'Only God can make my chances'

HE talks about a benevolent God. He talks about God guiding his choices. And he does play God with a football.

K. C. VIJAYA KUMAR

HE talks about a benevolent God. He talks about God guiding his choices. And he does play God with a football. Yusif Yakubu, away from the football ground, is a friendly young man, intensely devout and always sporting a warm smile. But on the field, with a football at his feet, he is the kind who weaves in from all corners and makes goal-keepers swat at imaginary blind spots.

Churchill Brothers' Yusif Yakubu, who topped the scorers' list in the National Football League, is being chaired by teammate Benjamin Ansah. — Pic. K. GOPINATHAN-

The Ghanaian striker lent a magical touch to Churchill Brothers and topped the scorers' list for the second consecutive year in the National Football League. He topped the charts with 21 goals, while in the last edition, his boots had yielded 18 strikes.

"It is a great achievement. To do it (top the scorer's list) for two years is something special and I thank God for giving me this opportunity," Yakubu said. After a sedate first round, the Ghanaian found his mark in the second round matches while pushing East Bengal's Mike Okoro (17 goals) to the second spot. However Yakubu's efforts failed to take Churchill Brothers to the top as the Goan outfit finished fifth with 37 points while East Bengal emerged the champion.

The 24-year old hailing from Ghana's capital Accra, has football in his veins. "My father was a very good football player. And it is a blessing that all of us share in our family. We are four brothers and five sisters and all my brothers play football. The eldest brother is also a coach," Yakubu said.

An early stint with an Egyptian club soon yielded a path that stretched all the way to India. Osumanu Husseini, a fellow Ghanaian introduced him to Churchill Brothers last season and since then Yakubu never looked back. "I have enjoyed my days in India and have found support from everyone associated with my club. In football, support matters a lot and even the cheers from the bench are very much needed, and in that way I am blessed. I also thank Werner and Kerna, a German couple settled in Goa, who have been a tremendous support," Yakubu said.

Churchill Brothers' coach Marcus Pacheco also hinted at the bonding that is a key element in his team. "Yes, Yakubu is our key player but all the others have also played their supporting roles very well," Pacheco said.

Yakubu's eyes twinkle while he dwells on his role in the team. "I am a striker and my primary job is to score goals and also to create opportunities for others to score. But yes, I do have a weak point. At times I tend to over dribble. Sometimes even this weakness helps as I draw the defenders towards me and help the other strikers to do their job," he said.

The man, who loves Zinedine Zidane's ability to convert half-chances, rated his goal against Salgaocar in the earlier rounds of the NFL as his best. "It was a 50-50 ball from Rajesh Meetei and I chested it and immediately turned and scored. It was special," he said.

Yakubu's fleet foot and that fatal touch was evident in the last round NFL match against ITI in Bangalore. He scored three goals and guided his side to a 5-1 victory over the local outfit. But more than his goals that left ITI goal-keeper Gumpe Rime shell shocked, his deft feint and flick that helped Roque Barreto score, hinted at a talent that is itching to find its mark in the international arena.

The friendly Ghanaian admitted to his international dreams. "Yes I need an international base now. I am talking with clubs in London, France and also with my old Egyptian club. As for India and Churchill Brothers, all I can say is that it all depends on the officials here. Indian football needs more corporate sponsors. People can think different, if they want me here then I am open to it but only God can make my choices," he said.

Yakubu might well have another Indian summer next season. God willing.