chant for him: “Feed the Yak and he will score!” He pretty much did that for all of his Premier League clubs and was a natural goalscorer throughout his career.