By Amaechi Agbo
The former Super Eagles forward has brought an end to his time as a footballer on his 35th birthday
Aiyegbeni, fondly called “The Yak” announced his retirement from playing football yesterday, at the age of 35.
Born in Benin City, Edo State, “The Yak” began his career at Julius Berger in 1997. Following impressive performances, he later joined Gil Vicente of Portugal on loan and moved on to Maccabi Haifa of Israel after completing his loan move from Gil Vicente.
Born on November 22 1982, Yakubu shot into limelight in the 2002–03 season – scoring seven goals in eight European Cup appearances including a hat-trick against Olympiakos and a penalty in the 3–0 win over Manchester United for the Israeli outfit.
His 21 goals in 57 appearances for the Nigerian national team is the third highest by any Super Eagles player.
Announcing his retirement yesterday, the former Portsmouth, Middleburgh, Blackburn Rovers and Everton striker, said “I would like to officially announce my retirement from professional football today.
“Firstly, I would like to thank God for the career I have had. I would like to thank the entire Nigerian Football Federation and my Nigerian national team-mates for all the memorable years I had playing for the Super Eagles.
“I would also like to thank all the football clubs I played for. The managers, all club staff, owners, fellow players and my dearest family and friends who immensely supported me throughout my career.
“When I started my career at Julius Berger in Nigeria all those years ago (1997) I could only have dreamt of the success that was to follow years after.
“Also playing in England especially helped me grow as a player and as a person so much that I am now settled here. I feel the time is right for me to now focus on the next chapter in my life,” he said.
Yakubu’s performances in the 2002–03 UEFA Champions League for Maccabi Haifa earned a loan move to English club Portsmouth which became permanent as they were promoted to the Premier League in 2003. He went on to appeared in over 250 Premier League matches for Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Everton, and Blackburn Rovers, and is the second highest African goalscorer in Premier League history with 96 goals. He is the third highest scorer in the history of the Nigeria national football team, and represented them at four African Cup of Nations finals, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the football at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia. Nigeria were the holders for the tournament. Then of Maccabi Haifa, the 17-year-old Yakubu wore the number 9 shirt. He scored the injury-time equaliser in Nigeria’s first match, a 3–3 draw with Honduras on 13 September in Adelaide. He also played against the hosts Australia on 16 September in Sydney as his side won 3–2 but did not play on 19 September as they drew with Italy in Adelaide. He featured in the quarter-finals as Nigeria lost 4–1 to Chile in Melbourne on 23 September.
Yakubu made his full international debut on 22 April 2000 in a 4–0 home win in Lagos against Eritrea in qualification for the 2002 African Cup of Nations. He scored his first international goal in an away win against Namibia on 16 June 2001 in the same qualification campaign. On 1 July 2001, he scored his first international brace, with the second and fourth goals in a 4–0 away win over Sudan in the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualification stage. He was named in the squad for the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali and was given the number 8 shirt by manager late Shuaibu Amodu. On 9 February 2002, Yakubu scored the only goal of the third-place play-off against Mali after 29 minutes. However, he was not named later in the year in the squad selected by new manager, Festus Onigbinde for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
The Yak decided not to participate in the 2006 AFCON edition, preferring to concentrate on club engagements at Middlesbrough instead. He was praised for his decision as the club defeated defending champions and league leaders Chelsea3–0.
His worst moment in career came at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where he notably missed an open goal from three metres against South Korea in the last Group game but later went on to score a penalty. Yakubu’s penalty made sure that Nigeria earned a 2–2 draw, but this was not enough for the Super Eagles side to progress to the Round of 16. He was consequently “banished” from the national team.
In 2008, Yakubu married Yvonne Lameen Ikhana, the daughter of former Nigerian international footballer Kadiri Ikhana, who is also the father-in-law to former Nigerian international footballer Patrick Ovie. Yakubu and Ikhana have 2 daughters named Kayla and Katriel.