He Played For Us Too - Everton - Yakubu Part 1
It all started back in January 2003 when Uncles Harry and Peter announced they had found "a real jewel in the crown" to help boost our promotion hopes.
Surely it was too good to be true. Had we, Pompey, really managed a loan signing (with a £4.2 million buy-on option, should promotion be won) of a 20-year-old Nigerian starlet who, earlier in the season, had scored five goals in the UEFA Champions League?
If we are honest, most of us couldn't even pronounce 'Yakubu' let alone 'Ayegbeni' at the time but nobody seemed to care in the slightest, especially given this highly rated hit-man was going to fire us into the Premiership.
His first showing in a Pompey shirt was from the bench. Trailing one-nil away to lowly Brighton Yakubu was introduced and within minutes had stirred things up enough for Toddy to swivel and bury the equaliser in the bottom corner. The game finished 1-1 but somehow the result didn't matter as those present had seen the arrival of 'The Yak' and all of a sudden our promotion looked assured.
We had to wait a couple more weeks before the next match, a home game against Grimsby. In the warm up people were commenting on his stature and prophesising not on whether he would deliver (we were certain of that) but on how many he would score and whether he would mark his Fratton debut with a goal. The answer was only four minutes away.
Another new boy Tim Sherwood oozed class and bossed the middle as Yakubu terrorised Grimsby's defence for a solid hour. How Yak didn't score another most of us will never know, but the game ended with Pompey three goals too the good.
Two more in the next game as Pompey demolished Derby 6-2, another two against Millwall, then singles against Norwich and Preston. By the mid April Pompey were up and Yakubu had more than played his part scoring at a rate of one goal every two games.
Soon came the news, and the relief, that Uncle Peter had spoken to Maccabi Haifa and agreed Yakubu's permanent signature for an 'undisclosed' fee. Undisclosed it may have been but the rumours suggested it was no more than £2 million, but with a large sell on fee.
Pompey's Premiership tenure started well with a home win over Villa. In our second match Yakubu grabbed our first away goal and became the first player to score a league goal at the new City of Manchester Stadium. We might have grabbed all three points had it not been for David Sommeil's last minute header!
A win against Bolton, followed by draws versus Wolves and then Arsenal, saw Pompey off to a flyer and although three consecutive defeats dampened our spirits a little, beating Liverpool raised them again. Pompey had settled into Premiership life well and although we expected tougher times ahead life was good, but was there something missing?
In all the euphoria of being a 'top flight club' we seemed to neglect the fact that the 'The Yak' wasn't scoring. By the time we got to November Yakubu hadn't added to his league total and although he grabbed a double in the Carling Cup at Forest, Pompey fans were beginning to worry. Was he a flash in the pan after all? Was his supposedly cheap transfer fee more realistic than we had first thought? Is he actually of Premiership standard?
Christmas came and went and still no goals, but then a last-minute winner in the 3rd Round F.A. Cup tie against 2nd Division Blackpool gave Milan Mandaric his first FA Cup victory after five years of waiting and seemed to turn Yaks season.
On March 21st Yak cemented his place in Fratton folklore with a 68th minute tap in from a Steve Stone cross to send Fratton Park wild as Pompey recorded their first home win over Southampton since 1963. The victory was the start of an eight match unbeaten run.
'The Yak' was back and the goals began to flow again. He finished the season as top goal scorer by being the first player to net four in a game since 'Corporal Guy' twelve years earlier as Pompey thumped Middlesbrough 5-1 on the last day of the season. Despite the baron spell Yaks debut Premiership season saw him score 16 times in 35 starts, as Pompey finished 13th.
In every story there is a twist and the twist was about to come. No sooner had the season ended than it emerged that although Uncle Peter had told us that the Yak was ours it transpired that we only owned part of him. Some didn't care as long as that part was his right foot others meanwhile were a little more sceptical, but within the month he had pledged his future and told us he was happy at Pompey and looking forward to the next season.
Despite his words a host of clubs brandishing cheques for anything between £6 to £10 million queued up hoping to secure his services. As Pompey fans we braced ourselves for the possible summer departure of our star striker, and although a move never materialised it took until after the start of the new season until we were buoyed by the news that Yak had agreed to extend his deal through until 2007.
