Prolific scorer

Ayegbeni Yakubu joined Portsmouth in January 2003 and immediately impressed as the club won promotion to the top flight. His performances earned him a move to Middlesbrough in 2005 and after two reasonably successful seasons on Teesside, he is now being linked with a return to Pompey, writes Andy Hampson.

Ayegbeni Yakubu, Nigeria and Middlesbrough striker, is a strong and powerful goal-scorer. He is now regarded as one of Barclays

English Premier League’s best forwards after successful spells with Portsmouth and Middlesbrough.

Yakubu joined Portsmouth in January 2003 and immediately impressed as the club won promotion to the top flight. His performances earned him a move to Middlesbrough in 2005 and after two reasonably successful seasons on Teesside, he is now being linked with a return to Pompey.

Yakubu, born in Benin City, first caught the eye at Lagos club Julius Berger in the Nigerian first division after playing his first senior football with second division team Okomo Oil. He made his Nigeria debut at the age of 17 but by then he had already moved abroad after Israeli side Maccabi Haifa bought him for $500,000.

His ruggedness and athleticism initially saw him being used in a wide forward role by Nigeria but it was as a traditional centre-forward that he flourished. It took him some time to make his mark at Maccabi, however, and he was sent out on loan to Hapoel Kfar-Saba in 1999-2000. He then came close to joining Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine but Maccabi eventually decided to extend his contract.

The 2000-01 season proved a big breakthrough year as he netted 13 goals in 22 appearances and helped Maccabi into the UEFA Champions League. He then scored seven goals in eight appearances in Europe’s elite competition, including a hat-trick against Olympiacos the following season. Clubs in Europe’s richer leagues were becoming interested and in January 2003 Portsmouth — then in England’s second tier — acquired his services, initially on loan. He made a stunning impact at Fratton Park, scoring three times in his first two starts. His season was ended by a hamstring injury but Pompey had enough momentum to secure promotion.

His first season in the Premier League was a huge success as he netted 16 goals to help the club finish in mid-table. The club had a near-miss with relegation the following year and Yakubu moved on to Middlesbrough in a £7.5 million deal.

Yakubu had to compete for a place at the Riverside with international stars Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink but made the most of his opportunities to score 13 goals in his first season. His 2006-07 campaign was another sound one with 16 goals in all competitions, although he failed to score in his last 12 games.

Yakubu had a trial with Derby County in 2002 but was unable to obtain a work permit to play in England. That had changed by the following January as Yakubu’s marriage to a Portuguese woman gave him the right to earn a living in the European Community. Portsmouth stepped in and he soon showed Derby what they had missed with two goals against the Rams in only his third Pompey appearance.

As a high-profile player in one of Europe’s top leagues, Yakubu should be one of Nigeria’s star players but his international career is yet to truly take off.

He missed the 2002 World Cup as he recovered from an eye operation and a breach of team discipline saw him suspended for the first match of the 2004 African Nations Cup.

He did not even feature in the 2006 African Nations Cup, in which Nigeria finished third, after a dispute with coach Augustine Eguavon.

Yakubu looks good on the road in his Range Rover Sport 4.4 V8 HSE. It is built as a 4x4 but is a smooth and very fast drive on tarmac. It costs around £54,500 and has a top speed of 130mph.

FACTFILE

Name: Ayegbeni Yakubu Position: Striker Club: Middlesbrough DOB: 22/11/82 Nigeria caps: 19 Nigeria goals: 5 Nigeria debut: v Eritrea, April 2000

Moment to remember?

Yakubu's hat-trick against Olympiacos for Maccabi in the UEFA Champions League catapulted him towards the big time. The striker had been out injured but he returned in style as he struck from the penalty spot in the first-half, added another with a neat finish on the hour and then banged in a third five minutes from time. It was also Maccabi�s first ever win in the competition.

Moment to forget?

Portsmouth endured a dismal afternoon in November 2004 when they were beaten 2-1 at fierce rivals Southampton. The game was also a forgettable one for Yakubu, who limped out with a knee injury and was ruled out for a month with ligament damage.

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