'Football is my profession'

AVINASH NAIR

FRANCE is the team he fancies the most to win the World Cup, later this year. And when Yusif Yakubu is asked for his reasons, the declaration is forthright: "They are very organised and well knit, with players in each position better than the rest." The same speaks for the man in question.

-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Yusif Yakubu, the 24-year-old Ghanaian has emerged the best or at least better than the rest in the role of a striker in the just concluded Tata National Football League with a tally of 18 goals. And more importantly he is well organised, with and without a ball at his feet.

"Football is my profession," said the athletic striker who has made a big impact in his very first season in the country. "It was through Osumanu Husseni, a fellow Ghanaian, that I joined the Churchill Brothers. And I am happy with the way I'm being treated, both by the club officials and the wonderful people in India," admitted the slightly-built Yakubu, born in a family that loves the game. But his eyes are well entrenched towards the English League. "I should be moving to Europe and preferably to an English League side, the coming season if relieved from here," he said. And the 'if' takes different propositions as Yakubu can, for sure, demand a price after his 'golden feet' have set the stands alight through the length and breadth of this vast country.

"Yes, scoring goals is like a habit and as a striker if one can't get the goals for his side, then it's a disappointment. I love scoring goals and the feeling is simply fantastic as you are scoring not for yourself but for teammates, club and the country on the whole."

The despondency was evident on the face of Yakubu when he missed a sitter and then found his right footer and later a header being kept away by a diving Bikash Ghosh under the Bagan goal in the final league match. One or both the strikes would have clinched the NFL title for the Goan side. And when the entire Churchill team brooded, Yakubu stealthily slipped away into the dressing room, flinging his jersey into the stands on the way. "No, not that I wanted to run away from the bench. I prefer to stay alone at such times," said the affable Ghanaian.

Even today, it is the hat-trick that he scored in Ghana's World Cup qualifier against Burkina Faso, that he cherishes the most. "Here also I've scored many goals - 17 in all - but I am disappointed that our team missed the title. It would have been ideal if the league title came along with the top scorer's tag."

But going by the pattern, Yakubu has not been consistent. Having scored his first goal in the fourth match and again being on target in the eighth, Yakubu's efforts were intermittently spaced. But then, one cannot dispute the fact that the wily striker had, time and again, been the saviour. The goal weaving in from the left into the top of the box and his right footer into the near post past a baffled Gumpe Rime for the match winner against HASC at Bangalore, were a real treat for the fans.

The Bagan coach, Subrata Bhattacharjee, worked out a strategy to contain the Ghanaian. "Yakubu has been scoring goals both with his feet and head. But today he was not allowed enough room because I put a tall (Abdul Saliu) player to mark him. And it worked well," said the former India stopper. But Saliu had to resort to devious methods to keep pace with the striker, and escaped with a mere 'yellow card' booking.

Even if Yakubu plans to leave, other teams, if not Churchill, are keeping an eye on him. And if it's not Goa it could be Bangalore, Kolkata or even Mumbai and a prolonged stay in the country which he describes as "very enjoyable and interesting."