As the dust settled on the transfer speculation Yak got on with his game. An impressive hat-trick in a 4-3 Fratton Park thriller against the Cottagers was followed by goals against Norwich, Spurs Manchester United and Cardiff. Pompey were on a roll, the goals were flowing the Yak had committed his future to us and things were all rosy in the garden. Until mid-November that is when Yakubu decided to speak to The Sun.
It was reported that he loved Pompey, but he was desperate to secure a transfer to a 'big club' as soon as he could in order to realise his ambitions, and if the right offer came along, he would have to go.
In fairness, it was obvious that as Yaks goal scoring exploits continued the media spotlight would fall on him and I think we all knew it was always a question of 'when?' rather than 'if', but despite committing his future to us only two months earlier Yak had basically taken out a full page 'come and get me' plea. If the 'big clubs' needed a hint to dust off their cheque books in preparation for a January spending spree Yakubu had just provided it.
Resigned to the fact that we probably would one day lose him, most Pompey fans consoled themselves with the fact that he would continue to score in the meantime and that when he did go we would at least make some money out of the deal. Until that was Rory 'Scummer' Delap injured Yaks knee and sidelined him until Christmas.
As Yakubu lay on the treatment table Harry and Milan had a bust up surrounding the roll of a certain Croatian fella called Velimir Zajec, which as we all know culminated in Harry walking out, and Mr Zajec being given the job that Milan said he hadn't employed him for!
It wasn't long before the new manager was quizzed on the possible departure of Yakubu and in response to the obvious question Velimir confused most by offering peaches like 'we are not a selling club, except when we sell' and gems like 'Yakubu is not for sale at any price, but if the right offer comes along we'll take it'. Even allowing him some grace for poor interpretation, Milan's mate was a buffoon and Yaks days were numbered.
Christmas came and went, the 'shop window' was open and the Yak was back scoring, Norwich…bang, Gillingham…bang, Everton...bang. Then it stopped! Yak's performances started to appear below par and he himself looked uninterested. It was reported that talk of his future had unsettled him, and that Milan was doing all he could to sort it and keep 'The Yak' at Pompey.
After a lot of speculation and a few more poor performances the transfer window closed and Yak was still wearing a Pompey shirt. Many believed that he just needed a 'cuddle' and a bit of TLC and all would be fine. Mr Zajec however did not agree.
Giving advice that was better left in the dressing room Zajec publicly hit out at Yak suggesting he needed to work harder. Zajec commented that he had not been impressed by Yak in the past few games and believed the Nigerian should be giving a lot more to the team. Although, Zajec was only expressing what a lot of us felt as, in fairness, Yak had not been playing well and the chances are the transfer speculation had unsettled him, but there are ways of saying things.
Going public and slating your star striker is never going to win anybody any management awards, let alone convince them that they are valued and should stay with the club. Not surprisingly Yakubu responded with more lack lustre performances and apart from converting a penalty in a 2-1 home defeat to Villa was virtually anonymous throughout February and March and as Pompey crept ever closer to a relegation dog fight, rumours were rife that a deal had been done and Yak had got his wish and a move to one of the 'big clubs' had been sorted for the summer.
April came and went, and so did Mr Zajec (to be replaced by Alain Perrin), but the deal had been done and despite further public pleas from Perrin and surprisingly Milan Mandaric the sauntering Yak continued to take his weekly stroll around the Premierships grounds, scoring the odd penalty here and there as he went. Ironically Yak's final goal in a Pompey shirt was the equaliser in a dreadful 1-1 draw against Bolton. Yakubu prodded in a pin-ball free kick from Gary O'Neil in 72nd minute, which sealed the draw and ultimately ensured Portsmouth's safety from relegation.
With only the 'Lose to put Scummers down' game at West Brom the following week before the end of the season the Yak cleared his Fratton locker and said his goodbyes. He didn't sign off in style at West Brom, as he wasn't bothered. His bags were packed and he was of to the 'big club' known as MIDDLESBOROUGH! MIDDLESBOROUGH! All that fuss for MIDDLESBOROUGH! Well at least we got a sizeable chunk of £7 million.
To be continued...
Written by Chix.
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