Yakubu: Fans’ support inspires me
Acclimatisation can be crucial to success for even the brightest stars when they first join a new club. The process can be fast or slow, but there are almost always fresh challenges to overcome and adjustments to be made before top form can be reached.
Nigeria international Yakubu Aiyegbeni is proving, however, to be an exception to that rule. The former Everton and Blackburn Rovers striker has taken no time whatsoever in adapting to his new environment in China after joining Guangzhou R&F in July. In fact, such is his current scoring rate - five goals from seven games to date with the newly-promoted Chinese Super League side - that he has proved the most eye-catching of a group of star imports including Didier Drogba, Seydou Keita and Frederic Kanoute.
"Hard training, of course, is important to maintain your performance level," the 29-year-old told FIFA.com recently. "But the fans' support provides me with encouragement and motivation too. With the supporters behind you, you can always try your best to go forward and score goals."
Feeding the Yak
This strong bond with his club’s fans has, indeed, been something Yakubu has enjoyed throughout the past decade. After moving to England from Israeli Maccabi Haifa in 2003, he quickly established his goalscoring credentials with Portsmouth, finishing as the club's top marksman with 16 goals in his first season.
That prolific form continued after he joined Middlesbrough in 2005, when he again became a cult hero at the north-east club. And after his transfer to Everton two years later, his interaction with the faithful was such that the supporters chanted "Feed the Yak and he will score" as he racked up 25 goals in 82 appearances.
"I have good memories there," he recalled with his trademark grin. "The English fans gave me big support, which I very much enjoyed. Each player needs such support on and off the pitch. If makes you feel strong against any opponents."
Yakubu has certainly continued his form from England, where he scored 17 times in 30 matches for Blackburn last season, into his debut C-League campaign. He got his Chinese odyssey off to a dream start on 15 July, scoring the only goal as his side defeated holders and city rivals Guangzhou Evergrande.
And his latest star showing came last Sunday, when he opened the scoring with a spectacular lob to set Guangzhou on the road to a 4-2 victory over four-time champions Shandong Luneng.
"It has been a good start here," he said with evident satisfaction. "It was great to score in my debut against a team like Evergrande. I always believe if you train hard and play well, the goals will come naturally. The playing style in C-League is different from that in the Premiership but the atmosphere is just as great, with cheering fans, magnificent stadiums and first-class facilities. So it is no big difference for me."
The easy-going centre-forward can demand high standards of himself. Joining Everton, he asked for the No22 shirt and set this as his goal-scoring target for his first season, a feat he fell just one goal short of achieving. However, despite donning the No25 jersey with Guangzhou, he insists this does not reflect his opening-season target in China.
"To be honest my lucky numbers are the likes of 20, 21 and 22,” he explained. "But when I came to Guangzhou there was only 25 available for me, so I took it. It was past the season's halfway mark when I arrived here so I didn't set a lofty target. It would be good if I can reach a ten-goal tally and help my side finish the top three by the end of this season."
Boosted by his recent displays, Yakubu harbours ambitions of returning to the national team and climbing the ranks of Nigeria’s all-time top scorers, a list on which he currently sits third. He said: "As a striker I am always looking to score goals for my country. My current task is to do well with my club. I must first try to score as many goals as possible at club level to prove I am still capable of doing a job for my national team."
And having skippered his country through to the last FIFA World Cup™ at South Africa 2010, Yakubu is in no doubt that Nigeria have what it takes to qualify for Brazil 2014. He concluded: "The current squad mainly consists of young players as Nigeria are aiming to rebuild. These are very promising players and I definitely think Nigeria has the talent needed to progress to the next World Cup."