The most consistent central defender in Nigeria’s squad, Joseph Yobo has been a mainstay in the side since making his debut as a 20-year-old against Zambia in 2001. Fast, strong, good in the air and relatively comfortable on the ball, Yobo is one of Africa’s finest back-line products. He also occupies a leadership position for the Super Eagles and is capable of inspiring the team all the way forward from the back. After helping the U-20 national team reach the quarter-finals of the 1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup, the emerging player proved he was ready for the full national team in time for the 2002 FIFA World Cup™. He played in all three matches for the Super Eagles in Korea and Japan, and though they were eliminated from the so-called ‘Group of Death’ with just one point and one goal, he assisted on the side’s only tally while giving an overall good accounting of himself. His impressive showing earned him attention from several big clubs, including Juventus and Arsenal, but he eventually made a loan move from Marseille to Everton in the English Premier League. He had started his European career with Standard Liege in Belgium at the age of 18.
His performances for Everton won him a permanent move the next year as he became David Moyes’s first transfer signing. He formed part of an impressive defensive unit and became one of the favourite sons for the Toffees, being named Young Player of the Year at the club after his first permanent season. In 2006/07, he was on the pitch for every second of the Premiership season. He also played in the FA Cup final in 2009 where Everton fell to Chelsea 2-1. However, he has often been linked with a move away from Goodison Park, including to Arsenal, and those rumours resurfaced before the 2010 FIFA World Cup after he suffered with injury and reportedly had a falling out with Moyes.
But for the national team, the 29-year-old has been essentially omnipresent through many managers, pairing in the centre of defence with a range of other players. Though the fancied west Africans missed out on a place at Germany 2006, Yobo was a key figure in the teams that finished third at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010 and reached the quarter-final stage in 2008. Although his performances at Angola 2010 were limited due to a recurring hamstring problem, his value for Nigeria was shown in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. He played nine times in the campaign, with his personal highlight being back-to-back matches against Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea where the defender scored the only goal in each. He was also in the side that came from behind to win 3-2 in Kenya to book Nigeria’s place in the South Africa finals. In his personal life, he is married to a former Miss Nigeria, and he has formed the Joseph Yobo Foundation to help under-privileged youngsters in Nigeria. His brother was kidnapped at gunpoint in July of 2008 in Nigeria, but he was released later that month reportedly unharmed.